Picture this, if you will: you are a young drummer who has been studying with the best teachers, learning jazz, double bass, blast beats, hip hop grooves, trap beats, and all the odd meters you can swallow. You get a gig at a blues festival as a last-minute sub with a group of older cats. Three songs in, the bandleader calls for a rumba—wait, what?

This month we take a look at overlooked grooves and the subtleties needed to really make them work. This is part three of our four-part series for this month.

You have a wicked shuffle, great time, and chops for days. You figure you’ll need to be on alert for sudden breaks and stops in the tunes but this gig is certainly not rocket science. Things are rolling along nicely until the bandleader calls for “Scratch My Back,” and indicates that it’s a rumba. But isn’t this a blues gig?

Your fancy rumba—although authentic as can be—isn’t gelling with the band. Once the panic subsides and you listen for a few more bars you hear something familiar and come up with a groove that sort of matches. This is a blues rumba. Certainly not the hardest groove in the world, but easily glossed over and taken for granted.

There are several variations out there, and I like to take a simple approach by playing my blues rumba with a backbeat and leaving room to make it fit the song. No matter how you play it, always keep in mind that this beat is designed to make people dance.


Ex. 1 is my default blues rumba groove.

Ex. 1

In Ex. 2, add a little more bass drum.

Ex. 2

Add a little hi-hat with the foot in Ex. 3.

Ex. 3

Ex. 4 gets a mounted tom involved:

Ex. 4

How about a Brit-Pop version (Ex. 5)?

Ex. 5

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.


Lesson: Four-On-The-Floor Disco