This month we look at a groove — really a collection of grooves — called the “train beat,” which is based on the concept of playing the snare drum with both hands. It is usually played at fast tempos, often with a double-time feel. It developed out of fast, two-beat (boom-chick) swing, march, and ethnic music, such as the polka.

The train beat shows up in a wide variety of musical styles, including Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart,” Little Richard’s “Lucille,” and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.”

The concept is to play both the ride cymbal part and the backbeats (2 and 4) on the snare. It is important to establish a consistent difference in the dynamics between the two parts by accenting the backbeats.

There are three basic ways to approach the groove, and they all give it a different feel.


Ex. 1 is what I call a straight-ride train beat, where the right hand plays every eighth-note. This turns the backbeats into left flams. Ex. 2 is a broken-ride train beat. The right hand breaks up the straight eighths, letting the left hand alone play the backbeats. Ex. 3 is a hand-to-hand train beat, where both hands play a role in creating the ride part.

Practice Pad Groove Train ex1-3

You can vary these basic beats in several ways to generate other grooves. Try swinging the eighths to produce a shuffling groove (Ex. 4). You can incorporate toms into the groove (Ex. 5). Because these grooves are usually played at fast tempos, I think about adding variations or fills every two or four measures to create longer phrases (Ex. 6). Remember to keep all your fill notes accented equally. Finally, in Ex. 7 and Ex. 8, try doubling the right- or left-hand ride in spots to thicken the groove.

Practice Pad Groove Train ex4-8

Add the train beat to your groove arsenal, come up with your own variations, and have fun!

JOE SMYTH is a founding member of the award-winning Sawyer Brown band, touring the world for the past 37 years. He also teaches drums and percussion at Brentwood Academy in Nashville, Tennessee.