Rock Drumming, It's About Time

Posted in Learn | Last Updated on November 5, 2019

Playing rock drums is something most drummers in the western world do at one point or another. The genre is so popular that it's hard to avoid it.

Rock is the predominant genre among drummers just learning, because it's simple, it's fun and it's all over the radio. The sheer popularity of the style is what makes so many drummers want to play it. Jazz (and other styles) might offer a more technical challenge, and be more intellectually engaging, but those aren't qualities that create music. Love creates music, and when it all boils down, We play music that we love.

As with any style, it's important that you immerse yourself in it by listening to the great artists of the genre before you play it. Great drummers like John Bonham, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Iace Paice, Ringo Starr, to name only a select few, would be a great place to start.

  • The Basics
  • Some Simple Licks
  • The Rock Drum Sound
  • Who To Check Out

The Basics

One of the basics aspects of rock drums is the simple back beat groove. It' one of the easiest things to play technically. but this doesn't mean it's stupid. It's actually not so easy to make it groove like a pro. It looks like this on paper...

Simplicity is not stupidity.

SO many fantastic songs consist of just this groove.

As far as fills go, rock fills should be (you guessed it) simple as well. Simple 8th or 16th notes on the snare drum sound amazing if they are played with good sound and in the pocket. This concept is demonstrated in the video on this page!

Some Simple Licks To Learn

These are by no means the be-all end of of drum licks. Such a thing doesn't exist. I'm giving you some simple, not-so-hard to learn figures that I feel are common enough and are part of the "tradition" of rock drums.

They take a bit more work than just a simple "RLRL" on the snare drum, but they are simple enough that anyone can get started on them fairly quickly.

2 simple licks:

  • RLR F (the F stands for foot!) is a great, simple and slick lick that you can up easily. Traditionally, the first right is on the snare, the left is on the high-tom, and the last right is on a lower tom or floor tom. The "foot" refers to the bass drum (of course!).

The figure is great for leading into a break (space where the band, or drums, or any combination of instruments stops playing). I think of the Foo Fighters' "Walk", the chorus, as a perfect example.

  • RL F is even simpler but is actually a little harder to play because it's meant to be strung together smoothly. It's felt as a triplet and is meant to be moved around the kit.

The Right-hand falls on the beat (first note, the 1, the downbeat, etc.), the left hand is the 2nd note of the triplet, and the foot is the last note of the triplet (tri-puh-let).
Rock Lick

This lick can be repeated as is, or varied. One way to switch it up is to vary the amount of times you play the roll on the toms and create rhythmic phrases that way.

The Rock Drum Sound

A big part of playing any style of music is understanding the kinds of sounds expected from the drummer. In rock, like any other genre, there are some standards and conventions that exist pertaining to how the drums should be played and tuned.

Tuning your kit is very important. A cheaper drumset can be made to sound good with new heads and the right tuning. Rock drums tend to be tuned a little lower than other styles. They might use thicker, double ply or other kinds of reinforced heads (like Remo pinstripes for examples). The heads can be tuned to a low pitch by lowering either one of the heads of the drum it's lowest possible tension (just before wrinkling occurs). Whether you do the top or bottom head (or both) depends on your preference of sound. I personally like the top head to be low, but try it for yourself.

The drums can also be muffled with something like moon-gel. I prefer this to tape because it's easily removable, is reusable, and you can customize the amount of moon gels you decide to put on a given drum or cymbal. Typically though, a rock drum sound is muffled and low, so some kind of dampening always helps!

Finally, and most importantly, is the way you actually hit the drums. Your sound comes from your hands and ears. If you can learn to hit the drum in the center, and with force and consistency, you'll be well on your way to perfecting that traditional, meaty, rock drum sound.

Who To Check Out?

There are copious amounts of amazing rock drums, and rock music out there, just as much from 40 years ago as from today.

This page could easily get long, so I'm going to give you a few examples of what I'm into rock-wise these days.

At the time of this writing, I'm re-discovering Dave Grohl as an incredible drummer. I found a video of his hi-lights on youtube. How solid is this?! ...

Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is another incredibly groovy rock drummer who is still creating great music. Click on his name to link to the page devoted to him! There are plenty of videos.

Another fantastic rock drummer is Buddy Miles of Jimi Hendrix fame. Miles' groove is amazing, and I get goosebumps everytime the solo starts.