John Riley's

The Master Drummer

How to practice, play and think like a pro



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Based on more than 40 years of observing and studying the master players, John Riley takes you through exercises and strategies designed to improve control of your limbs, open your ears, and focus your mind on the achievement of your musical goals. Let's check it out.



John identifies the four fundamental qualities that all great drummers have in common: excellent technique, strong groove, fluid creativity, and superior musicianship. I couldn't agree more! The remainder of the DVD is designed to help you develop each of those skills.

Chapter 1: Technique

This chapter is broken down into the following areas:

  1. Hand Technique with segments covering the Traditional Grip, Ride Cymbal Technique, Moeller Technique, and Mini Moeller
  2. Foot Technique including hi-hat technique
  3. Five 4-way Coordination exercises using common jazz patterns
  4. Seven Headroom drills (headroom refers to having abilities in excess of what you will need to perform your musical role in the context of playing with a band. In another words, you should develop more chops than you'll need)
  5. The Gift - John's take on what it really means to be a "gifted" drummer

Chapter 2: The Groove

Covers the following:

  1. The Micro Dimension - the fine placement of the partials of each beat, which is strengthened by working on the previous 4-way coordination exercises
  2. The Macro Dimension - consistent overall tempo or pulse of a song from beginning to end. John explains his use of the melody line as a click-track to help keep a steady pulse
  3. The Emotional Dimension - involves both players and listeners. In other words, playing as an ensemble and not hogging the spotlight by playing for yourself
  4. Transitions - techniques for switching between brushes and sticks and for playing Latin to swing and back, plus a demonstration of groovin' the blues.

Chapter 3: Creativity

This section contains 26 exercises, based on classic jazz drum solo phrases, to help you expand your creativity with the goal of developing your own phrases. John takes you into his woodshed to demonstrate how he learned a solo originally played by Elvin Jones.

Chapter 4: Musicianship

As John puts it, musicianship is the assimilation of technique, groove, and creativity and the integration of them with a band. He feels that "In addition to having good time and fluid movement, making good judgments about what to play is the final piece of the puzzle."

Again, I'm in total agreement. In this section, John covers song forms and offers tips, like learning the melody and lyrics of the songs you play, that will help you play with a better feel. To illustrate these concepts, John takes us into the studio and breaks down one of his performances where he "trades fours" between members of his group. He also discusses the critical importance of having fast ears as a drumset musician!

Chapter 5: Summation

John wraps up with his final thoughts.


Bottom Line: John Riley's The Master Drummer - How to practice, play and think like a pro

I like the way this DVD is structured around the four fundamentals of great drumming: Technique, Groove, Creativity, and Musicianship. While technique is covered, John doesn't go into enough detail for a beginner to be able to learn it from this DVD alone. In fact, John recommends using other sources to learn technique. I suggest my Tension Free Drumming Concepts as a solid foundation for beginners and pros alike.

For the remainder of this 2-hour long DVD, John Riley covers the concepts of Groove, Creativity, and Musicianship in enough detail, especially when supplemented with the printable e-Book of exercises and 9 included play-along tracks, for drummers to build a solid foundation that can take them far along the road to becoming a master drummer. Although these concepts are applicable to any style of drumming, the included exercises and tracks are aimed specifically at the aspiring jazz drummer.

While a good value at a retail price of $29.95, click the following link to find it at a discount online: John Riley's The Master Drummer: How to practice, play and think like a pro.

Stay loose!

Tiger Bill


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