Let’s face it. Unless you’re in a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band, most of what we play falls under the category “bread and butter.” Money beats, four-on-the-floor, and simple fills rule the day. However, creative drumming is making a comeback, and it’s becoming more and more necessary to have techniques at your disposal to innovate onstage and in the studio—just listen to Jesse Kongos (Kongos), Bryan Devendorf (The National), Thom Green (Alt-J), and Chris Collis (TTNG) to hear examples of this. One such technique is displacements—moving the starting point of a groove or lick. This works for just about any rhythmic or melodic phrase, and can potentially produce something more interesting than the original.

In each set of examples here, you’ll notice labeling pointing to original and displaced content. Moving back and forth between the two provides a frame of reference, which helps us drummers—and the audience—get our bearings. The intent here is to pick and chose the best-sounding options, not necessarily to reveal every possible variation in the “grid.” Hold on tight as we attempt to turn your drumming world upside down (or backward).

Helpful Hints

  • The downward-pointing arrows in the notation reveal where the displaced versions are gleaned from the original
  • Make sure to count or sing the rhythms out loud to help engrain the changed grooves and fills 
  • A metronome can also be handy for these exercises
  • While displacements are a great addition to your toolbox, they can be problematic if you don’t communicate with your bandmates what you’re about to do

Entire Pattern

One of the most common ways to displace a groove (such as the two basic patterns in Exs.  1–4) is to move the kick and snare in eighth-note increments to the right (or left). When funky combinations of eighths and sixteenths are brought into the equation (Exs. 5–6), the sound is more mysterious. Finally, when you displace a pattern by adding odd number of sixteenths (Exs. 7–10), things get even more off the rails.

One Part Of The Kit

Displacing one part of the kit while the other parts remain the same helps spotlight the altered sound source. In Exs. 11–13, the hi-hat moves a sixteenth-note to the right each in each successive measure. Ex. 14 combines all three displaced hi-hat patterns within a two-measure phrase.


This section uses two measures of funk followed by a two-measure, sixteenth-note fill. The fill in Ex. 15 involves consecutive five-note groupings (marked by accents) orchestrated around the kit, ending with two notes on the floor tom (6 x 5 + 2 = 32). In Ex. 16, the same fill is displaced by two sixteenths (see arrow). In other words, the displacement begins three notes into the original fill. This also affects the end of the fill as the two floor toms now appear two notes earlier in the phrase. Ex. 17 uses seven-note groupings ending with four notes on the floor tom (4 x 7 + 4 = 32). The fill is displaced by seven notes (an entire grouping) in Ex. 18. The four notes on the floor tom are now located near the middle of the phrase. In Ex. 19, the displacement starts with the floor tom notes. Notice how the alternate sticking in each one of these examples picks up right where the displacement leaves off. Continuity in sticking is important to keep track of where you are in the phrase.


Rudiments imply groupings of notes—with specific stickings—which allow easy maneuverability around the drum set. Exs. 21–23 spell out the three displacements of the single paradiddle (Ex. 20 is the original). Accents are purposefully left out to enable creativity. In Exs. 24–27, the original and displaced versions of the single paradiddle are fleshed out as groove material.

Each of the five displacements of the paradiddle-diddles is included in Exs. 28–39. These are first shown on one surface (Exs. 28–33) and then applied to the high, middle, and floor toms at natural accents points (the two single strokes that make up the paradiddle-diddle) in Exs. 34–39.

Famous Grooves

In this section, patterns are borrowed from iconic drummers and displaced in optimal ways. The RRLR RLRL sticking is a New Orleans innovation credited to Johnny Vidacovich (and popularized by Stanton Moore). This particular variant (Ex. 40) includes snare accents that outline a 2:3 clave. The displaced version (Ex. 41) allows for a slightly different accenting in the second half of the measure.


Ex. 42 is Steve Gadd’s Mozambique from Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening,” while the off-beat bass drum and hi-hat chicks of the displacement (Ex. 43)
cause the groove to become Mick Fleetwood-esque.

John Bonham’s funky 9/8 groove from Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” (Ex. 44) is often confused with the displaced version which appears to start the song (Ex. 45).

James Brown’s “Super Bad” by Jabo Starks (Ex. 46) is flipped around and sounds just as funky in Ex. 47.

When displacing Jeff Porcaro’s half-time shuffle on Toto’s “Rosanna” (Ex. 48), it makes the most sense to keep the hi-hat and snare constant but displace the bass drum pattern (Ex. 49), while on Joe Chamber’s funk-Brazilian hybrid on Wayne Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple” (Ex. 50), the snare is the only part displaced (Ex. 51).

Jazz Ride

The typical ride pattern (Ex. 52) works perfectly well in most jazz settings, but endless repetitions can become tedious. Exs. 53–55 are the three displacements of this pattern, and Exs. 56–59 take the original ride and its displacements and add hi-hat chicks on 2 and 4, bass drum hits along with the ride, and snare filling in the eighth-note triplet spaces.


The first example here is a standard bossa nova (Ex. 60). One stick plays a rim-click on the snare outlining what is known as a Brazilian clave (2:3, in this case). The displaced pattern (Ex. 61) flips the clave around to 3:2, and the bass drum is placed in funky spots. Ex. 62 is a linear Cuban pattern called a songo. The displaced songo (Ex. 63) is a great example of how effective it can be to displace linear phrases, since every variation seems to sound good. Notice again the continuity in sticking between the original and displaced versions. The last example is a drum set amalgamation (this groove sounds best played by a full Afro-Cuban percussion section) of a cha-cha (Ex. 64). Displacing this groove by one eighth-note (Ex. 65) places the rim-click on each offbeat, implying a double-time feel.

Foot Ostinatos

Ostinatos (continuous patterns) with your feet add meat to your solo phrases and can also aid in developing your overall independence. Exs. 66, 68, and 70 are three of my favorite foot ostinatos and Exs. 67, 69, and 71 are displacements of those. Snare drum eighths are played over these ostinatos and can be executed as single strokes, doubles, etc. Once you feel comfortable playing eighths, try quarters, sixteenths, and combinations of quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. Don’t forget to practice these with a metronome.

In these examples, ostinatos are played by bass drum and hi-hat chick. Feel free to experiment with other sound sources. Recent advancements in mounting hardware for foot pedals have made cowbells, woodblocks, djembe, and pandeiros more accessible. 


If you need new fill ideas, displacements might be what you’re looking for. Ex. 72 uses a combination of hands and feet as the sticks move down the drums. Ex. 73 is displaced by a sixteenth-note, Ex. 74 by an eighth-note, Ex. 75 by a quarter-note, and Ex. 76 by a half-note. Which fill version sounds best to you? You can create your own fill by writing it out yourself and deciding on your own displacements.

Vertical Displacement

All our examples so far have used horizontal displacement (left to right movements in terms of notation). It may seem abstract at first, but it’s possible to move parts vertically and come up with some interesting ideas.

Ex. 77 is a typical funk pattern with consecutive eighths on the hi-hat and the kick and snare creating rhythmic interest. Ex. 78 moves the eighth-notes to the bass drum, the snare plays the bass drum part, and the hi-hat plays the snare part. Ex. 79 includes straight eighths on the snare, the hi-hat plays the bass drum part, and the bass drum plays the snare part. In Ex. 80, the hi-hat returns to consecutive eighths, while the snare and bass drums parts are reversed.

Ex. 81 is a typical blues shuffle: The ride plays a jazz pattern, the snare taps out consecutive swung eighths, the bass drum occurs on 1 and 3, and hi-hat chicks on each quarter (four on the floor). In Ex. 82, the ride plays the snare part, the snare plays the ride part, and bass drum and hi-hat remain the same. In Ex. 83, the ride stays the same, the bass drum plays the snare part, the hi-hat plays the bass drum part, and the snare plays the hi-hat part. Finally, in Ex. 84, the ride and snare are reversed, and the bass drum and hi-hat are reversed. Try vertical displacements with other groove types such as Latin, jazz, reggae, and metal.

Behind The Bar

So far, all of the displacements in this lesson (except for vertical displacements) have started ahead of the bar line (after beat 1). When you begin displacing before the downbeat, the illusion can become even more intense. Ex. 85 displaces the groove a sixteenth behind the bar (starting on the ah of 4), and Ex. 86 displaces the same pattern by three sixteenths (starting on the e of 4). Once you have the concept down, experiment with more complex kick-snare patterns.

Modulation To Triplets

Exs. 87–88 are gleaned from a Matt Garstka YouTube video called Clinic Displacement. He broaches the topic of metric modulation using triplets—and the displacement of those triplets—starting at the 1:45 mark. Garska adds some flair in his demonstration and those elements have been stripped away here to more clearly introduce this topic. Ex. 87 involves two measures of the money beat (1 and 3 on bass drum, 2 and 4 on snare, and consecutive eighths on the hi-hat), and two measures which modulate to eighth-note triplets. Seemingly out of nowhere—which is the magic of metric modulation—the groove seems to speed up and then settle back down after the repeat. Ex. 88 starts off the same, but the modulated groove starts one eighth-note triplet later.