Basic Beats Every Drummer Must Know

The beat you play has to gel with the band. But every beat must also be interpreted correctly so that it makes rhythmic sense within the context of its particular style. So no matter what style you are asked to play, you must never forget that the patterns you play are only as important as the way in which you play them.

In this article we attempt to marry those two concepts together. The following 18 grooves span a wide variety of styles — from funk and reggae to punk and flat-tire shuffles — presented as both musical notation and tips on how to manipulate the feel of the notes.

Since our goal is to help you play each beat with the appropriate groove and feel, we intentionally pared the following examples down to their most fundamental forms, without fills or variations. After all, you can always elaborate on our suggested patterns in the privacy of your practice room.

Let’s check out some grooves and styles and how they are often interpreted.

Rock

Tempo: Varying tempo
Beat Placement: On the beat
Time Feel: Even or slightly swung
Dynamics: Varying, but when in doubt, play loudly

Rock is usually played on the beat with a straight, even feel. Think Bon Jovi. Sure, drummers sometimes add a hint of swing to grooves, like John Bonham did, but generally those drummers are the wonderful exception to the norm. The drumming tends to be very loud, so wear earplugs.

DRUM! Notation Guide

rock beat

Swing

Tempo: Wide range
Beat Placement: Sometimes manipulated for effect
Time Feel: Usually has a triplet feel, but this straightens out at faster tempos
Dynamics: Varying, but when in doubt, play softly

Drummers often think swing is based on triplets. While that is generally true, it can vary depending on tempo. At most medium tempos, the standard jazz ride pattern is played in triplets. However, at slow tempos a drummer may choose to play something closer to a dotted eighth-note followed by a sixteenth-note to keep a sense of urgency in the groove. At very fast speeds the cymbal pattern tends to straighten out into a quarter-note followed by two eighth-notes. This occurs not primarily out of choice but out of necessity since at very high speeds it becomes physically impossible to articulate a strict triplet spacing. So even if a drummer could play it that way, it would sound “wrong” to our ears since we never hear it played like that. These differences in feel occur gradually as the tempo changes, so you may find yourself playing anywhere between two of the notated feels depending on what’s physically necessary.

rock beat

Reggae

Tempo: Slow to medium
Beat Placement: Behind the beat
Time Feel: Varying degrees of swing
Dynamics: Wide range

Most reggae has a laid-back, behind-the-beat feel. At faster tempos, the feel moves more toward the middle. Tip: remember to start all reggae tunes with a peculiar fill!

rock beat

Hip-Hop

Tempo: Slow to medium
Beat Placement: Behind or on the beat
Time Feel: Varying degrees of swing
Dynamics: Varies

Obviously, a lot of hip-hop music uses samples and drum machines, and the feel can be straight or swung. While dynamics may be pretty flat, ghost notes are often used to add dimension to the groove. Patterns are often repeated without variation, so the ability to hold a tempo and control your dynamics is very important in this style. Instead of a traditional fill, you may just stop playing for a measure to set up a chorus.

rock beat

Funk

Tempo: Medium
Beat Placement: On the beat, but can vary
Time Feel: Even or swung
Dynamics: Wide range

Hip-hop artists frequently use funk grooves for their samples. Funk is often played with a wide dynamic range, buzzes, bounces, open hi-hats, and unusual snare placement. So if you want to become a good funk drummer you’ve got quite a task ahead. Lots of funk grooves are medium tempo, which gives the drummer the option of playing the beats straight or with a little swing.

rock beat
Page 1 of 3

More Lessons