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In bi-annual waves, a handful of my drum students try out for junior high or high school jazz band. They (or their parents) have a look of desperation in their eyes as they inform me, "The audition is in two weeks!" Realistically, without using a Vulcan mind meld, there is no way to get the students to be able to effectively play big band jazz in such short order. However, helping them to pass the audition is quite possible.

Tips For Passing Your Jazz Band Audition

  1. Make sure to play with the proper dynamics and feel. For instance, in jazz music the ride cymbal is played forcefully, while the bass drum is often more felt than heard.
  2. Smile, be polite, and make eye contact with the band director. Make sure to listen carefully to directions.
  3. Take private lessons well ahead of the time of your audition to learn and then memorize all the grooves that you are expected to play and to be prepared to play the drum chart(s).

Advice for Band Directors

  1. Hire or enlist the help of a jazz drumming instructor to set up the equipment correctly or give equipment recommendations and give assistance to the young drummers both during whole band rehearsals and rhythm sectionals.
  2. Encourage the students to take private lessons at least 6 months before starting jazz band.
  3. Hand out audio CD examples of the songs that the band is playing or give links to websites where mp3's can be found. The studio drummers who are hired to do these recordings often provide great examples for the student to mimic.
  4. Provide specific examples of what you want your young drummer to do, instead of assuming that they will figure it out on their own.
  5. Initially, focus your drummer(s) on grooving with the rhythm section. Playing/setting up figures and recovering back into the groove is a very difficult skill, and it is not necessary for the big band drummer to play every figure. Most professional big band drummers choose their spots in this regard.
  6. Invest in some of the great instructional resources out there, including Inside the Big Band Drum Chart by Steve Fidyk, Jazz Drummer's Reading Workbook by Tom Morgan, and Studio Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton. These educational packages do a great job of introducing long/short articulations, setting up figures, and provide play-alongs.
  7. Take lessons yourself from a professional jazz drummer.

Advice for Student Drummers

  1. Listen to jazz to get clued in about the feel, and in this case, find recorded examples of big bands such as Count Basie, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, etc.
  2. Find a private instructor who has experience playing in a big band. If your family can't afford private lessons, ask the band director if the school can help to provide lessons.
  3. Don't get overly consumed in the chart reading (see introductory anecdote). Listen to the other members of the rhythm section and attempt to understand how your decisions affect the horn section. Keep an eye and ear out for the band director.
  4. Take this experience seriously. You only get out this class what you put into it. This will take supreme effort on you part, but the rewards are limitless.
  5. The drum charts are open to interpretation. Do not read these verbatim.
  6. Go out and see live jazz music in your town or city. If there are no professional big bands in your community, check out you local college jazz bands.
  7. Groove!

Andy Ziker

Andy Ziker is a teacher and professional drummer in the San Jose, California area. He has authored several instructional books, including Drum Aerobics, Daily Drum Warm-Ups, and Drumset for Preschoolers, and The Jazz Waltz.