Sunday, November 6, 2011

Essential books for jazz drummers

This is a list of books that I consider essential for anyone who wants to learn jazz drumming:

This book is a classic reading text that I recommend not so much for the book itself, as for the curriculum that has been built up around this book over the years.  "Syncopation" has been used as the basis for innumerable exercises for developing jazz coordination, most successfully and famously by Alan Dawson in the following book on this list. 

This book is full of a lifetime of useful and challenging exercises from the famous Rudimental Ritual that goes through all the rudiments over a bossa-nova style foot ostinato, to fifty different ways to play through "Syncopation", to soloing ideas and more.  Going through this book will give a drummer all the technique necessary to thrive in a jazz setting.  

This book is the best general survey of the all the practical elements of jazz drumming.  It includes things like an extensive compilation of smart comping and soloing ideas, brush techniques, illuminating discussion of how jazz drummers approach their instrument, a thoughtful list of suggested recordings, and a play along CD with charts.  John Riley also wrote a great follow up book called "Beyond Bop Drumming" that I would recommend for more advanced drummers.

My teacher, who was himself a student of Henry Adler, took me through this book as my formal introduction to the rudiments.  Although the way the book is organized is pretty quirky, if you know how to navigate it, it is the smartest and most thorough book rudimental method book I know of.

5.  Modern Rudimental Swing Solos for the Advanced Drummer
This book is a great compilation of musically interesting snare drum solos.  Although it suffers from some weird organization, and the solos are a bit hit or miss, for the most part you couldn't ask for a better introduction on how to put together a drum solo.  Another reason for this books enduring appeal is that Philly Joe purportedly carried it around with him and practiced from it religiously. 

6.  Groove Essentials the Play-Along
This book is making the list largely for its excellent "World" section.  In today's musical environment, being a jazz drummer means being at least somewhat familiar with a wide variety of musical styles from all over the world.  This book is the best I have found for covering all the most important of these styles in some depth, and with useful play-along tracks. 

Modern jazz drummers are expected to have some grasp of the history of jazz, and with around 100 years worth of jazz recordings to learn from, it is easy to get overwhelmed.  This book is the best single resource to help drummers learning to navigate the history of jazz. 


  1. You're not a fan of Jim Chaplin's Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer? I've not used The Drummer's Complete Vocabulary but I am curious to check it out. I get a serene pleasure from working out of Syncopation

    1. Hey,

      Thanks for the feedback. Actually I am a big fan of the Chapin book, it was my first exposure to jazz comping and I think it is a classic. However, I also think that the Riley book covers everything the Chapin book does, and does it in a more realistic/useful/practical fashion. Basically I feel like the Riley book has made the Chapin book redundant.

  2. Hi, I've been researching drum books to improve my technique and was extremely impressed by your list (especially numbers 2 & 3). The one I hadn't come across is number 4 on the list. Now that I know about this book, I just can't believe I didn't find it before.

    My question is: how do you think it compares to Buddy Rich's Rudiments Around the Kit? Are they complementary or can they be swapped? I'm somewhat of a beginner and I'm trying to see which one would better serve my needs of perfecting rudiments.

    I ask this question because one focuses on the snare and the other is spread around the kit. Do you know about the other book? What are your thoughts on it? Again, your list is excellent (the best I've found so far).

    I'm going to have a lot of fun going through many of these books as my jazz skill level increases (and permits :-). Cheers.

    1. Actually, please disregard (or delete) my previous comment (it's somewhat off-topic and I've already found out the answer to it). Cheers.

    2. Thanks for checking out the article and I am glad this was a good resource for you. Dawson's book really is incredible! Just out of curiosity, what did you decide about the Buddy Rich book that is orchestrated around the set? I honestly haven't really checked it out and would love to know what you think of it.