Drumming is an ever-evolving craft with no limit on development and creativity. While the drums keep moving forward as a perennial trendsetter, it is important to be mindful of the history of the instrument. Jazz independence is an area of drumming that can be quite a mountain to climb for younger and beginning players. The most common approach over the past 40 years to dive into left hand independence with Ted Reed’s Syncopation book and hit the shed.

While that is a great place to start, I have found that many beginning drummers hit a few stumbling blocks early on in their attempts to unlock the magic of the left hand. In this lesson we take a step back and simply look at quarter-notes, which is a great place to begin this journey. Simple downbeat quarter notes are easily overlooked when starting the jazz training.

For Ex. 1, start by making sure your jazz ride pattern is in good form with all notes sounding big and smooth.

Ex. 1

Now, play a series of continual quarter-notes with the left hand on the snare drum under the ride pattern (Ex. 2). Make sure the ride pattern does not change tonality when playing the snare; the ride must remain the predominant sound.

Ex. 2


Next, play two bars of snare quarter-notes followed by two bars of just the ride/hi-hat pattern (Ex. 3). Feel free to shorten or elongate the amount of measures.

Ex. 3

Now, play one quarter-note on the snare every three beats (Ex. 4). This will place the snare drum note on a different beat every measure.

Ex. 4

Finally, play a three-beat pattern of two snare quarter-notes followed by one quarter-note rest (Ex. 5). This will create a simple over-the-bar snare pattern under your ride pattern.

Ex. 5

Mix up these exercises and create your own patterns. Stick to only downbeats and see how creative you can be. This will solidify your ride pattern and begin to free up your left hand. Try at slower and faster tempos. Enjoy the ride!

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.