Who doesn’t like it when other genres make it Jazzy.  why not incorporate some Jazz drums?

Personally, I love the musicianship, expression, and the free experimental approach of Jazz. Nearly every genre has included elements of Jazz at some point, Roni Size broke into the main steam with his Jazz infused drum and bass, Laurent Garnier released The Man With The Red Face, Lo-fi and Hip Hop love it, and it's extremely common to hear those sophisticated chord progressions and Jazz voicings in House, Deep House, and even Techno. Nu Jazz and Jazztronica are a thing, a great thing. Who doesn’t like Bonobo and cinematic orchestra fusing together Jazz with Dance and Hip Hop beats, to me it's engaging while sounding sophisticated and fresh. 

The article is about how to produce Jazz Drums, we will investigate what makes Jazz drums sound like Jazz! What patterns do they play? How do they create the groove? What are the instrument choices? What mixing and production techniques do they use?

These are all questions I will attempt to answer to give you a better understanding of how to produce music, using jazz-style drum techniques.

Producing Jazz Drums requires a thoughtful approach, it's essential to consider their defining features. This includes consideration of the drum's tonal characteristics, the choice of recording equipment, the nuances of Jazz production and mixing, and the techniques used by Jazz musicians. Depending on your desired level of jazz authenticity, you can integrate one or more of these features to infuse your music with an enchanting jazz feel.

Understanding Jazz Rhythm

Jazz, as a genre, is incredibly diverse, and one beat doesn't fit all. It offers a huge variation of drum styles and techniques, from the laidback brush tones of Jazz Ballads and Bossa Nova to the dynamic percussive force of Samba, Swing, or Mambo. Jazz varies in tempo, time signature, and mixing styles across its many sub-genres.  

Let's first explore some typical Jazz rhythms.  

Basic Jazz Rhythm (Triplet Swing drum beat

This rhythm is led by a ride cymbal playing ¼ notes with a triplet count (swung feel). The rhythm can be counted as, 1 & a 2 & a 3 &a 4 & a (triplets).  

The ride cymbal plays 1/4 notes on every beat but enforces a swung feel by including an offbeat skip falling between the 2nd and 3rd beat, and the 4th and 1st beat, this adds a unique flavor with a swung Jazz feel. 

Here's a visual representation of this rhythm:  

On this sequencer, the Grid is set to 1/8th, and the ride falls off the grid in two places. Changing your quantization settings to triplets in your DAW, you will see how the offbeat Ride is played.

Here's an audio demonstration at 120 BPM: 

Transmission Samples · Jazz Drums

Jazz  Syncopation

Here I have enhanced the basic Jazz rhythm with syncopation by adding a snare to syncopate the rhythm, this is done using syncopation at beat level and at sub-division level. The snare accentuates the triplet-timed upbeat (Audio demo at 7 seconds) followed by a missing downbeat, this adds an unexpected and dramatic flair.  

Jazz Drum Syncopation example

Transmission Samples · Jazz Drum Syncopation

Jazz Drum Programming

Bossa Nova Rhythm

A Bossa Nova rhythm features the 3-2 Clave, typically played as a side stick or cross stick. It repeats three times in the first bar and twice in the second (hence the 3-2 Clave).  A 2-3 Clave can also be used by switching the side stick pattern, but I'm sure you can guess how that works. 

Here's a visual representation of the 3 – 2 Clave Bossa Nova Rhythm:  

Listen to an audio demo of the Bossa Nova rhythm at 80 BPM:  

Jazz Drumming Techniques 

Velocity and swing to grove and Jive. 

When programming great Jazz Drums, it's important to make them sound human as anything mechanical-sounding is missing the point. This means not snapping everything to the quantization grid, paying attention to dynamics throughout the song, and using accents and ghost notes to create interesting grooves. When using a DAW, this essentially means, don’t hard-quantize, make full use of multi-samples and sampler techniques, and use different velocities for every drum hit.  

Ride Expression

I’m starting with the ride cymbal because, in my view, they represent the essence of Jazz drumming. To me, the Jazz Ride sounds very musical and expressive, especially for a cymbal. Jazz drums are typically played very gently, normally on 4th notes, with triplet swing, and played using different parts of the cymbal.  A drumming technique is to alternate between the inside and the outside of the cymbal to achieve different grooves, dynamics, and tones. 

To achieve this in a DAW; 

You can achieve this level of expression through sample selection, sampler techniques, swing and velocity programming. A sampler allows you to assign velocity to multiple parameters to achieve the subtle nuances that are crucial for achieving a human-sounding groove. The samples you use will obviously dictate the sound, but they will also have an impact on the complexity and smoothness of the performance. Using multi-samples loaded into a sampler will give you the greatest flexibility for expression, especially if paired with a powerful sampler like NI Kontakt. You can also achieve similar results using a selection of ride samples from sample packs, or your sample libraries, or even just one sample and some clever use of velocity routing. Some ideas for this would be routing the velocity to your filter cut-off, resonance, and amp envelope times for attack, sustain, decay, and release variation. 

Jazz Snare Techniques  

Replicating the nuanced techniques of jazz snare drumming in a DAW requires careful attention to detail. Start with selecting the right snare drum samples that capture the essence of jazz. Look for samples with the subtlety and dynamics needed for a jazz groove. Snare multi-samples and good use of velocity and sampler techniques can really help in mimicking the expressive nuances which is key to a great Jazz groove. Varying the velocity of each of your drum hits, and using accents and ghost notes, will help you craft intricate and expressive rhythms.  

Standard Jazz Swing Pattern

In traditional jazz, the snare drum often plays on beats 2 and 4 of each measure. This pattern is commonly referred to as the "backbeat" and helps establish the swinging rhythm of the music. It provides a steady, consistent pulse that keeps the ensemble together. 

Syncopated Snare Accents and Snare ghost notes. 

As the snare is a very important instrument to create danceable groves, then using ghost notes and syncopation is a really powerful way to add interest and sophistication to your drum patterns. Jazz drummers frequently add syncopated accents on the snare which falls on the offbeat, or in between the standard backbeat, injecting a sense of unpredictability to the groove. For example, they might play a snare hit on the "and" of beat 2, or play to a 16th note, or even the "a" of beat 4 when counting a triplet groove. Adding Drum hits aren't the only way to add syncopation, sometimes a more powerful way is to embrace ghost notes where an accent is expected, moving the accent to the next note instead is a great way to keep the listener interested.  


Snare Rolls and Flams 

Jazz drummers employ snare rolls (rapid, continuous hits) and flams (simultaneous hits with both sticks) to create dramatic fills and transitions. These techniques add excitement and energy to the music, especially during solos or climactic moments. 


Cross-sticking is a technique where the drummer strikes the rim of the snare drum with the tip of the drumstick while muting the drumhead. This produces a dry, percussive sound that is often used in quieter jazz passages to create a unique texture. 


A rimshot is a technique where the drummer strikes both the drumhead and the rim of the snare simultaneously. It produces a sharp, loud accent and is used to emphasize certain beats or create dramatic effects. Rimshots are often found in more energetic and upbeat jazz sections. 

Snare Drags

A snare drag involves quickly dragging the drumstick across the snare drum's surface, creating a buzzing or rattling sound. This technique is used sparingly to add a touch of grit and excitement to specific moments in a jazz performance. 

Muted Snare Hits

Jazz drummers may experiment with dampening or muting the snare drum to achieve a more controlled and subdued sound. This is often used during ballads or quieter passages to create a soft, intimate atmosphere. 

These are just a few examples of how jazz drummers use the snare drum to shape the rhythm and dynamics of their music. Jazz drumming is highly expressive and relies on a deep understanding of these techniques to convey the emotions and nuances of the music. 

Jazz Kick Drum 

In jazz music, the Kick drum (or bass drum) plays a crucial role in providing rhythm, accentuating the groove, and interacting with other instruments in the ensemble. Jazz drummers use the bass drum in various ways to create a dynamic and swinging feel. Here's how the bass drum is typically used in jazz, including the beats on which it is commonly played: 

In many jazz styles, particularly those with a straight-ahead or swing feel, the bass drum often plays a steady quarter-note pattern, known as "four-on-the-floor." This means the bass drum hits on each downbeat (beats 1, 2, 3, and 4) of every measure. This pattern provides a solid foundation and helps establish the tempo and pulse of the music. 

Swing Pattern
In traditional jazz swing patterns, the bass drum typically accents beats 1 and 3. This accentuation emphasizes the "swing" feel, with a strong emphasis on the first beat of each measure. The bass drum provides a driving force that complements the ride cymbal's rhythm. 

Variations on the Swing Pattern
Jazz drummers often add variations to the traditional swing pattern by incorporating syncopated bass drum accents. These may include subtle hits on the "and" of beats 1 and 3 or playing a bass drum note just before the snare drum's backbeat accents, adding complexity and groove to the rhythm. 

Jazz Feathering
Feathering the bass drum is a technique where the drummer plays very softly and lightly taps the bass drum pedal on every beat. This technique is typically used to maintain a gentle underlying rhythm without overpowering the rest of the drum kit. It provides a subtle pulse and is often employed in quieter jazz passages, ballads, and during bass solos. 

Bass Drum Syncopation
In more advanced jazz drumming, drummers incorporate syncopated bass drum patterns. These syncopations can involve offbeat accents, quick doubles, or complex patterns that add rhythmic excitement and variation to the music. The choice of syncopation depends on the drummer's style and the musical context, but much like our snare example the same techniques apply such as using ghost notes and playing off the beat to create rhythmical tension. 

Interaction with the Bass Player
Jazz drummers frequently coordinate their bass drum patterns with the bass player's walking bass lines. This collaboration ensures a tight and harmonious rhythm section that underpins the melody and improvisations of the other instruments. 

The bass drum's role in jazz is highly adaptable and can vary depending on the style, tempo, and the drummer's artistic choices. It serves as the pulse of the music, working in tandem with other elements of the drum kit, such as the snare drum and ride cymbal, to create the signature swinging feel and groove that jazz is known for. 

Brush Techniques  

Brushes are a staple in jazz drumming, providing a softer and more textured sound compared to sticks. Mastering brush technique involves techniques like swishing, sweeping, and tapping to create a wide range of tones on the snare drum and cymbals. 

When should I use brush drum samples over stick samples?  

It all depends on the style of the track you're playing and I'm sure you’ve already imagined the role your drums will play in your production. If not, a simple way to approach sample selection is to ask yourself these questions. 
Do I need a dynamic drum sound? 
Are the drum dominant in the mix, or further back? 
Does the song contain long sustained notes, or is it busy and more aggressive sounding? 

A drum kit played with sticks will be more dynamic, the drum kit would sit in the front of the mix and suit a busy track, or a faster track and a more aggressive-sounding track. A brush kit will sit further back in the mix allowing more headroom for other instruments. 

Drum Sounds 

Jazz drum recordings are known for their warmth, character, and laid-back vibe. When choosing sounds and samples it is important that the recording showcases a great acoustic environment, ideally recorded with high-quality microphones, vintage analog amps, and a high-end console. Achieving this sound is more accessible than ever with a wide range of VSTs available which claim to emulate the sound of these technologies without the huge costs. Consider sample packs like this amazingly good Jazz Sample pack by Supreme Chops or "Stylus RMX" by Spectrasonics for high-quality drum kits. NI Kontakt is also an excellent choice for versatile sound libraries. 

When choosing Drum samples, it is useful to understand what a Jazz drummer looks for in a drum kit and the type of treatment they apply. 

Drum Materials

Jazz drums come in various materials. Snare drums can be made from wood (maple, mahogany, birch) or metal (brass, bronze, aluminum), each offering a unique tone. Jazz bass drums are smaller in diameter, around 18-20 inches, providing a controlled low-end sound. Toms are typically smaller and single-headed, maintaining clarity in the sound. 

1. Snare Drum: In jazz, snare drums are often shallower than those used in rock music. This design allows for a more sensitive response and a wide range of tonal nuances. Jazz snare drums are commonly made from wood (maple, mahogany, birch) as wooden snare drums tend to have a warmer, rounder tone which are tuned to produce a crisp, articulate sound. 

2. Bass Drum: Jazz bass drums tend to be smaller in diameter compared to rock bass drums, usually around 18-20 inches. This size provides a tighter, more controlled low-end sound and with dampening this can create a sound that complements the subtlety of jazz music. 

3. Toms: Jazz drum kits typically have smaller toms, which can help maintain clarity and articulation in the overall sound. These toms can be single-headed (only batter side) and are often mounted on the bass drum or a separate stand. 

4. Cymbals: While there's no strict rule, jazz drummers often favor thinner cymbals that produce a warmer and more complex sound. Ride cymbals are usually medium-sized and can range from light to medium weight. Hi-hats are often lighter, providing a more delicate and nuanced chick sound when played in a closed position. 

Hopefully, this gives you some direction when you're running through your sample library of 500 drum hits looking for the perfect snare. 

Jazz Drum Production Conclusion

In the world of music production, understanding the intricacies of Jazz Drums opens a door to a world of sophistication, expression, and rhythmic mastery. Jazz's influence is far-reaching, touching genres from lo-fi to techno, and its allure lies in the musicianship, the experimentation, and the rich chord progressions that define it. 

Our journey into Jazz Drums took us through the intricate world of rhythms, from the foundational swing patterns to syncopated accents and subtle ghost notes. We dove into the art of brush techniques, understanding when to choose brushes over sticks, and how they shape the sonic landscape. 

Snare drum techniques illuminated the path to crafting expressive and nuanced rhythms, while the bass drum emerged as the driving force. We explored how the bass drum interacts with the ensemble, snare and ride pattern and techniques, as well as the art of feathering and syncopation. 

As you embark on your own musical journey, remember that Jazz is more than just a genre; it's an expression of freedom and creativity. Embrace the techniques and rhythms of Jazz Drums, infuse them into your compositions, and let the soulful, swinging sounds of Jazz inspire your music. 

For Jazz bass composition and production tips, try; how to produce jazz bass

Author Bio
The Author of this article is Daniel Alford
Worked in the music industry for over 10 years
BA-Hons degree in music production