Perfect fills every time
Picture this: you're behind the drum kit. Onstage. In front of 40,000 people. Backing up Celine Dion (my personal fantasy, you can substitute whoever you like). It's the middle of the show. Things are going great. The band is on fire and the crowd is LOVING it. The whole, massive room is moving to YOUR beat. Each song is bigger the last. You're unstoppable. You're in the middle of a brand-new, unreleased track. It's amazing. Celine's (or whoever's) best work yet. People are losing their minds. So you decide you're really going to wow them. You're just coming out of the verse and heading into the epic, shout-along chorus. You know exactly what this moment needs. A huge drum fill to bring the whole crowd to their feet.
So you go for it! Your hands are racing around the kit - snare, toms, cymbals, it's all a blur. You're a savage demon! No, a beautiful angel of cosmic light! No one has ever seen anything like this before! You can FEEL the faces being melted. You bring it to a triumphant climax with a sublime, euphoric cymbal crash. You finally look up from your drums, a master of the universe, surveying your domain.
And what do you see? The bass player is staring at you and frowning. Your singer (whose name is on the marquee, posters, T-shirts and tickets) is trying to amp the crowd up, but something's not quite right. The dancers have fallen out of sync - one actually fell offstage. You glance down at your phone, sitting beside your floor tom. It's blowing up. Good, right? But what's that sound..... are people laughing?
Looks like you got so caught up in your fill that you didn't notice how long it was. Can't have too much of a good thing, right? Well, in this case, you appear to have confused the entire band. You played right through the chorus, over top of the big shout-along line and everything came to a grinding halt. Check your phone again - what do those notifications say? "Fail"? "lolllllllll"??!
Whew! It was all just a dream. Here's a quick exercise to help you avoid that nightmare scenario:
Fire up a metronome in 4/4 time. It can be an app (that's what I use) - what's important is that it has a different sound for beat '1' of the measure (like this). Play a beat along with it. Throw in some fills. They can be anything you want. Just make sure they resolve in the standard spot - with a crash on the "1" of the next measure. Not "in the same general area as the 1", right on it. Ideally, you should hit it so precisely that you can't hear the click.
And that's it. Your fills can be as simple or as wacky as you like - what's important is that you come out of them exactly where you need to. It matters, because in a live situation, other people are depending on you to do just that. Keep at it and you'll develop a solid sense of where those downbeats are, no matter what you're playing. Over time, this will allow you to play weirder and more adventurous fills, secure in the knowledge that you'll always land in the right spot no matter what. You genius!