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Learn the Basic Rhythms on the Drums: The Complete Guide

Drum rhythms are the foundation of many different musical styles. Rhythm can say a lot about the culture of a music and is often the defining characteristic of a specific musical style. With so many different styles, it can be difficult to find the right type of drum pattern for what you are trying to achieve.

This section contains some of the most basic drum patterns in modern music (including one you may not know the name of, but will most likely recognize when you hear it).

With a few exceptions, these drum rhythms can be played with some variation, as musical styles sometimes (if not often) break their own rules.

The rhythms and their names will give you an idea of what details you should pay special attention to when trying to find the right rhythm and feel for the music you want to play or compose.

So here are the 10 most common drum grooves:

1. Million Dollar Beat

The Million Dollar beat is the first drum rhythm that most drummers learn.

For any drummer, it is important to know how to play a simple drum rhythm with eighth notes. Most of the popular music we listen to today has eighth note drum rhythms, whether it's pop, blues, rock, metal or just about anything else.

In a standard pattern, there are four beats. In this groove, the bass drum is played on the first and third beats. On the second and fourth beats, we play the snare drum.

At first, play this pattern only with the bass drum and the snare drum. Once you have mastered this, you can add the hi-hat notes. The hi-hat is always played at the same time as the snare drum and the bass drum, as well as between the different beats.

Let's say you count the beat of the bass drum and the snare drum as "1 2 3 4". For all the eighth notes with the hi-hat, you count "1 & 2 & 3 & 4" to get the extra beats. As soon as you feel more confident, you can start adding eighth notes to the ride.

In the following video, you can see this drum beat in action:

2. The Four on the Floor

With the four-beat rhythm, you play the same thing as with the eighth-note pattern, but you don't play the bass drum only on beats 1 and 3, but on all four beats (all quarter notes).

For pop, disco and funk, the "Four on the Floor" drum groove is a must. This consistent kick drum beat moves the song forward and can be a good way to work on your tempo.

In the following video you can see the "Four on the Floor" in action:

3. Simple 16-note groove or "16th Note Groove"

Once you're familiar with the eighth notes, you're ready to break up the beat even more. The 16th note groove drum beat can be heard in R&B, classic rock and hip-hop. This is a very lively drum beat, as the four bars contain twice as many hi-hat notes as the eighth note beat.

This particular drum beat requires a certain amount of strength, which is why we recommend that you only play the groove on the hi-hat first, until your musical memory develops.

In the following video you can see the 16-note groove in action:

4. The 12/8 Groove

Now we're going to change the beat pattern. So far, you've been playing in 4/4. In a 4/4 measure, there are four quarter notes in each beat. In bar 12/8, which is classified as a four-beat compound bar, the beats are further divided. Since each standard measure contains four beats and our goal is to put 12 beats in the measure, each of the four beats gets three beats, giving us a total of 12 beats in each measure.

This may sound confusing, but in practice it makes perfect sense.

The 12/8 drum beat is often used in blues songs or slow rock songs. Drummers often learn to play this drum beat with an extra element for more control and subtle sound. They often use either the ride cymbal or the hi-hat to play the three hits for each kick drum and snare hit.

In the following video, you can see the 12/8 drum beat in action:

5. The Shuffle Groove

If you've ever heard blues music, you've no doubt heard that heavy drum beat. This is the first drum beat that most blues drummers learn. While the bass drum and snare pattern is the same as most of the previous grooves, you use a unique cymbal pattern, known as the "Shuffle", to differentiate it.

The Shuffle cymbal pattern uses triplets, which allow us to play three notes two quarter notes apart.

In the following video, you can see the shuffle groove in action:

6. The Half-Time Shuffle Groove

The Half-Time Shuffle is very similar to the regular Shuffle groove, however in this case we play it in half-time! This iconic groove has been made famous by some of the world's greatest drummers, including Phil Collins of Genesis, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Bernard Purdie of Steely Dan.

In this groove, the idea is to fill the spaces between the hi-hat notes with light snare hits, called ghost notes.

7. The Motown Groove

In the early 1960s, the Motown label produced some of the best-selling singles and albums in pop music. From Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder to the Jackson Five to the Supremes, Motown is probably familiar to you.

The Motown hit machine produced so many greatest tube that it even developed its own drum beat, which was a reissue of the standard eighth note beat.

Instead of using the snare drum only on beats 2 and 4, the Motown Drum Beat uses it on all beats. As with the "Four on the Floor" groove, this unique 8-note drum variation helps to flesh out the song.

Watch the video below to see the Motown drum beat in action:

8. The One-Drop-Reggae

There are thousands of musical genres today, but few of them have drum beats so unique that they are worth talking about. One of the most influential drum patterns comes from reggae music and is known as the "One Drop" drum pattern.

The amazing thing about reggae drum rhythms is that they are usually very easy to play. In the One-Drop-Reggae groove, you only play the bass drum and snare drum every four bars.

To spice up your One-Drop-Reggae groove, you can use the cross-stick technique with each snare hit to get a metallic, crunchy sound.

In the following video, you can see the One-Drop-Reggae pattern in action:

9. The Disco groove

Nothing can spice up a party like the disco groove. And you don't even have to be a great drummer to learn to play it!

Disco drum beats use what are called "offbeats", where the emphasis of the beat is on the eighth notes between the bass drum and snare drum beats. You play the bass drum on all quarter notes and the snare drum on eighth notes 2 and 4.

The hi-hat gets eighth notes and is often opened with the pedal on the downbeat (& ). Opening and closing the hi-hat is a unique way to add more diversity to your drum patterns.

In the following video you can see the disco groove in action:

10. The Ostinato Jazz Groove 

For the last of our drum beats, we offer you something a little more complex. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the previous drum patterns before tackling this one, as it requires more practice.

Jazz is a musical genre in which musicians are often free to improvise and showcase their talent. When a drummer plays a jazz ostinato, it gives the rest of the band the opportunity to play with more freedom.

The jazz-ostinato drum beat uses a swing groove and is often played on the ride cymbal. The bass drum is played with each hit, but often so softly that you don't necessarily hear it, but you feel it. Jazz drummers often call the technique of hitting the bass drum so softly "feathering".

In most cases, drummers use the hi-hat to keep the beat when playing the jazz ostinato, gently pressing the hi-hat pedal at 2 and 4. The "chk" sound should be consistent enough to keep the rest of the band in the rhythm.

Once the bass drum and hi-hat notes are in place, we move on to the most difficult part: the snare drum.

In an ostinato jazz groove, snare drum rhythms can vary. Drummers often use ghost notes to fill in the middle bars with very soft, light snare hits.

In the following video you will find an excellent example of a jazz ostinato groove:

Bonus : Extra drum patterns

1. Rock/pop drum pattern

This beat, commonly found in many variations of modern pop and rock music, is usually played in 4/4 with characteristic onbeats (1 and 3) and backbeats (2 and 4). The rock/pop beat can be played with different breakdowns and in a wide variety of tempos. Most of the time it consists of a simple bass drum and snare drum pattern, combined with a linear and repetitive cymbal rhythm.

In the following video you will see a rock/pop drum pattern in action:

2. Dubstep drum pattern

Like beat trap, dubstep is all about nuances. Except in this case, the rhythmic nuances are usually played by the other instruments (especially the wobbly bass synth), while the drum patterns are a bit more constant. Nevertheless, the groove of dubstep is no more complex and uses as many (if not more) synthetic drum sounds and effects derived from hip-hop and other electronic styles.

Perhaps the most striking feature of dubstep beats is the strong emphasis on onbeats and backbeats, which produce a fairly aggressive sound. The sound of the bass drum is usually very powerful.

Although the dubstep sound is often associated with programmed electronic drums, it is easy to play this type of track with an acoustic drum set.

Check out the video below to see how you can play a dubstep beat on your drum set:

3. Funk drum pattern

Funk is a broad musical category that includes several subcategories (such as gogo and boogie) and is often merged with other styles. It appeared in the 1960s under the influence of various drummers who contested the classical and the restrictive musical conventions of that period.

The identity of funk is deeply linked to its rhythm, which alternately emphasizes onbeats and offbeats to constantly renew its beat base. It is often played in half-time, and its complex hi-hat or ride patterns are often used to make it even more catchy.

The bass drum and snare drum can also be quite different in a funk beat. Funk drums can be fairly versatile, which is why it's hard to define them as a single beat, like the drum beats mentioned above.

If you want to learn more about the different drum beats you hear in funk tracks, check out the following video that shows you 10 easy to play funk drum beats that you should definitely know:

4. Ska drum pattern

Ska is a distinctive Jamaican musical style that (like funk) has merged with other genres over the years. It is considered to have been formed in the 1950s and inspired similar popular styles in the region, such as reggae. Ska's accentuated downbeats give it its syncopated rhythmic character. And while this rhythm was adopted later in the ska era into faster, contemporary sounding music (such as punk rock), the original variant had a much slower, steady tempo.

To learn more about how to play a ska drum groove, watch the video below:

5. Soca drum pattern

The Soca beat is similar to the Disco beat in its hi-hat pattern, but often has a more complex bass drum pattern, which makes it more dense and full. It is still very easy to make, however.

Soca music developed in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s and has been an integral part of the country's music scene ever since. It is strongly influenced by calypso music (the name "soca" is probably a neologism formed from "soul" and "calypso"). The beat is played alternately with electronic and acoustic drums, usually at a fast but dancing pace. It is certainly not the best beat for beginner drummers, but it can be played very slowly to get familiar with the rhythms.

The Soca drum groove consists of a bass drum and hi-hat groove that is placed on the first three 16th notes of each beat before opening up on the fourth beat.

To learn more about how to play the soca drum groove, watch the video below:

6. New Wave drum pattern

The drum pattern, which is very common in many new wave and post-punk songs of the 80s, was probably inspired by the song "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division. It is a fairly simple rock beat, with a fast, repetitive 16-bar rhythmic pattern played over a usually closed hi-hat.

In addition to new wave music, this beat has appeared over the years in other "-wave" categories (including more electronic styles like synth wave). It has also had a considerable influence on later rock and pop music, with bands like Interpol and Foo Fighters using variations in some of their most popular songs.

In the following video, you'll discover how to take advantage of the sounds of New Waves Drums:

7. Hip-Hop drum pattern (Trap)

This popular rhythm is the result of a Hip-Hop trend that originated in the southern United States. It is generally characterized by a blend of intense bass drum sounds, electronic snare drum sounds and rhythmic cymbal patterns fluctuating between musical keys and regular notes. The result is a rhythm that is both energetic and smooth.

As in Trap lyrics and graphics often dealing with difficult subjects, Trap drum beats are usually supported by very dark and atypical effects production, but with clearly distinct staccato notes.

In the following video you will find an excellent example of a Trap groove:

8. Bossa nova drum pattern

Latin America (especially Cuba and Brazil) has contributed many complex but important rhythmic concepts to popular music. One of these concepts is the clave, which essentially describes the way the beats are organized from a rhythmic point of view.

An essential feature of music that uses the clave as a rhythm is the relationship between measures of rhythmic tension and relaxation, which (according to many musicologists) is related to the juxtaposition of quarter notes and triplets.

There are several variations of this concept and related musical subcategories that are strongly inspired by it.

In the following video you will learn how to play the Bossa Nova drum groove:

9. Samba drum pattern

Samba's drum beat is very energetic and full of punch, it is not difficult to realize. The characteristic of this rhythm is that people can simply groove on it. In many ways, the samba groove has a very similar sound to bossa nova.

Most samba drum beats are done on a 2 beat measure, meaning that there are two strong beats in each measure.

If this rhythm is transposed to occidental music, the measure would be 2/4 or cut-time. The drummers use the bass drum to accentuate the main beats to enhance the song.

You can then use an eighth note pattern for the hi-hat or an eighth note pattern (with the foot) to create a backbeat and keep the beat.

In the following video, you can see how to play a samba drum groove: