How to Write Jazz Drum Music

Jazz drummers are professionals that excel at improvisation.

Writing jazz drum music requires knowledge of basic jazz drum instruments and music theory. A musician that does not know how to read music should learn to read before attempting to write for jazz drums. For those that already understand how to read music, the jump to writing music for drums is not that difficult. With a little knowledge, the musician can learn about the types of instruments used in jazz drum music and begin to write.

Understand that most of what is played in jazz drumming is improvised. The writer will simply write an indication such as "jazz time" in the score and the drummer will improvise between the different drums according to the length of time provided. Typically, the composer will tell a drummer to improvise for a certain amount of time. This takes much of the responsibility for writing off the composer and gives more freedom to the drummer. Improvisation time is notated in the score by placing backslashes in the drum part on each main beat. For instance, in 4/4 time, there would be 4 backslashes in each measure.

Write the "kicks" in the music above the backslashes. Kicks are simply rhythmic lines that the entire ensemble plays. The jazz drummer has to play those along with the rest of the band. Specific rhythms appear for kicks, but specific instrumentation is rarely called for. Simply writing in the rhythm is all that is required so that the entire ensemble will play important rhythmic and melodic figures together at the same time.

Write in any specific notation that you would like for special moments within the piece. With drum music, there are several ways to write in specific instrument requests. It would be impractical to list all the methods in this how-to, there is a reference in the resource section that illustrates different drum notation. Drum music consists of various types of note shapes that go outside the realm of the standard black and white notes used in instrumental music. Different drum set instruments will play depending on the shape of the note, and the specific staff line.

Writing jazz drums is one of the easiest parts of writing for an entire jazz ensemble. Remember to indicate when the jazz drummer should begin and end and they will take it from there. In classical music, the rhythms would be notated exactly. In jazz, it is better to let the drummer improvise based on the style of the piece. Too much notation will stilt the performance and prevent the jazz drummer from bringing out the true nature of the piece.


Remember that much of jazz music is improvised. When writing drum parts, only the most essential information is required.


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