As drummers we are always looking for new ways to support a song and create parts for the artists we work with. Sometimes a song needs atmospheric changes from the drums to accommodate harmonic and melodic developments and variations. Often, especially in singer/songwriter, contemporary Christian/gospel, and contemporary jazz/fusion we are directed to “float” or play “colors.” What this means, in technical terms, is to play light time and rhythms somewhat randomly, primarily on cymbals. Having a go-to technique when asked to “float” is good practice for all drummers at all levels. We explore this here in part one of our four-part series on changing the atmosphere of a song with the drum set.

Here’s my default “floating” technique.

Start with a basic eighth-note pattern on the ride cymbal with slightly accented downbeats (Ex. 1).

Ex. 1

Next, get the left hand involved by playing the e’s and ah’s with subtle accents on the ah of 1 and (Ex. 2), but avoid being too repetitive.

Ex. 2


Add 5-stroke rolls, diddles, and drags (Ex. 3).

Ex. 3

Splash the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 (Ex. 4).

Ex. 4

Add the bass drum, lightly, on beats 2 and 4 (Ex. 5).

Ex. 5

Mix in, cymbal bells, subtle crashes, light toms. Most importantly, experiment in order to develop your own voice and go-to method when asked to “play colors” or “float.”

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.