Soloing Tips: Structure – with Video

For anyone looking to develop their drum soloing, one of my first pieces of advice would be to impose structure. Adding limitations to your soloing gives it focus. We can all play mindlessly for hours (technical term: shedding) but this won’t help us on a gig when, more often than not, we’re expected to perform a concise and deliberate solo on command. Playing along to a structure – whether humming a tune in your head or playing with a band or backing track – will also help us find shape and dynamic as each demarcated section acts as a marker for a new idea or colour.

Here’s an exercise I find very useful to develop this:

  • Play time (swing, groove or whatever you feel like) for 32 bars. Make a note in your head as each 8 bar section of the AABA structure passes. A = 8 Bars, A = 8 Bars, B = 8 bars, A = 8 bars.
  • Now solo for the next 32 bars (still A,A,B,A) continuing to make a note of each 8 bar section.
  • Then Repeat. Try and give each 32 bar solo a different colour or character.
This exercise is of course useful for jazz playing, where a drummer is regularly required to play to a strict structure, but it can also be extremely useful for other idioms. Adding these boundaries will give a new sense of melody and symmetry to your playing that can be otherwise absent in a free solo or shedding session.
Here’s my attempt at this exercise from a few days ago (note the AABA markers at the top left of the video):

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