Drum Solo Transcriptions

Learning the solos of great drummers note-for-note is a great way of expanding vocabulary, skill, technique, and attunement with your drumming heroes. While attending Duke University, my teacher Paul Jeffrey encouraged me to transcribe numerous solos, document them in musical notation software, learn them, memorize them, and eventually play them real-time from memory along with the actual solo. At first this seemed like a daunting task, but as I worked at it I was able to make progress, and it helped me tremendously. In the practice room, I’d imagine I was the drummer who I was emulating at the moment, and later I’d find I had picked up a little piece of that drummer’s spirit and style through this practice.

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Art Blakey – Bu’s Delight

Epic drum solo by Art Blakey on Curtis Fuller’s composition Buhaina’s Delight.  For those who may not know, Buhaina is another name that Art Blakey adopted.  So this song is an expression of his delight, as indicated by the lengthy and powerful solo.

Art Blakey – Cafe

Feel-good song mixing afro-cuban rhythm with swing feel.  In the last 2 bars you need to quickly turn off the snare and dig your elbow into it to change the pitch, it’s good fun.

Art Blakey – Sincerely Diana

Art Blakey’s power, intensity, and rhythmic precision are displayed in this great drum solo. When I took drum lessons with Winard Harper he recommended I “listen to everything from Bu that I can” so I did so and tried to take on as much of his spirit and rock-solid swing and groove as I could.

Art Blakey – The Way You Look Tonight

Tina Brooks is a lesser-known tenor player compared to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, and Dexter Gordon, but his Blue Note albums are among my favorite, and this is a great uptempo Trading-4’s drum solo between Art Blakey and Tina Brooks / Lee Morgan.

Art Blakey – This Dig of You

Art Blakey’s solo on This I Dig of You from Hank Mobley’s album “Soul Station”. Lots of triplets on the snare with accents moving around, with a strong steady hi-hat on 2 & 4 throughout.

Art Blakey – Wail March

Blazing fast solo coming out of a half-time march feel, with powerful bass drum feathering and hi-hat throughout.  This solo will give you ideas for playing fast and forceful.

Art Taylor – Countdown

A quintessential solo for building a nice vocabulary of ideas for uptempo songs. Playing this solo and then continuing on to play time along with Coltrane’s solo is a great way to build and maintain chops for uptempo swing playing.

Art Taylor – Countdown (Alt Take)

Art Taylor’s solo on the alternate take of Countdown of John Coltrane’s classic album Giant Steps.

E.J. Strickland – I Want More

E.J. Strickland trading 8’s with fellow “Class of 2001” band members Jeremy Pelt, Marcus Strickland, Julius Tolentino, and Jeb Patton.  Notice the subtleties in the phrasing, accent placement, and over-the-barline rhythmic figures.

Max Roach – Daahoud

Max Roach’s solo on Daahoud from the album “Clifford Brown and Max Roach”. Short and sweet solo mixing swing 8th notes with triplets.

Max Roach – Mack The Knife

From Sonny Rollins’ famous album “Saxophone Colossus”. Starts with Sonny and Max trading 4’s. The 5th set is a classic Max Roach rhythm.

Philly Joe Jones – A Peck a Sec

Fast and furious drum solo by Philly Joe from the “Goin’ Up” recording with Freddie Hubbard. Check out the hi-hat placement; during some phrases it is placed as a fixed backbeat on 2&4, whereas other times the hi-hat is used as another melodic instrument along with the other parts of the drumset.

Philly Joe Jones – Billy Boy

From one of Miles Davis’ most popular jazz albums “Milestones” this solo is fast-paced “snap crackle pop” from Philly Joe Jones, trading 4’s with Red Garland. Pick any one of the 4-bar phrases, slow it down with a metronome, and add it to your drumming vocabulary. Or learn the whole thing and play along with the record for maximum enjoyment.

Philly Joe Jones – Birk’s Works

Short medium-tempo solo over a 12-bar blues form. The lick in bar 3 is an inverted paradiddle-diddle which Philly Joe Jones often uses in triplets (as in the beginning of “Two Bass Hit“), but here it starts on the &-of-2 and ends on beat 4 so it comes out as a 5-let.

Philly Joe Jones – Half Nelson

Uptempo 8-bar intro to Miles’ Davis composition “Half Nelson”. Philly Joe Jones uses simple and precise rhythms to ensure the band can come in cleanly after his solo.

Philly Joe Jones – Hot Sausage

The 5-let in the first bar is a very common Philly Joe Jones lick, which uses an inverted paradiddle-diddle sticking to take up one-and-half beats. The same lick can be played as a sextuplet rhythm and take up a single beat.

Philly Joe Jones – Lazy Bird

Philly Joe Jones’ solo on the song Lazy Bird from John Coltrane’s classic album “Blue Train”.

Philly Joe Jones – Locomotion

Fast-paced solo from one of John Coltrane’s iconic albums “Blue Train”. The hi-hat is being played with the foot sometimes on beats 2 & 4, and sometimes on various “and” counts to accentuate the syncopation. The hi-hat can give a “splash” sound instead of a “chick” sound. The “splash” is made by by stepping on the pedal and immediately releasing, rather than stepping on it and holding it down to choke off the sound.

Philly Joe Jones – No Room For Squares

Philly Joe Jones’ solo on No Room For Squares from the album “No Room For Squares”. This is a great album to put on your headphones and play along the whole album.

Philly Joe Jones – No Room For Squares (Alt Take)

Alternate take of the No Room For Squares solo by Philly Joe Jones.  It’s instructive to learn the solos for alternative takes to see which phrases appear in both, and which parts are spontaneously different.

Philly Joe Jones – Omicron

This 32-bar solo is filled with easy-to-hear, rhythmically precise phrases. I particularly enjoy the 4-bar phrase starting at bar 21, which Philly Joe Jones plays in various ways on other recordings as well.

Philly Joe Jones – Red Pepper Blues

Smooth and tasty 12-bar solo. Notice the difference between usage of the bass drum four-on-the-floor versus when it is absent, and same with the hi-hat on 2-and-4 versus when it is absent.

Philly Joe Jones – Tenor Madness

Philly Joe Jones trading 4’s with Sonny Rollins on the classic song “Tenor Madness”. Notice a couple times he keeps the ride pattern going into the first bar of his solo before getting off the ride onto the drums.

Philly Joe Jones – Two Bass Hit

Two Bass Hit starts with a 16-bar drum solo with accompanying horn hits before John Coltrane takes the first blowing choruses.  The drum solo is short, and is packed with Philly Joe Jones’ classic phrases.  It is clean, rhythmically precise, and easy to hear, making it a great solo to learn and memorize.  Even if you can’t get it up to the full speed of the recording initially, the ideas will sound great at slower tempos.

Philly Joe Jones – Where’s My Overcoat, Boy?

24-bard long and full of simple, tasteful syncopated rhythms, this is an excellent first Philly Joe Jones to learn and contains ideas that can be utilized in a variety of musical settings.

Philly Joe Jones – Windmill

Fast-paced, mostly triplet-based solo. The triplet lick in bars 5-8 is a classic Philly Joe Jones lick, playing triplets and putting an accept every 3rd beat (every 9th triplet) so it creates a 3-beat phrase, which when played in 4/4 time, creates a natural hemiola pattern.

Philly Joe Jones – Woody’n You

Short and tasty 16-bar solo from Relaxin’ with the Miles’ Davis Quintet.  I particularly enjoy the phrase in bars 13 and 14 which is fun to learn and play in other contexts and tempos.

Roy Hanyes – Reflection

One of my favorite jazz trio albums is “We Three” featuring Phineas Newborn, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes. Roy’s drums are tuned tight and his rhythms are sharp and syncopated, very exposed in the trio setting. This solo gives a great introduction to Roy Haynes’ precise solo style.

Roy Haynes – In Walked Bud

Roy Haynes’ catchy solo from Thelonious Monk’s composition In Walked Bud off the album “Misterioso”. You can hear that Roy is playing the song form and quoting the melody at many points throughout. This is a great solo for developing the ability to play solos that match with the song form and give the rest of the band clear phrasing so they can keep track of where you are in the form and come in clearly at the end of the drum solo.

Winard Harper – 1239A

This solo begins with Winard trading 8’s with his brother Philip on trumpet and showcases Winard’s repertoire of over-the-barline hemiolas and stick-on-stick patterns.  The vocabulary in this solo can be applied to many styles of music, bebop and beyond.

Winard Harper – Float Like a Butterfly

Winard Harper’s use of stick-on-stick techniques, over-the-barline patterns, and tasteful phrasing on are full display in this solo on Rueben Brown’s composition “Float Like a Butterfly”, a staple song for Winard Harper’s band at the time and the standout song on his self-titled album.

Winard Harper – Hi Fly

High-energy, medium-tempo solo comprised of tasty phrasing and over-the-barline triplet figures, such as the phrase starting in bar 4 where the open/close hi-hat accent occurs on every 4th triplet. Another great solo idea is to play triplets alternating each note between hand and bass drum, where the hand moves around different parts of the drumset, as in bars 7 and 8.