Jazz Drumming 101: Gaining Limb Independence through Lap Drumming

Jazz Drumming 101

Gaining Limb Independence through Lap Drumming

By NAfME members Bob Habersat and Paul Levy, with Rocky Martin


Most of the time, the high school/middle school percussionist isn’t going be well-versed in jazz drumming. A jazz drummer drives the band with a groove and communicates with the ensemble or soloist with comping. When students are presented with the challenge of being conversational, the groove usually falls apart. Providing simple exercises away from the drum set isolates limbic independence and allows students to be conversational without losing the groove.

A jazz drummer drives the band with a groove and communicates with the ensemble or soloist with comping.

The lap drumming series on shedthemusic.com starts by creating a foundation of the swing feel. Left hand independence is gradually added as the series progresses. Rhythms are verbalized before they are performed to internalize their feel and location within the swing pattern.


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The first video introduces the swing groove with the hi-hat on beats two and four and quarter notes on the ride. Left hand rhythms are played through the quarter note grid over this simplified swing groove to create successful three-way independence. The swing ride pattern is introduced in the second half of the video and the quarter note grid is played again with the left hand. Combinations of quarter notes are added in the second video creating a higher level of independence.


Students are taken through a series of eighth-note patterns in the third and fourth video. Simple eighth-note rhythms like these occur in big band and small group charts. Beginning drummers attempt to “catch” these rhythms and often break their ride pattern. When they can play these rhythms independently, they can interact with the music without losing the groove.



When students feel comfortable enough with the first four videos, they can challenge themselves with real world applications. The real fun comes when students are able to execute their new left hand ideas while playing along to recorded jazz music. For example, have your students play along to Jimmy Cobb on “Kind of Blue,” steal some of Jimmy’s ideas, and write down some comping rhythms they like! The fifth lap drumming video deals with these kinds of rhythms, which are mostly eighth note comping combinations (with a couple of triplet ideas).



As soon as students gain limbic independence with their left hand, they can start executing these rhythms on their right foot. If they continue to listen to jazz and tune in carefully to the masters at work, they will begin to pick up on the nuances of jazz greats like Jimmy Cobb, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. Hopefully these videos will be a valuable tool for beginner drummers that can transform their playing with true limbic independence and open the door to creative drumming freedom.


Read Bob and Paul’s article, “Call and Response: Teaching Jazz Improvisation.”


About the authors:

Rocky Martin

Rocky Martin is a drum set contributor for shedthemusic.com. He is currently a jazz studies major at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington: studying with Steve Houghton, Michael Spiro, and Brent Wallarab.

Bob Habersat (R) and Paul Levy (L) are both high school music teachers in Oak Lawn, IL. They are also the creators of shedthemusic.com, a free and open source website providing resources for the modern musician.

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Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, March 27, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)