Jazz Groove: How To Play Killer Rhythms With A Drummer

keeping time in musicWould you like to learn how to have a great jazz groove on the piano? You’re in the right place.

In the lesson below, I will teach you how to have excellent jazz groove in a fun way:

Working with a drummer is probably the most exciting way to have super sweet jazz feel.

Jazz and blues are musical styles that are very rhythmic. So, it is very important that you always in the pocket.

Before we begin with the lesson, take 7 minutes to learn how to swing (the foundation of jazz groove) with Steve:


How To Swing Better Video Tutorial


Why Practicing With A Drummer Helps Develop Jazz Grove

1. It Makes Your Playing More Musical and Exciting

keeping time in musicWhen you approach the piano, you want to be as exciting as the best jazz drummer.

Think of drumming as kind of like a wave: You want your piano to soar with the drummer’s waves that consist of tight grooves and intricate fills.

If your piano playing is locked into the drummer’s groove, your audience can’t help but enjoy and move to the music.

2. It’s Easier Than Keeping Time By Yourself

keeping time in musicHitting stuff in time and with good feel is what drummers are experts in. You too should hit the keys at the right time!

The jazz groove of an excellent drummer will help you:

  • Instantly figure out the tempo.
  • Realize how the beats are subdivided
  • Understand the predominant meter and groove of the music.

More than that, drummers do this in very interesting ways that keep you engaged to the music.

3. It Helps You Learn How to Keep Time Independently

keeping time in musicWhen you play with excellent drummers, you absorb their groove-keeping in the process. This is because you get to observe how they sound along the musical timeline.

It’s not only through listening to great drummers how to keep time. It is also through seeing and feeling what he plays.

Take a look into how a great drummer performs. You will see each movement precisely executed.

What about feeling the groove? You can easily feel the thud of the bass drum and every other drum kit component.

If a legally deaf master percussionist like Evelyn Glennie can literally feel every note, you can too.

How to Revolutionize Your Piano Chops With a Jazz Drummer

keeping time in musicLet me tell you something: You are very similar to a drummer in a lot of ways? The way you hit the piano keys with your hands and fingers is similar to how a drummer hits the drums!

Since you’re trying to build your rhythmic chops, you got to follow the lead of an instrumentalist that specializes in playing rhythms.

You guessed it right: It’s the drummer!

Let me give you an example of who successfully upgraded piano skills through drumming: Look up Gary Husband. He is both a jazz pianist and a drummer.

Here’s one video you should watch where Gary plays piano with a really solid jazz groove:

Now, here’s Gary’s recording of Paul Desmond’s “Take 5” where he does both piano and drum duties:

If you want to become as solid as Gary Husband, it’s time for you to upgrade your rhythmic piano chops like a drummer by following these steps:

1. Learn the Basic Jazz Groove

keeping time in musicThe basic jazz groove is a swung eighth note groove. This is based on a triplet eighth note rhythm.

Whenever you see two eighth notes, you play the first eighth note longer then the second eighth note short. This will give the rhythm a sense of “swing”. If we notate that, it looks like this:

keeping time in music

At this point, go grab a swing jazz backing track at slow to medium tempo. Play the jam track and try playing any scale with a swung eighth note. This will help you understand how the swing groove works.

By the way, to get more in detail with keeping in time with music, check out this awesome jazz piano rhythm tutorial by Steve.

2. Learn the Role of the Hi Hat and Ride Cymbals

keeping time in musicIn jazz drumming, the most metronomic things you will need to listen for are the ride and hi-hat cymbals.

In a 4/4 time signature, the drummer usually plays a constant swung eighth note groove on a ride cymbal and then plays the hi-hat cymbal with the pedal exactly on beats two and four.

When written out, the pattern looks like this:

keeping time in music

Now, why would you want to know all that?

Good question! This is because the hi hat and ride cymbals will always help you find where the beats are. This will help you figure out the meter, tempo, and feel of the tune as well.

If you understand and are able to follow the jazz groove, you’ll be able to play in the pocket, have amazing feel, and sound really good!

The best part of being able to play in the pocket is that you and the audience will feel really good with the music.

3. Here’s One Big Jazz Rhythm Secret: The Blues!

Guess what: Your jazz piano skills and the blues are so tightly knit together. Matter of fact is that you can call the blues as a very close relative of jazz. Kinda like your cool uncle!

Jazz and the Blues share many rhythms and both of them are styles of music that really make you feel good.

With that said, you know that as a jazz pianist, you also got to learn the blues!

keeping time in musicGetting into the blues will give you really awesome feel that’s going to make you sound awesome.

You’re in for a real treat, as we have this excellent blues course taught by Blues Hall of Famer Bruce Katz:  Breakthrough Blues course.

Since jazz owes roots from the blues, the Breakthrough Blues course will give you a really solid foundation.

You’ll also learn some awesome blues piano skills you can easily incorporate into your jazz chops and make you sound great anywhere, impress your audience, and give you a fabulous time making music.


4. Listen for the Drummer’s Accents and Fills

keeping time in musicThe drummer’s accents and fills do not only serve to add interest to the music. In many cases, they are audible markers of a particular section. They can also provide clues for what you can play over them.

There are tons of examples out there of drummers doing this, but here’s one: In the tune All the Things You Are, when you’re about to approach the B section, you can hear the drummer play a fill a measure or two beats before the first measure of section B.

A drummer’s accents can also give you clues regarding where to place your own accents or add your own improvised fills. There are times when you can place accents on top of what the drummer is doing.

Sometimes, fills and accents tell you when to be quiet and move out of the way of the drums or some other instrument. By understanding how fills and accents work, you can also work your way to playing fills a.k.a. jazz licks on your own with perfect timing.

With this level of cooperation, you make everybody in the band sound really good.

How You Should Practice Keeping Time in Music with a Drummer

1. Practice with an Awesome Drummer

keeping time in musicThe most obvious thing to do to practice keeping time in music with a drummer is to look for a drummer with excellent groove.

In fact, be on the lookout for someone who has way better groove than yours.

Why look for such drummers and start playing with them? It is because in a jam situation like this, there would be no other way to keep up than to get your piano groove aligned with the drummer.

When you’re practicing with a drummer that’s always in the pocket, you’ll learn how to match his sense of keeping time.

Start out first with comping rhythms on your piano while the drummer’s laying out the groove. In many ways, piano motion is similar to that of drumming so take advantage of it when keeping time in music. You can learn more about jazz comping as a pianist right here.

2. If You Don’t Have A Drummer, There Is Another Way!

If a drummer is unavailable in your area, what’s the next best thing you can do? You can always use backing tracks!

keeping time in musicNow, this is where you have to be very careful. A majority of the backing tracks out there are created by machines!

WARNING: Stay away from machine-generated backing tracks! They tend to sound robotic and will eventually destroy your time feel!

So, what is it that you really have to do?

What you can do about that is look backing tracks that have really great human feel. They sound closer to the kind of situation you’d encounter live on stage plus they’re very satisfying to use.


keeping time in musicNow, where do you get the greatest jazz backing tracks?

You can get awesome backing tracks when you sign up for the Premium Membership course!

Our Premium Membership program has a jam tracks library for all jazz song tutorials.

With these jam tracks, your jazz piano skills will have the groove and feel of world-class jazz drummers.

I sure want to have that world-class jazz feel, and I bet you do to.

I hope you this guide to keeping time in music with a drummer. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to leave a note below. We look forward to sharing more insights with you soon.

About The Author

Mark A. Galang

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music.