Drum chops are all the characteristics that describe a drummer’s speed, technique, power, timing, dynamic range, and independence. It covers all areas of a drummer’s technical proficiency.
It’s important to develop your drum chops to improve your skills and increase your range of expression.
Drummers with a high level of technical ability can play song beats and fills with greater ease, which allows them to relax into the groove and drum ‘in the pocket’.
Focusing on drum chops is just one of the elements of being a great drummer.
In this article, we will help you improve your drum chops, but we will also discuss how you should not always over-emphasize this in your development as a drummer.
How to Improve Your Drum Chops
Drum chops are all about technical ability. Therefore, you should always try to ensure that you have solid foundations of drumming, including speed, timing, technique, power, dynamic range, and independence
Improving your drum chops is not just about playing to your favorite songs (although this can help when used in moderation to stretch your abilities and to keep yourself motivated). It’s often the result of dedicated disciplined and consistent practice (and… using a metronome!).
Focusing the following:
- Drum rudiments (check out our article on the four essential drum rudiments)
- Work on the essential drumming techniques
- Leading with your weak hand (you can also consider playing open-handed)
- Improving your coordination with difficult beats and fills (also experiment with different drumming styles for an added challenge)
- Increasing your dynamic range – Learn to play very softly, learn to pay very loudly, and practice switching between these within drum phrases and beats.
- Learn to play with great speed while maintaining control
- Be able to play complex drum fills and beats at a very slow speed, which surprisingly can often be even more difficult than playing fast.
Chops versus groove
You should always strive to improve your drum chops and improve your drumming technical ability, but that should not always be your main focus.
Those who focus too much on drum chops often ignore playing tastefully to the music and with a solid groove. You strive to play ‘in the pocket‘ when drumming.
If you can play strikingly fast speeds, you may start introducing very fast fills into songs where it’s not appropriate from a musical point of view.
Therefore, you should have struck a good balance between your chops and your overall musicality. This is effectively the debate between a musician versus an instrumentalist.
Remember that you’re playing music to entertain, inspire, and be part of an overall group. It’s not necessarily to just stick out and show your technical ability.
The importance of drum chops in different genres of music.
The importance of strong drum chops varies based on the genre of music that you are playing.
Some genres of music require an incredible amount of drumming chops in the context of speed and endurance, such as in modern metal music (I’m thinking, double bass drum pedals and blast beats!)
In jazz music, drummers often need to strike an incredible balance between strong drum chops as well as an inherent feel of the groove.
Modern Drummers that play to click tracks and backing tracks can sometimes require strong drum chops, but more in the context of very strong control and timing.
On the other hand, genres of music that play simple drumming patterns, such as standard rock beats or four-to-the-floor rhythms, often do not require a large amount of technical showmanship on drums. This can sometimes hinder the music and clog up the mix.
Therefore part of drumming (and in general, part of being a musician) is to be able to identify the type of music that you play, the genre that you’re playing, and how to apply your drum chops to the relevant situation.
Are Drum Chops Getting More Important?
Two things that have heavily impacted how modern listeners expect from music are drum machines and auto-tune.
Drum programming has changed the expectations from listeners that music should be exactly in time and exactly aligned to the grid and beat of a bar. Auto-Tune has made audiences, expect everything to be perfectly in tune.
If you compare modern musical productions against recordings from about 40, years ago, then you could be shocked at the difference in production styles.
Audiences therefore will expect that live drummers will be able to closely match the timing, speed, and sound of artificial drums drum samples and drum machines.
To increase the range of sounds, drummers are increasingly opting for hybrid drum setups. For example, metal drummers that use drum triggers, or pop and electronic drummers using electronic drum pads and sample pads.
However, it’s not just about the ‘type’ of sounds. A drummer’s chops need to adapt and improve to the expectations of modern music genres.
Notable Drummers with Amazing Chops
Many good drummers come to mind when it comes to drum chops, starting with the likes of Chris Dave, Jojo Mayer, and Vinnie Colaiuta. With these exceptional drummers you could see what it truly means to have amazing drum chops as well as a mastery over the drum set. Check them out in the videos below.
Drum chops are very important to develop as a drummer. You should put great focus on it, but it should not be the only thing you work on as a drummer.
Always make sure to maintain the groove and musicality of the music that you’re playing. A well-rounded drummer should be able to do both of these very well.
You will need to have an excellent technical ability if you want to play some of the hardest drum songs (or even intermediate drum songs for that matter!) but approach the development of your drum chops depending on the overall context of the music you want to play.
If you play jazz music, for example, you will often be required to play very intricate jazz rhythms on your ride cymbal and lots of ghost notes. Therefore, your speed and dynamic range will play a very important part in this.
If you want to play metal music, you may need to spend a greater amount of time building up the speed, independence, and endurance of your feet on the pedals.
We hope this has cleared up what drum chops are within the context of drumming, and that it has given you a good guide on how and what you should improve on.