The word chops is arguably one of the most divisive words in the drumming industry. I’ve heard many drummers swear by them, while others say that chops have ruined modern musicianship.
The latter is a bit of a hot take, and I think it mostly comes down to people misunderstanding what chops actually are.
So, in this guide, I’m going to break down the phrase and explain everything about it. I’ll also give you a few chops to learn that will ultimately make you a better drummer once you can play them.
What are Drum Chops?
Drum chops are basically hand and foot patterns that you can phrase together in different ways on the drums.
They’re drum fills, but they often sound very busy and dense, leading them to sound complicated when a drummer plays them.
A lot of chops are linear, meaning you don’t play any drum or cymbal at the same time. However, a good drum chop can be any combination of notes, no matter how you play them around the kit.
Why are Drum Chops Such a Hot Topic?
Drum chops are heavily debated for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of drummers disagree on what the term actually refers to. Some drummers say chops refer to general proficiency in your drumming, while others refer to chops as quick patterns that get played on the kit.
The first description may have been true at some point, but the second has undoubtedly become the proper description with the number of drummers that refer to and play chops these days.
Another reason why drum chops are hotly debated is because many drummers and musicians believe that it’s overplaying when you use them. Since chops sound quite dramatic on the drums, a lot of people think that they’re too hectic to be used in a musical context.
That’s partly true, but it mostly depends on what style of music you use chops in. A light indie song wouldn’t be the place, but you actually have to play some great chops if you’re in a jazz fusion band.
How to Play Chops on the Drums
Here are a few chops with drum notation to learn on the drums. I’ll start by showing you the basic pattern on the snare drum and kick drum on drum sheet music. I’ll then give a few examples of how to move the chop around the drum kit.
Drum Chop 1
This first chop idea is a basic linear pattern that has you playing between your hands and feet. You’ll get started by playing an accented right hand, and then you’ll follow that with two ghost notes on the left hand. After that, you’ll play one bass drum note. That will repeat continuously to create the chop.
This chop works really well when you keep your left hand on the snare drum to play all the ghost notes. You can then move your right hand around the drum set to create a bit of texture.
Here are a few ideas:
Drum Chop 2
This next chop uses the same idea as the last one, but you’re going to add a bit more variety to it with a different combination on beats 2 and 3.
You’re also going to play two quick bass drum notes here, so make sure that your bass drum technique is refined before trying to speed it up.
On beat 2, you’re going to play alternating hands. You’re going to accent the first three, and then play the last one as a ghost note.
On beat 3, you’re going to play two quick bass drum notes. You’ll follow that with a right and left-hand stroke. The right-hand stroke will be accented, while the left stroke will be ghosted.
Here are a few ways to move that around the kit:
Drum Chop 3
This next chop is a simple phrase of three that gets repeated until the end of the bar. You’re going to alternate between your right and left hand for the first two notes. You’re then going to play a single bass drum note.
The next time you play the pattern, you’re going to start with your left hand instead.
That pattern will repeat until near the end of the bar, which is where you’ll play a single note with your left hand before the next bar starts.
This chop could be played with your right and left hand in the same place every time, but I’ve found that mixing them up adds a lot more variety to the entire pattern.
This chop has a lot more bass drum notes in it than the first two, so you’ll hear that it sounds a lot more dense than those ones. This makes it sound more “choppy,” which is a good thing! It’s just a lot harder to play at high tempos, especially if your bass drum foot can’t keep up with the speed of your hands.
Here are a few cool ways to play this around the drum kit:
Tips for Playing Chops on the Drums
Work on Both Your Hands and Feet
Since drum chops are all about hand and foot combinations, you should make sure that you have great technique in both areas to allow yourself to play more ideas.
At first, you should work on speeding up your hands and getting really comfortable moving them around the drums.
You should then solidify your bass drum technique. Some chops require you to play quick bass drum notes, so you’ll need to use the slide or heel-toe techniques to play those.
Once you’re good in both areas, you can move on to putting your hands and feet together. It can be quite tough to effortlessly move between playing the drums and bass drum, but that’s what chops are all about.
Filling in bass drum notes is what makes a good drum chop sound beefier.
Practice with a Metronome
A great way of developing the ability to play chops is by forming muscle memory with different patterns. By doing this, you won’t have to think about what you’re playing. Your hands and feet will just do it in the moment.
To develop muscle memory, you should practice hand and foot combinations with a metronome. Start very slowly, and then gradually increase the tempo as your limbs go into autopilot mode.
The more you practice like this, the cleaner your drumming will become. Remember that you need to fit dense chops within drum beats, and it can become quite noticeable if those chops are sloppy after playing a clean drum beat.
Create Your Own Patterns
Throughout all my years of playing the drums, I’ve found that the best chops I’ve come up with have been ones formed from patterns I was already comfortable with.
This is because I already had the muscle memory to play those patterns, so I could mainly focus on how to orchestrate them around the drum set.
While it’s good to learn chops from other drummers and by reading drum sheet music, I also highly recommend creating your own using patterns that you already know how to play.
Try your best to play them in new and fresh ways, and you can potentially come up with some really great drum chops.
Think About Chops Musically
A lot of people think that chops are just a group of fast patterns to play around the drums. The fastest drummers are the best ones at playing chops, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole point of drum chops is that they create a heavy sense of dynamic movement throughout the drum kit. The best chops are always ones that sound like they need to be there.
If you force a particular pattern into a song where it’s not supposed to be, it’s not going to sound good. However, that same pattern could fit like a glove in another song.
Drummers like Eric Moore and Aaron Spears are masters at this, so I highly recommend watching them play with different bands.
Play with Other Drummers
All the best drummers in the world that can play chops have one major thing in common. They all regularly attend drum sheds and jams.
This is when multiple drummers set up kits in a single room and take turns soloing.
A drum shed will expose you to the chops that other drummers play, and then you can learn from them to refine your own skills.
There’s also a small sense of healthy competition, and regularly attending sheds will encourage you to practice so that you always play better at the next one.
I mentioned Eric Moore and Aaron Spears earlier, but some other amazing drummers to check out are Chris Coleman, Fred Boswell Jr, Thomas Lang, and Matt Garstka.
All of these drummers have an incredible ability to batch phrases together and play them extremely quickly. I recommend watching them play to get a bit of inspiration and then hopping on the kit to play drums and improve your own chopping skills.