How to Play a Drum Solo: Expert Tips and Techniques

How to Play a Drum Solo

Playing a drum solo can be incredibly daunting if you haven’t done it before. You’re put on the spot, and your band members and the crowd are waiting for you to play something cool and exciting. 

Over the years, I’ve found that it works really well to actually plan my drum solos. Like learning grooves and fills, learning how to play a good solo has become part of my regular practice routine when I play drums.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improvise and play something on the spot. You’ll just be much better at playing solos if you work on a few key areas. 

So, here are some tips and techniques for playing better drum solos and improve your drumming skills. 

Drum Solo Techniques

Use Dynamics

My number one tip for playing a good drum solo is to use dynamics. This refers to how loud or soft you play the drums. You don’t just have to be a jazz drummer to do this. Even if you’re a loud rock drummer, dynamics are important. 

Having a wide range of dynamics throughout your solo is great for keeping a crowd engaged. If you play everything loudly or everything softly, you may lose the attention of whoever is listening. By going up and down in volume, you’re making it interesting. 

The crowd will be drawn in, waiting to see what you do next. The cool thing about this is that you don’t need to play insanely fast intricate patterns. As long as you’re creating a volume journey, people will enjoy your solo. 

Here are two great exercises to practice your dynamics. 

Dynamics Ex 1

This first exercise has you playing a consistent single stroke roll on the snare drum. For the first eight notes, you’re going to play loud rimshots. For the next eight notes, you’re going to play soft ghost notes.

Dynamics Ex 2

This next exercise has the same concept, but you’re going to play a pattern around the drums. 

Leave Space

My next suggestion is to leave plenty of space throughout your drum solo. We all have the tendency to blaze notes around the kit, thinking that people want to hear that more than anything. 

A crowd will definitely be impressed with it, but they’ll start losing interest the longer you do it. That’s where space comes in. One of the key things I’ve learned about music and drumming is that space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves. 

By leaving gaps here and there throughout your solo, you’re building a bit of suspense, which a crowd will love. When you create tension, you create a better story, and that’s what good drum solos are all about. 

Check these exercises out to help you work on leaving space.

Leave Space Ex 1

For the first exercise, you’re going to play 16th notes on the snare drum, followed by two 16th notes on the kick drum. You’ll then leave a space of four 16th notes before repeating the pattern to create a cool phrase. 

Leave Space Ex 2

Here is a basic 8th note rock beat, but you’re going to completely leave out the notes on beat 1 of the second bar. You’ll come back in with a crash and snare on beat 2. This is a seriously effective technique that always sounds good in a drum solo. 

Keep a Backbeat

My next tip is to try to keep a backbeat going when playing your drum solo. This means that you’ll play a repeating snare drum rhythm to create a groove. 

Another way of saying this would be to play a groove drum solo. General listeners often prefer to hear grooves rather than intricate fills. They’re easier to listen to and easier to understand, so they’re often a hit when it’s your time to solo. 

An effective technique would be to keep the backbeat going but then play patterns and phrases around it. 

Here are some ideas. 

Keep a Backbeat Ex 1

This is a repeating linear phrase, but notice how the snare drum comes on beats 2 and 4. There’s your backbeat. You can change where you play all of the other notes, but keeping the snare in those spots will create a grooving feel. 

Keep a Backbeat Ex 2

Here’s a more intense example, but it keeps the same idea. You play around the drums while keeping the snare drum notes consistent on beats 2 and 4. 


Another key aspect of playing a good solo is to repeat things that you’ve done while playing the solo. Again, the goal is to keep a crowd engaged, and playing something that you’ve made them familiar with works well. 

The cool thing about this is that you can use it to cover any mistakes that you may have made. If you accidentally hit your bass drum without planning to, do it again. Then, it becomes part of your solo, and everyone thinks that it was intentional. 

A lot of drummers will base entire solos around repeating a certain thing. You could play the bell of your ride cymbal just once. If you keep doing that every now and then, that becomes the anchor for your solo. 

There aren’t really exercises to practice this kind of thing, but just think about repetition when working on your soloing skills. 

Repeat Full Rhythmic Ideas

My final technique to mention is repeating full phrases and rhythms. A great way of building a drum solo is to take a rhythm and base the whole solo around it. By sticking to that rhythm, the crowd will be more engaged. As I mentioned earlier, they’ll feel familiar, which makes them understand what you’re doing a bit better. 

To practice this, it’s a great idea to write out a few rhythms and then see how you can play them around the drum kit while also incorporating all the techniques I mentioned above. 

Here are two examples to try out. 

Repeating Rhythms Ex 1

This pattern is a common Latin rhythm, and it sounds great within a drum solo. It’s called a 3/2 clave, as you have three notes in the first two counts, followed by two notes in the last two counts. 

Repeat Rhythms Ex 2

Here’s another bouncy pattern that you can repeat throughout your solo. It starts off with straight single strokes in beats 1 and 2. It then moves to a more syncopated pattern in beats 3 and 4. 

Tips for Working on a Drum Solo

Improvise Every Day

My biggest piece of advice would be to constantly improvise when you practice on the drums. Set time apart to work on your soloing skills. 

You can use the techniques that I mentioned above and try to incorporate them in different rhythms and patterns that you play around the kit.

The more you improvise, the more you’ll stumble across ideas that you really like. You can then refine them and turn them into a great drum solo. You’ll also start developing your own style, setting you apart from other drummers and other musicians. 

Record Your Solo

You should also regularly record yourself playing drum solos. You can watch them back and get a better point of view. You can then analyze your playing and decide which parts you liked and which parts need more work. 

It was an absolute game-changer when I started filming myself playing. I realized where my drumming sounded a bit sloppy, and I was able to work on those areas and become a much better drummer. That helped me play better drum solos as well. 


I’d also recommend watching pro drummers play solos. Drummers like Larnell Lewis, John Bonham, Aric Improta, and Dave Weckl all have dozens of solo videos that you can watch. 

You can see how those drummers apply the techniques I spoke about. They’re experts at doing them, and that’s why their drum solos sound so good! 

You’ll also get inspired, and that will encourage you to practice.

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