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Drum Solo - Form Concepts

So you've been working on all these great licks and fills ... but how do you organize them and put it all together to create an interesting drum solo?

Some of my favorite drum solos, dare I say "the best", are the ones that have a cohesive structure and form with plenty of improvisation and development.

The best way to understand form concepts is to study and analyze music. I have found that listening to how Classical music is structured and organized really helps with this understanding ... regardless of the genre of music you are playing.

Rather than take the time to fully explain these various compositional forms, I will assume that you already understand terms such as Theme, Variation, Development, Improvisation, etc. It's impossible for me to cover all of the terms and methods used in composition, however I will try to give just a few possibilities for you to explore and work on.


  • Opening Theme - This can be anything you want. Develop this melody so that it is fully understood by the audience to be your Main Theme or statement.
  • Contrasting Section - This could something that you use to break away from the Theme for a bit, before returning back again. You could also do some free Improvisation ... playing what you feel in the moment.
  • Theme Development - You can go back to your original A section, or create a new theme (B section) or variation of the original theme, to take you in another direction. Often times, re-introducing your original theme helps the audience "stay with you" ... plus just makes musical sense.
  • Climax and/or Closing - This is just what it says ... new material, improvisation, a recapitulation of the opening, etc.

The use of dynamics and phrasing is up to you — it all depends on what you are trying to say in your solo. A well-rounded solo includes elements of contour and contrast. You can establish initial rhythmic/melodic theme(s) at the beginning, detour into a contrasting section, then work towards a climactic point in your solo.

If you don't have time to use a lot of symmetry and thematic development, such as when you are playing a short solo, you may just need to make an Opening statement, develop it, and escalate to an intense Climax.

Remember, this is only a basic outline; there are no set time limits to each section or solo. You might want to shorten or lengthen particular sections to accommodate your own personal interpretations and ideas.

I highly recommend that you do some research and study some of these popular Classical composition forms:

  • Simple Binary Form
  • Ternary Form
  • Compound Binary Form (Sonata Form)
  • Rondo Form
  • Theme & Variations (Air with Variations)

There are many types of composition to which distinctive names are given, each representing not a 'Form' but rather a style in which one of the above forms is presented.

I hope this will give you a good starting point to creating some musical drum solos. Remember, your solo needs to say something; it should tell a story, convey a thought, etc. 

Have fun!

Bart Elliott

Bart Elliott is a degreed professional musician with a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance, and Master of Music post-graduate work. His 40+ years in the music and entertainment industry, over 100 album recordings to his credit, as well as an exhaustive understanding of contemporary and classical music makes him a complete and skilled master musician.

Bart continues to work as an active drummer, percussionist, composer, producer, music arranger, director, comedian, MC, educator, writer and visual artist. He is the owner and creator of DrummerCafe.com, which he founded in December of 1996.

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