Theloniuos Monk/Straight, No Chaser tutorial

Learn to play jazz drums at Dye House Drum Works

I thought I might share a couple of things with you today, as this afternoon I am enjoying the music of Thelonious Monk – and his drummer of the time, Ben Riley.

If you’re not familiar with Monk’s work, check him out. In terms of jazz greats, he’s right up there and really is someone with whom all musicians should become at least aware.

There is so much to love about the man and his music, but for me the real deal clincher is a singular sense of fun that comes through in his compositions and performances. Jazz is a music which can become rather sobered by its own many and intense complexities, but don’t get me wrong – Monk’s music is not comedy! It is serious in every positive sense, but personally I see him as a somewhat unique  master at communicating humour very naturally – and one who uses this as a powerful creative tool for increased emotive contrast.

Straight, No Chaser – Thelonious Monk (1967). Drummer – Ben Riley

I’ve copied a basic chart out here in a style I often use when investigating and communicating a largely improvised drum part of this nature. The intro however, I’ve tabbed directly as it is: a 12 bar drum solo using cross stick snare against the classic ‘ding, ding-a-ding’ jazz ride. It’s a great exercise in co-ordinated independence (or ‘interdependence’) and jazz ‘comping’ (accompanying). For clarity, the feel is in triplets with pedal hi hats on 2 & 4. To develop this part and to also open up more uses for it, I would recommend starting out by playing quiet/ghosted, standard ‘stick-tip-on-drumhead’ snares (as opposed to cross stick/side stick – as notated with the cross note-heads). *The cross rhythm ‘out’ from the solo I’ve notated here as pedal hi hats (stave #6), but on reflection it sounds more like it is sticked with the left hand – thankfully!


Straight no Chaser tutorial

 On stave #7, labelled ‘Intro/Theme Main Groove, (light)’, there is a basic 2 bar jazz phrase with a snare beat dropping on the very last swung quaver. This is a core pattern for the first time round the main theme after the drum solo intro. Improvising lightly and sparsely around this is the way to go. The next stave (marked ‘loose hats’) is dynamically heavier and relates to the next time round the theme with the band. The kick notation is there as another basic indication: the last off beat quaver of the two bar phrase is a bass drum this time, with a rather natty continuous off-beat kick bar used as a fill.

The little snare 1/16’s indicator in the left margin is a note to pick up the fill into the solos – a short crescendo each time.

Like I mentioned earlier, this is a basic learning-format chart I use for myself, and also for teaching if the track is highly improvised. It’s a reminder of notable content rather than a full bar-for-bar account. If you run the track while looking through the chart, it should all make good sense.

“Solos: choppy ride & comping/with kicks!” I’ll often just note anything which strikes me in terms of feel on these charts too. Riley’s ride cymbal approach does sound quite choppy to me – ‘staccato’ (short/sharp) as opposed to smooth; ‘comping’ is suggesting a looser approach and ‘with kicks!’ is specified as the bass drum now plays more of a roll in amongst the ad libs.

The crescendo snare roll notated in stave #10 relates to the fill idea Riley uses between themes – try this with pedal hi hat 2 & 4 through the bar too.

“Nice Bits!” Once you have established the form, dynamics and improvising, a great way of developing new ideas from a track is to listen, steal and learn and develop whatever you like the sound of! Staves 10, 11 and 12 are just notes on odd bars taken from the track which stood out to me.

Happy comping!

For drum lessons in Leicester, visit our drum school!



4 thoughts on “Theloniuos Monk/Straight, No Chaser tutorial

  1. Thank you for placing these studies where I can learn from them so easily.
    I look forward to seeing more of them from Dye House Drums!
    Best wishes from Italy.

    • Hi Guillermo.
      Thanks for stopping by and so happy to hear the post here has been useful for you. I’m hoping to upload these tutorial blogs once a month so please do stop by again!
      Best wishes to Italy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.