Sorry I didn’t write much last week. Busy week.

My question for today has to do with whether you guys think fills should be consistent. By using the word “consistent” in reference to “fill,” I by no means intend to imply that your fills would ever be inconsistent in the sense of being sloppy in their execution or badly timed. I am instead wondering about whether or not the fills in a given tune (pop/rock tune, that is) should be the same in every performance of that song. For instance, it is generally expected that a rock drummer will be consistent with the GROOVES in a song (a certain groove for the verse, a certain groove for the chorus, etc). Every time you perform that song, the grooves should be the correctly played and correctly placed. But should the FILLS be that way too?

Many drummers in rock history have established themselves with “signature” fills… fills that function almost like a melodic hook in the song (e.g. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” intro fill, or the standard Motown fill on “Ain’t To Proud To Beg”). But at the same time, most of my favorite drummers seem to regard fills as an improvising moment, playing different fills at every performance (John Bonham, Steve Jordan, Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche… to name a few).

I realized a few years ago that the “improvised” approach was my default approach when I played a short tour with a band that some of my friends are in called Pivitplex. I played on all the tracks from their 2006 release “The King In A Rookery,” and about a year later they were between drummers and called me for some subbing. I re-learned all my parts for the songs and showed up to the first gig and everything went great, except afterward the guitarist was commenting that I hadn’t played all the fills verbatim from the record. I was really surprised that he had expected me to – I certainly never planned on it. He wasn’t mad or anything, because I played fills that were in the same vein as the ones from the record, so everything sounded fine. But the fact that he was so familiar with the album, combined with the band requiring their previous drummer to learn the fills exactly, meant that he had all the album fills memorized and noticed when I didn’t do them exactly the same. It turns out that he defaults to a “do-the-same-fill-every-time” strategy, while I default to a “copy-key-fills-but-improvise-all-the-rest” approach.

I have since had a few gigs where I’ve needed to do the fills EXACTLY, and it’s hard. I guess it just challenges the memory a lot more. But then again, drummers who don’t usually improvise seem to find improvised fills to be difficult as well.

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