I’d like to talk about what I call "before-and-after beats." These are snare or bass drum notes that are played either an eighth or sixteenth-note before and/or after major notes within a groove (i.e.: the backbeats on 2 and 4, the downbeat of 1, etc.). I use this concept to embellish and improvise while playing a groove. You can use some of these ideas as fills or as variations within grooves you already play.
Ex. 1 shows the bare-bones groove we will use as the basis for our elaboration with before-and-after beats. Ex. 2 demonstrates an eighth-note snare drum note after beat 2 and a sixteenth-note bass drum note after beat 4.
A lot of emphasis today is put on ghost notes. These notes serve almost as anti-ghost notes. They should jump out at opportune times in order to propel the groove forward. Ex. 3 shows how an accented sixteenth-note snare drum accent before beat 1 can add forward motion to this groove. Ex. 4 gets a little more syncopated by adding a sixteenth-note bass drum accent after the eighth-note snare drum hit after beat 2.
Now we can get even more adventurous with the syncopation in Ex. 5. This one can work well as a fill at the end of a four-bar phrase. You can practice these by playing Ex. 1 for three measures and then playing any of the other examples for the fourth measure. Once you get comfortable, try mixing and matching the examples. Most importantly, try letting your mind relax and let your hands come up with their own variations.