Basic Drum Beats To Get You Grooving

Posted in Guides And Tips

drum with 2 sticks on the head, it is header image of the article "Basic Drum Beats"

The first things I played on the drums were a couple of basic drum beats. Who doesn't? I think it's the first thing anyone wants to play, really. When you hear "drummer", don't you immediately think "beats"? I certainly do. We provide the beat for the music; we are responsible for grooving.

It would make sense, then, to start off your drumming career not with some mundane exercises, but with something you can use right away: a beat! I'll give you a couple examples of some rudimentary beats that even my mother could play (with a little practice).

There are two basic drum beats for you here:

  • The Basic Back Beat Groove
  • The Basic Swing Groove

Basic Back Beat

Okay, what is a backbeat? The backbeat actually refers to a specific part of a groove: the snare drum hits that occur on beats 2 and 4 in most popular music. A "backbeat" is not really a groove by itself, but if someone says "play a backbeat groove", you'll understand what they want: the snare drum played on beats 2 and 4 of the bar, in 4/4 time.

A backbeat also happens to be present in one of the most common, basic drum beats around. It goes like this:
basic backbeat

What's happening? Well, the hi-hats are playing 8th notes (counted "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and"). The bass drum and snare drum are alternating quarter notes. "1" and "3" are played on the bass drum, while "2" and "4" are played on the snare. The hi-hat notes lines up with the bass drum and snare notes, as well as play in between them.

If you need help with basic music notation, I suggest reading the "Reading Sheet Music" page to get yourself grounded, then continue on.

This groove is present in hundreds, if not thousands of popular songs. One of them being "Back in Black" by ACDC. Give it a listen!

Aside from a few fills, he plays the simple beat exclusively (minus the rock-out bridge section). Want another example? Check out John Mayer's Vulture's with Steve Jordan on the drums.

Steve plays a few extra bass drum notes here and there, but they can be considered decorative for our purposes.

I'd also like you to notice the hi-hat on these recordings, and listen to how it is phrased, or accented. Can you hear how the drummers are not playing all the notes exactly the same? This is not by accident. Making some notes louder than others is called "dynamically accenting", "playing with accents" or anything along those lines. In Vultures, Steve Jordan accents his hi-hat on the "1", "2", "3" and "4", while his "and"s are a little softer. This is a stylistic, groove-based decision. There's no right way to do it, only ways that feel different. In a different situation, he might have accented the "and"s and left the other beats softer, or he might have played them all loud, or all soft. He might have even come up with a completely different, more complex accent pattern.

While this beat may seem easy, you'll notice that it can be difficult to make it feel and sound like it does on some of these recordings. Steve Jordan actually said it best in one of his videos. He says...

Simplicity is not stupidity. Just because something sounds simple, or is easy to play in your mind, doesn't mean it's dumb."

Realize that even advanced drummers spend lots of time on these basic drum beats.

Basic Swing Groove

Another simple, 1 bar groove that can be repeated easily with great success is the jazz/swing groove. It looks like this on paper:
basic jazz beat

What's happening here? Well, the first major thing to understand is that this rhythm is most commonly played with "swung eight notes". What does that mean? It means that instead of their being 8 "eight" notes to a bar, grouped in 2's, there are 12 "eight notes" grouped in 3's (or triplets). Every beat of the measure (1, 2, 3, 4) has 3 triplets associated with it. These are also called "8th note triplets".

A "swung 8th note" is written like a regular eight note:
eighth note
but is played as if the two eight notes were the first and last notes of an 8th note triplet, like this:
swung eighth note

Confused? Here's an example. Listen to how Philly Joe Jones plays this rhythm. There's no one better...

Yes, the drummer is playing other stuff on the snare drum from time to time. Jazz is largely improvised music, and switching up the drum part is commonplace among jazz drummers. But for the most part, Philly Joe keeps it simple and plays the basic beat as it's written above.

The great jazz drummers do something when playing these basic drum beats that I didn't write out: the feather the bass drum. That means that they are playing the bass drum very quietly on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4, so it is "felt rather than heard". It will make this basic groove feel that much better, and will help you to lock in all your limbs with a bass player's walking line!

Basic Drum Beats are very simple. It's not rocket science. But as you can see, even these most basic drum beats can take some practice before they start to really sound good. Even the great drummers of our time still put a lot of time and effort into making the little, simple things sound good.