Drum Programming: Using Kicks In Fills

Toby Pitman returns with another excellent set of tips on programming realistic drums. This time he focuses on using kicks in fills to create impressive results.  

Here's a very simple trick and a really useful thing to know about how drummers use the kick drum in fills. Let's get straight to it!!

Here's a really basic fill:

This is simple 16th-note fill around the kit with a flam at the end. Here it is in Logic's Piano Roll:

16th note fill with flam at end

The snare and toms play four notes each. In the real world this would be sticked R-L-R-L like a single stroke roll on each drum. This leads with the right hand (R).

Now, a very common thing for drummers to do is to replace the second two hits on each drum with two kicks. So now we get R-L-K-K. It sounds like this:

replace the second two hits on each drum with two kicks

Now that doesn't sound all that impressive at this tempo but it serves a very good purpose in the real world: It creates a gap that gives the drummer enough time to get to the next drum.

If I change the fill to 32nd-notes (double time) you get a typical flashy rock fill. Think Dave Grohl or John Bonham:

a flashy rock-fill

Drummers use the kick in this way a lot to achieve fast and flashy fills. Try programming with this sticking, K-K-R-L, for some variations. It requires a good bass drum technique to pull it off on a kit. Some players use one kick, some two. Here's another example:

This time we're going to group this in threes to make a triplet rock fill. This is total John Bonham territory!! 

group this in three's to make a triplet rock fill

Now we have something different and I've employed a subtle but very important idea here too: This time the fill leads with the left hand L-R-K (Snare-Tom-Kick). Try air drumming it!!

This is crucial to know as a drummer otherwise you'd end up cross-armed and the fill would be impossible to play. Bonham leads with the left hand a lot. You could lead with the right and do Tom(R)-Snare(L)-K to create different variations. 

Here's another variation that mixes up the drums using the L-R-K approach:

another variation that mixes up the drums using the L-R-K approach

So let's try another idea: This time I'm going to take a simple rudiment called a para-diddle-diddle which is sticked R-L-RR-LL. I'm going to replace all the left hand (L) hits with the kick. In the first part of the fill you can see going Snare-Kick-Snare-Snare-Kick-Kick. The right hand strokes then just move around the kit. There's a flam on the first hit of the 6-stroke pattern, too.

There's a flam on the first hit of the 6 stroke pattern too

As this is a 6-stroke rudiment it works especially well with triplets which sounds a bit more flashy but is exactly the same concept. 

this is a 6 stroke rudiment it works especially well with triplets

This concept of using rudiments and swapping out hand strokes for kicks is very common in fills and is worth investigating. You can come up with all sorts of fun stuff. In fact, a really good example of applying this to a beat is the Para-Diddle: R-L-RR-L-R-L-L.

You can see what it looks like here:

the Para-Diddle. R-L-RR-L-R-L-L

If I swap all the right hand strokes for kicks and apply some crafty dynamics I get this very recognizable groove: 

You can see it here plain as day in the MIDI editor:

swap all the right hand strokes for kicks and apply some crafty dynamics

I always try to visualize these things while programming. Knowing a few basics about sticking (rudiments) and leading hands can really help out when making realistic fills. 

For the past 20 years Toby has worked as a professional guitarist, programmer and producer. Clients include Sir Paul McCartney, George Michael, Shirley Bassey, Yusuf Islam, Giles Martin as well as the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies. He has also worked extensively in TV, Advertising and Film. As well as composing himself he has also ... Read More


As usual, Toby delivers completely practical, and completely awesome tips for drum programming!

For another tut, it might be nice to see more depth on velocity editing and choice of hits (e.g. ending a flam with a strong snare hit sample).

Thanks again! Brian
Excellent way to look at programming drums and make them sound more realistic.

Thanks, Steve
Your Bad to the bone.

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