Elements Of Style: 49 Beats Every Drummer Needs To Know

By Brad Schlueter

We’ve all been there. Someone in your band wants to play a song and you’re uncomfortable within that style. Worse still, they unexpectedly start playing it in the middle of a set. If you’ve done your homework, you may be able to fake it well enough to leave the stage with your ego relatively unscathed. If not, well, let’s just say that versatility has advantages that go beyond any single gig. You can work in more bands of different genres and get called for more gigs; but better still, learning other styles broadens your knowledge and improves your coordination. As you work to expand your abilities, you will become increasingly comfortable onstage because of the experience you’ve had adapting to new disciplines.

For this article we’re going to look at some common grooves every drummer should know. To keep the notation clear we’ve omitted pedaled hi-hat where several variations are possible.

As you learn these patterns expect to identify similarities between them. Most importantly: Is the time feel straight or swung? Is the feel behind, on, or ahead of the beat? And is the time signature based on simple or compound meters (triplets)? Dig deeper and you might research the size of the drums and cymbals used, how the drummer tunes his kit, and whether you need any percussion items like cowbells or tambourines.

Bottom line — to be convincing it takes more than learning some new beats. It helps to listen to the best drummers within that style and their groove variations and fills.

Once you master these initial patterns, learn others in each style and over time you’ll have a catalog of ideas to seamlessly incorporate into your playing. Don’t be afraid to adapt them to the musical situation at hand, because that’s what being a musician is all about.

We’ve got a lot to check out, so let’s get busy!

Samba

Genres: Latin, Jazz
Simplifying the bass drum pattern can be useful when you’re first learning this groove or anytime you need to play one at a low volume or fast tempos. Sambas can be played at the front of the beat for more energy. Don’t hesitate to play your fills in that rhythmically fertile area that lies between a straight and a triplet feel.

Mambo

Genres: Latin
Your ride cymbal’s bell will come in handy with this tricky groove. If the ride pattern is too difficult or if you’re playing a song like “Tequila,” try straight eighth-notes instead.

Bossa Nova

Genres: Latin, Jazz
This groove can employ a variety of rim click patterns, and you may find using just the second half of the measure will work well behind a singer or anytime you want a sparse feel. For a different texture, try using a lateral brush sweep or a shaker in place of the hi-hat.

Bossa Nova Pro Tip By Tommy Igoe
(Big band leader, Blood Sweat & Tears)

Since most “world” music is older than the modern-day drum set, it’s crucial to think like a percussionist to get an authentic sound. Conceive of the hi-hat as a soft, shaker-like instrument, rather than the normal “tick tick” of a drum stick on metal. The bass drum is a surdo, played with an ultra-fuzzy mallet on real goatskin heads. The rim-click is the distant knock of warm oak. Remember, any robot can play a bossa-nova pattern — that’s easy, but it takes a flesh-and-blood musician to pull the right sounds out of each instrument to deliver an authentic Brazilian feel. Also, imagine you’re with Jobim in Ipanema. If that doesn’t inspire a gorgeous bossa-nova, nothing will.

Afro-Cuban

Genres: Latin, Jazz
This groove is often heard in jazz songs and is based on the triplet version of the 3:2 rumba clave.

Fusion/Rock Afro-Cuban

Genres: Fusion, Latin Rock
This groove is a staple of fusion drummers and is often useful when soloing since it has such a driving feel. Many drummers substitute alternating double paradiddles (RLRLRR LRLRLL) for the cymbal and snare pattern since it’s more symetrical.

Reggae

Genres: Caribbean, Rock
The first measure of this groove will suffice until you learn the second bar. More advanced drummers can play with the bass drum only on count 3, instead of all the quarter-notes, for a one drop feel.

Reggae Pro Tip by Gil Sharone
(Stolen Babies, Dillinger Escape Plan)
Reggae drumming is a lot more complex than most people think. Even a basic pattern can be difficult for players that lack coordination and discipline. It’s important to remember that the feel is the key. It’s obvious when people fake it. I recommend listening and familiarizing yourself with the music before you attempt to play it. Internalize it.

An overall goal with your sound should be to develop heaviness but also a light touch while maintaining space. Getting comfortable with the upbeat pulse against your backbeat is essential and will also improve your overall feel.

There are countless variations of the core reggae beats: one drop, steppers, and rockers. All are felt with the backbeat on 2 and 4. Some feel reggae in halftime (backbeat on beat 3) because of the slower tempo compared to ska and rocksteady. Check out my DVD Wicked Beats for more info.

Ska

Genres: Caribbean, Rock
This is a simpler yet related groove to reggae, and bands that play one of these styles invariably also play the other. Ska has a straighter feel and is often played at brighter tempos. It’s common for ska drummers to embellish the beats with sixteenth-note syncopations played near the hi-hat’s bell.

Rumba

Genres: Latin, Rock
This groove has been used in a number of rock and R&B songs too. Try playing the rim-click and tom notes with your left hand and the others with your right. You may find it easier to repeat the first half of the foot pattern until you can comfortably add the bass drum on count 4.

Cha Cha

Genres: Latin
This dance groove isn’t as popular as it once was, but it’s still a useful pattern to have in your bag of grooves. This one is usually played around 120 bpm or so.

Soca

Genres: Latin, Caribbean, Rock
This groove is up-tempo and lively. You can also close the hi-hat on every bass drum note.

Polka

Genres: Ethnic
This groove is usually played at a brisk tempo and can also be used if you have to play a fast two-beat. It’s also common to create a march vibe by adding rolls.

Polka Pro Tip by Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz
(The “Weird Al” Yankovic Band)
The classic polka beat is basically kick-snare-kick-snare, played in double-time (that is, twice as fast as what you might play for a rock song) and also known as a two-beat. You could almost think of it as a really slow blast beat! There’s not usually much tom work, fills are typically simple, sometimes just a press roll on the snare, and the drummer is also expected to hit some of the pushes and punches with the other players. Search YouTube for polka, zydeco, Norteño, and bands like Polkacide and Brave Combo for more modern examples of polka style playing. And to hear some polka-fied versions of popular rock, rap, and dance songs, check out any of Weird Al’s polka medleys. Now polka down with your bad self!

Hora

Genres: balkan, middle eastern
This groove is used in Eastern European and Israeli folk music. Feel free to add cymbal crashes if more emphasis is needed.

Motown

Genres: R&B, Rock, Metal
These two grooves are often used in choruses or pre-choruses, throughout entire R&B songs, and are useful in rock too. The intro to Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” is based on this type of feel. Metal drummers often use this snare pattern too, but usually over much faster bass drum patterns.

Swing

Genres: Jazz, Blues
Swing is primarily used for jazz and these two feels are very common. The four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern is used behind walking bass lines to emphasize the quarter-note feel. This cymbal pattern is also useful for up-tempo shuffle feels and even some rock songs.

Swing Pro Tip by Peter Erskine
(Weather Report, Steps Ahead)
Our primary job as drummers is to provide rhythmic information to the band. When playing jazz, we do this primarily on the ride cymbal. Jazz “swings,” and the swing feel is most often described or thought of as triplet-based. Another way to think of the ride pattern is to liken it to the quarter-note pulse as played by the bass. The syncopated or “swung” eighth-note that completes the cymbal ride pattern can then be approached as a pick-up to the quarter-note, and that pick-up should be played legato (“smooth”). This gives the beat its drive while keeping it relaxed enough to dance, or swing. Try practicing quarter-notes on the closed hi-hat with your lead hand, and develop a steady, consistent beat, then add the syncopation. If the quality and sound of the quarter-notes remains constant, you’re well on your way.

Two-Beat Groove

Genres: Rock, Punk, Polka, Country
There are countless styles and songs that use this beat, from punk to polka. It’s usually played at brighter tempos and is often used for “double-time” beats. You can play this pattern in the middle of the beat to lock the tempo or on top of it for a more frenetic feel.

Ballad Grooves

Genres: Rock, Blues, R&B
These two patterns are usually played at slower tempos and the feel is often laid back, but the challenge is not to let the tempo drag.

Slow Blues

Genres: Blues, Rock, Jazz
Try playing this groove on the ride cymbal instead of the hi-hat. Experiment with hi-hat chicks on each beat or every eighth-note.

Jazz Waltz

Genres: Jazz, Gospel
This is our only “odd time” pattern, and obviously works well for jazz tunes in 3/4, but is also used for some gospel songs or traditional songs like “Amazing Grace.”

Jazz Waltz Pro Tip by John Riley
(Miles Davis, John Scofield, Stan Getz)
The great jazz saxophonist Hank Mobley moved to Paris at the height of his career. A few years later he returned to New York and all his old pals asked him how the trip was. Hank said: “Paris was cool but nobody knew where 1 was.” What he meant was no one was comfortable playing without accenting the 1.

The first step to clearly feeling and stating 3/4 is to accent the 1 of each bar. The next step is to work towards feeling the 1 without accenting it every bar. To develop this, play two-bar phrases and don’t accent the 1 of the second bar. Then try to disguise the interior 1s in four- and eight-bar phrases, target beat 3 or (3)&, or (1)&.

Everyone has to practice playing in 3/4 to make it flow as comfortably as 4/4. Try it. You’ll like it!

Twist Beat

Genres: ’60s, Surf
This beat features a double snare hit on 2 & and a single hit on 4. It is commonly used for songs with the word “twist” in the song title as well as ’60s era surf music.

Funky Grooves

Genres: Rock, Funk, R&B
Often simpler bass drum patterns are chosen for brighter tempos, though the snare pattern may employ ghost notes as in the funky boogaloo. Slower tempos lend themselves to busier and more syncopated bass drum parts often emphasizing the es or ahs of the measure. The R&B pattern works well for rock, smooth jazz, and syncopated ballads too.

James Brown

Genres: Soul, R&B, Hip-Hop
This type of groove was originally used for songs like “Cold Sweat.” The displaced snare on the & of 4 in the first bar helps set up the resolution in the second. This pattern is useful any time you need to play a funky up-tempo beat that is two measures long.

Funk Pro Tip by Zoro
(Lenny Kravtiz, Bobby Brown)
Funk is a musical language and to learn any language that’s not your native tongue requires that you hear it first. Funk’s golden era was from the early 1960s through the mid 1980s. To be fluent in any language you must immerse yourself in the study of it by listening to the music that best represents the genre, reading books on its history, working out of drum books, watching documentaries, and studying with a drummer who speaks this language fluently.

The role of a funk drummer is to create tightly arranged drum parts that best serve the song and to lay down a steady pulse that is filled with heart and soul. You need a plethora of independence as it pertains to the predominant grooves of this genre to play it convincingly. This includes a mastery of syncopated rhythms, subtle ghost note control, and intricate hi-hat and bass drum work.

Bo Diddley Beat

Genres: Rock
The Bo Diddley beat is based entirely upon the 3:2 son clave. If that’s gibberish to you, just make sure you bring out the accent pattern that falls on 1, ah, (2) &, (3) &, 4. Dozens of hit songs from Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” to U2’s “Desire” have used variations of this must-know beat.

Double Bass

Genres: Metal, Rock, Fusion
This is a bread and butter groove for hard rock drummers. Be sure to also learn it with the snare on the &s for a double-time feel or just on count 3 for a half-time feel.

Double Bass Pro Tip by Jason Bittner
(Shadows Fall)
I teach a good number of students at home and on the road, and most of them come to me looking for double bass help. The first thing I ask a student is, “How is your right foot?” (Left foot for lefties.) If you don’t have your main foot together first, then you shouldn’t worry about two feet. Next we would isolate the left foot to play sixteenth-note subdivisions (one–four note phrases). Then we try to play alternating feet with a simple four-note pattern on the first quarter-note of a 4/4 bar. Next we would try two sets of sixteenth-notes on beat 1 and 3, finally culminating in a steady sixteenth-note pattern. Balance, control, even strokes, equal velocities with both feet, breathing, and patience are the key elements to becoming proficient in double bass playing.

Triplet Double Bass

Genres: Metal, Rock, Blues
This is the triplet version of a double bass groove, and depending on the band, it can also be used for blues.

Shuffles

Genres: Blues, Rock, Jazz
There are a lot of shuffle permutations. Shuffles are very common in blues, but are also staples of rock music as well. At slow speeds, drummers tend to play all the cymbal notes, as in the 12/8 blues groove. At fast speeds, it’s physically necessary to omit the middle note creating the shuffle cymbal pattern. The half-time shuffle is useful when you want a pattern that feels slower. The rock and double bass shuffles usually have a straighter cymbal pattern and employ the bass drum to play the triplets.

Double Shuffle Pro Tip by Tony Braunagel
(Eric Burdon, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal)
The double shuffle is based on a triplet feel with some beats played and some implied. There are a lot of ghost notes going on in a shuffle that swings hard, although you can also pound it out and make it tough. One of the most important things needed is to have strength and articulation with the left hand (if you’re right handed). This means that you have to strengthen your left hand so that it has that independence, so just sit on that pattern with a metronome, groove it into your technique like a rudiment, and isolate it until you can control that pulse with only your left hand. Then the patterns that you play on the right hand and kick have more freedom, even if you have static patterns like four-on-the-floor or even a simple 1 and 3. You then must develop the nuance needed to incorporate a backbeat into that pattern.

Linear Funk

Genres: Funk
This style of groove features a series of notes, not necessarily continuous, where no two notes occur at the same time. Sometimes this term is used to describe patterns that have linear aspects to the stickings, but that aren’t completely linear. Linear funk makes great use of ghost notes. Innovators of the style include The Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste and Tower Of Power’s David Garibaldi.

Blast Beats

Genres: Metal
In the early days of death metal, it wasn’t macho to play anything but single bass blasts. However, over the years as the tempos increased and the duration of the blasts got longer, the double bass blast became far more common. These patterns are still used primarily for metal, but are also good practice exercises for drummers of all styles.

Blast Beats Pro Tip by Gene Hoglan
(Dethklok, Testament, Strapping Young Lad)
The first thing to do is to relax. Though blasting is quite possibly the biggest workout one can get while drumming, all workouts are most effective when one is relaxed.

Though I tend to blast from my wrists, it took a while to develop this technique. To start, don’t be afraid to let your fingers do the majority of the work, especially your ring and middle fingers. Doing the “flick” with those fingers as well as utilizing the bounce of the stick will help create the muscle memory needed to put you on the blast path.

An exercise that does wonders for wrist strength, and I demonstrate this on The Atomic Clock DVD, is to take an 8–10 lb. weight, place it in your fingertips, and curl it, both right-side up and upside-down, for three rounds of ten reps apiece. That’ll quickly bring you the power and stamina needed for extended blast passages.

Disco

Genres: Disco, House, Pop, Rock, Metal, Funk
Disco grooves are commonly based around a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern. You often hear the hi-hat opened on the &s since many drummers play both feet together. Many of these beats are found in other styles, even industrial metal, since the pounding bass drum is pretty driving. Many funk drummers play these sorts of patterns, but with much busier bass drum work going on underneath.

Bolero À la ‘White Rabbit’

Genres: Rock
In the ’60s, many rock bands appropriated a 4/4 version of the Latin bolero beat. Here we see the groove that propelled Jefferson Airplane’s great song “White Rabbit.”

Ballroom Bolero/Rumba

Genres: Jazz, Jump Blues
This is another version of the rumba, but this one uses a hi-hat triplet and will work better with ballroom dancers.

Second-Line Groove

Genres: New Orleans, Dixieland
Like the Bo Diddley beat, this feel combines a variety of influences and is based on the 3:2 son clave. The second-line groove is often played with a bit of swing and a laid-back feel. Leading purveyors of this style include Zigaboo Modeliste, Herlin Riley, Johnny Vidacovich and, more recently, Stanton Moore.

Second-Line Pro Tip by Stanton Moore
(Stanton Moore Trio, Galactic, Garage À Trois, Corrosion Of Conformity)
Second line drumming was developed when European marches and African rhythms cross-pollinated during funeral processions on the streets of New Orleans. African slaves were allowed to practice their music and culture in Congo Square and their rhythms eventually influenced the military style marches being played on the streets. There are many different second-line beats, but this one has a 3-2 clave on the snare, with a mambo bass drum pattern underneath. The main key to making any New Orleans second-line feel good is to phrase the sixteenth-notes in a way that is in between straight sixteenths and swung sixteenths. This is impossible to notate, but can become natural after listening to some of the great New Orleans drummers (and some dedicated practice). Also note the accent on the bass drum on the & of 4. This accent and the in-between straight and swung feel will make this pattern groove!

Country Train Beat

Genres: Country, Bluegrass, Rock
This groove is a lot of fun and can be played completely straight, swung, or anywhere in between. It’s commonly played with sticks, rods, or brushes and should sound a bit like a locomotive churning. Golden Earring’s song “Radar Love” uses the swung version of this beat.

Marcha and Guaguancó Conga Patterns

Genres: Latin, Caribbean, Jazz
It wouldn’t kill you to learn a couple of hand-drumming patterns, would it? If you’ve never attempted to play hand drums you may be surprised to learn how useful they are. Plus, even if you don’t have a set of congas, you can substitute your snare (wires off) and a tom for these two drum patterns. Your jazz group will think it’s cool if they see you playing hand drums on your bebop kit. The marcha is the most essential pattern to learn and is the basis for countless Afro-Cuban songs and the guaguancó is included, well, just in case.

This article was originally printed in the May 2014 issue of Drum! Magazine.