'Dreams' Slightly Syncopated Groove Style Fill

A simple eighth note and quarter note rhythmic fill that has a slightly syncopated feel using the song 'Dreams' by Van Halen as an example.

In this lesson you will be learning a fill inspired by the song Dreams by Van Halen. The fill in question is used many times through the song in different orchestrations but can first be heard at around the 42 second mark in the video linked. The fill is one bars long and is a simple combination of a standard eighth note right hand with snares shifted around to create a more interesting rhythm. What I like about this fill is the offbeat, almost syncopated, feel the new snare placement gives. It is also really simple to play!

The basic version of the fill looks like this:

A one bar fill using odd snare placement

This should be thought of as a 'template' to the ideas we are going to look at in a moment. Through the song this is the rhythm that is used but often rolls on toms are added on beat 4 in various forms. Spend some time now getting comfortable with this pattern and when you can play it as written try adding it into an 'A A A B' style pattern.

In the example given, the groove is played to fit a rock ballad but it will also fit any rock/pop/funk song really well. The Van Halen song is played at a tempo of around 140bpm so it is quite quick but the great thing about this fill is that it will work at much lower or higher tempos too. Using the different voices on the back beat is a great way to stop your grooves 'stagnating', which is a fancy way of saying 'not playing the same thing all the time'.

Variations On The Template Fill

Below I have given listen some simple variations on the template fill given above. These mostly involve changing what is played on beat 4 but I have included some other small changes too. As with all exercises like this, use the given parts as suggestions for creating your own versions of the part.

Variation 1

Replace the last eighth note with two sixteenth high toms.

A fill based on the 'Dreams' fill

Variation 2

An extra kick has been added on beat two and beat four has been replaced with four sixteenth notes split over the high and floor tom.

A fill based on the 'Dreams' fill

Variation 3

This variation gives an idea for using the part at higher tempos. The right hand has been switched to quarter notes (and moved to the crash cymbal) whilst beat four has a kick followed by an eighth note snare. This creates even more of a syncopated feel within the fill.

A fill based on the 'Dreams' fill

Variation 4

This version is similar to a variation used later on in the song. An extra kick is added after beat 3 and beat 4 is replaced with four sixteenth note floor toms.

A fill based on the 'Dreams' fill

Variation 5

This time crashes are placed with the snare to create more of an accent based fill. All other eighth note right hands have been removed but could be put back in.

A fill based on the 'Dreams' fill


  1. Learn all given examples at the tempo of the song (141bpm), then try speeding up to see how it sounds.
  2. Experiment with creating your own grooves based on this part.
  3. Try playing a long to the full Van Halen song, the rest of the song is built mostly from level 1 ideas but there are a couple of much harder parts interspersed throughout.