3 Types of Drum Fills
In this lesson you’ll learn the three types of drum fills, where to use them, and how to make them. But first... Tea!
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You know how in some movies there’s a narrator who guides the audience through the story? Well, drum fills act as a percussive narrator for our musical stories. For example, when a song is about to transition into a new section, a drum fill will narrate this upcoming change to the audience, thereby creating anticipation for it. All drum fills can be grouped into three types: variation, tension, and notification. Each type of fill has a different function. In other words, they each narrate something different to the listener. Alright, now let’s jump into each type of drum fill by exploring its unique function, and how to use it in your music.
Type 1. Variation
The function of a variation drum fill is to spice up a section. An example of where you’d use this type of fill in your music, is halfway through a 16-bar verse. Whenever you have a longer section without many changes, there’s a chance of losing your listener’s attention. A fill of this type will gently bring their attention back. You can simply add a few extra notes to your drum beat, that’ll do it. Go for subtlety, and avoid big fills (those will disrupt the flow of your section). We just threw in a few snares and toms, while keeping our kick and snare pattern the same.
Type 2. Tension
The function of a tension drum fill is to build up to something big. An example of where you’d use this type of fill in your music, is leading up to a bass drop (or a breakdown, in the metal genre). Whenever you want to build up the intensity to an energetic climax in your song, the best way to get there is with a fill of this type.
For that reason, it needs to be big and loud! And the longer the fill lasts, the more tension it builds. These fills are often on the snare drum, but you can use anything (or everything) in your kit. Tension fills typically start with 1/4 or 1/8 notes, and build into 1/16, 1/32, or even 1/64 notes, depending on the tempo. You can use whatever note values you want, though, as long as you keep building the tension.
We went with the standard approach, but made it more interesting by using toms, as well as a few 1/16 and 1/32 note triplets on the snare, at the very end of the fill.
Type 3. Notification
The function of a notification drum fill is to introduce something. An example of where you’d use this type of fill in your music, is transitioning from the verse to the chorus. Whenever you want to alert the listener of an upcoming change, use this type of fill. The size and speed of your fill depends on what it’s going into. If you’re transitioning into a higher energy section, then go bigger and faster. If you’re transitioning into a lower energy section, then decrease the overall intensity with a subtler and slower fill. And if you’re transitioning into a section with a similar energy level, then find the middle path between too much intensity and too little.
Also, notification fills aren’t only for transitions, you can use them anytime you want to introduce something new, like a new melody, or a new instrument. You can even use a notification fill to start a song, which is what we did in our example.
Lastly, drum fills are all about setting up an expectation in the listener. Remember though, your songs are your musical stories. You decide the plot. So, feel free to set up an expectation, but then take your listener somewhere totally unexpected. For example, use a tension fill to build towards a climax, then stop in total silence. Or, use a variation fill, but then suddenly change into a completely different section.
If you found this lesson helpful, be sure to subscribe, as next time we’ll be giving you our step-by-step method for making drum fills. In the meantime though, if you need help making original drum beats, then check out our Hack Drum Beats PDF. It contains everything you need to know in one PDF. Thanks for being here in the Hack Music Theory community, you are truly valued, and we’re excited to hang out with you again soon! Until then, we're sending you good vibes and gratitude :)
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