All nonsense aside, I define improv drumming as this:

Controlling the feel/mood of the music your jamming along with.

To make this idea a little more clear, I'll give a typical scenario of improv drumming to kick things off:

The band starts jamming. The guitar player starts out with a smooth, gentle riff. Once bass kicks in you start your improv. No one really knows where the song is going, but it's no big secret. It's up to you Mr Drummer. You can take that simple lighthearted riff and make it go into a 1000 directions...doing it properly is the tricky part.

Here is the key: Just like a guitar player uses bridges, (riffs/leads that morph one riff into another), so must a drummer.

Obviously taking that slow groove and out of nowhere kicking into rock mode isn't going to fit well and has been known to ruin many a jam.

It's all a game of knowing when to change things up. Assume the band has been jamming on the same slow groove for more then 6 or 8 bars. It's way past time for a change of pace here. Time to build that bridge mang.

Starting small and subtle at first works best. In the case of the slow groove, you'd probably be using the ride as a soft ostinato with minimal kick and snare action in the beginning of the jam. To take the slow groove up a notch, give your ride a little more force. This takes the mood out of a dreamy state, and makes the music a bit more solid. Without even knowing it, the entire band is playing with just a bit more power. After a few bars, start using double taps on the kick and hitting the snare with a more forceful stroke. Let about 1 or 2 more bars go by and then jump start full force with a well placed fill. You'd definatly want to kick back in with open high hat ostinato and giving that kick and snare something to think about.

Bam. You've succesfully led the band from slow and gentle to rock heaven...All because you were careful to build a nice bridge that elevated, (or de-elevated if thats even a word), the mood into a new feel. This is the basis of improv drumming.

The point to remember here is that the above scenario could be completed by just about every drummer in the world. Drumming skill is not the most important facet of improv drumming. Sadly this misconception leads to many excellent drummers comming off as "jerks" or just plain out "pompous jerks". You don't want to overplay during an improv session. That is a big no no. Sure you can do rolls until the cows come home, but what does that really matter in a good jam? Save you're flashy skills for drum solos.

Mastery of "feels" and "moods" is what it takes to be an improv God. Your skills as a drummer are just the tricks of the trade you use when changing things up.

Keep jamming and have fun improving!

For more fun please check out my writeup on Linear Drumming

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