Drums are one of the coolest instruments in the world. They combine coordination, musicality, and rhythm all in one to create a beat-making machine. They also allow you to get your frustrations out by bashing – musically, of course.
As a drummer, there are a few common drum beats that you should know and be able to play at a moment’s notice. Knowing these drum patterns will allow you to sit down in most bands and play whatever style they’re playing. These essential drum beats will help you cover most bases.
Your level as a musician can be broken into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Every drummer will go through these stages on their drumming journey, with most drummers in the world sitting somewhere on the intermediate spectrum.
So, here is a list of essential drum beats for every playing level along with sheet music to help you learn.
1. 8th Note Groove
The 8th note groove is the most commonly played groove in pop and rock music. You’ll hear it on the radio, in live shows, and in pretty much any setting where there’s a drum beat. It’s the first thing every drummer learns to play. The reason for that is that it will set you up for your drumming career. A beginner drummer’s sense of accomplishment after playing an 8th note groove with another musician is unmatched.
You could play an 8th note groove for the whole pop show and get away with it just fine. This is why it’s so important. Luckily, it’s really easy to learn.
8th notes on the hi-hat, kick drum on 1 and 3, snare drum on 2 and 4. Done. Focus on having a strong downbeat. Strong downbeats will keep any song driving.
2. Slow Blues
A slow blues is a lot more laid back than a standard basic rock beat. Just think of B.B. King sitting in a rocking chair and playing his guitar. Blues music is very improvisational, and a slow blues groove just holds everything together.
This is one of the great common drum beats for beginners as it’s easy to play. It will also teach you to play in a different subdivision since you feel the groove in patterns of 3 instead of 4. That’s the one thing that differentiates it from a basic rock beat.
Your snare is still on beat 2 and 4 and your kick on 1 and 3. However, there are 3 hi-hat notes between every snare drum and kick drum.
3. Basic Swing
Jazz has a reputation for being one of the most complicated musical styles to play. Although that may be true, the basic swing drum pattern is actually pretty simple. You don’t even need to use your snare drum or bass drum if you don’t want to. However, jazz drumming is hard because it requires a lot of control between all of your limbs. You’ll often find that a jazz drummer won’t play the same beat every bar. He’ll instead cater to the musicians around him with rhythms that match the notes they play.
When teaching jazz, drum teachers usually refer to it as a “top-heavy” style, meaning the cymbals have more emphasis than the drums. You could play a whole jazz gig with just your ride cymbal and hi-hat.
So, you’re going to play your hi-hat foot on beats 2 and 4, while your right hand plays the “spang spangalang” cymbal pattern on the ride. The one thing that beginners tend to struggle with is feeling the swing rhythm. A great way to help with that is to listen to jazz drummers play on recordings. You’ll get an idea of what swinging sounds like. You’ll also hear the wide variety of swing patterns that jazz drummers go through.
4. Basic Latin
Latin rhythms come in when beginners start to branch out into intermediate drumming. However, a basic latin groove can be easy to learn and play. One of the most exciting parts about drumming is getting to play exotic rhythms and patterns. We live in a big world and playing rhythms that originate from all over is something all drummers should do.
This is the first groove on this list where you have to use all four limbs. This is something that you will have to do in most latin-style grooves. Your right hand plays quarter notes on the ride cymbal while you alternate quarter notes between your bass drum and hi-hat pedal. While that is happening, your snare drum comes on beat 2 and your high tom comes at beat 4 as well as the “and” of 4.
When thinking of common drum beats, the disco beat is the next step after a basic rock beat. Similarly, you’ll hear it on radios and on live stages across the world. The thing that makes the disco beat an intermediate groove is the difficulty level of playing the open hi-hat in the exact right place every time.
Many beginner drummers struggle to separate their limbs, so playing the open hi-hat in that space between the backbeat can be tricky. A good way to learn this disco beat is to just play your feet alone to begin with. You’ll notice that you’re stomping them both together at the same time. Once you’ve gotten that down, just play the basic 8th notes with your hands. There’s your disco beat!
6. Bossa Nova
Back onto the topic of latin grooves, the Bossa Nova is one of the widely popular common drum beats. This is the type of groove that you’ll hear in an elevator or a hotel lounge. It’s light and easy going. However, it drives the music ever so subtly.
A cross-stick on the snare drum is one of the signature sounds of a Bossa with the snare pattern over the two bars being called a clave rhythm. There are several clave rhythms within latin music that are commonly played. It would be greatly beneficial to learn all of them.
The next important aspect of the Bossa is the bass drum pattern that repeats. You’ll find these 8th note kicks in many latin styles with the Bossa having the slowest tempo out of them.
The final aspect of the groove is to add 8th notes on the hi-hat. These should be played gently to resemble a shaker.
7. Ghost Note Fill-In
This next groove isn’t the most common drum beat in the world. However, it’s very important for intermediate players. Intermediate drummers will start playing ghost notes on the snare drum and this groove will help develop your technique for that.
There are two ghost note placements in this groove that make it so effective in developing your technique. The two ghost notes after the first kick are used in a lot of other grooves, meaning you’ll get some practice out of this beat.
The next important ghost note placement is the one directly after the snare drum accents. Try to get these ghost notes as soft as possible. It’s a lot harder than it sounds since you will naturally play it as loud as the snare drum accents coming before them. While playing all of this, try keeping the dynamics of 8th notes on your hi-hat as even as possible.
8. Half Time Shuffle
Ghost notes seem to be the common trend amongst intermediate grooves, seeing as this half time groove will stretch your ghost note playing even further. Half time shuffle grooves are used a lot in blues and rock music. There’s something about half time grooves that just make them sound so good.
It can be played very laid back or it can be played fast and driving. Think of Rosanna by Toto. Jeff Porcaro plays one of the most famous half time grooves to exist in music and it’s pretty fast. Another drummer to look up would be Bernard Purdie. Bernard Purdie is known as one of the key players when it comes to half time shuffles.
The most important aspect of playing this half time groove is to get a very strong snare accent followed by a subtle ghost note. That really helps with the half time shuffle groove feel that’s supported by the swinging hi-hat.
9. Funky Drummer
There are a few grooves that drummers can play that separate them from the majority. Funky drummer is one of them. This groove comes from a James Brown track all the way back in 1970. Clyde Stubblefield played a drum break that has become one of the most sampled drum beats in history. James Brown and Clyde Stubblefield were some of the great musicians of funk music. Drumming to funk music is a great time, making this groove a cool one to learn.
The first part that makes this groove advanced is the open hi-hat played on top of the kick drum at a high tempo. The second part is the ghost note just before the accented backbeats.
It requires a fair bit of practice to get comfortable behind this beat and to make it really groove.
10. Fast Samba
The Brazilian Samba is one of the more vibey latin grooves out there. You’ll hear it being played a lot in uptempo latin music. It requires a firm grip on technique to play at a level where it sounds great.
It’s basically just a single stroke roll played over a foot ostinato with the bass drum and hi-hat. That’s easier said than done though as the key to a fast samba is in the snare drum accents. Your ghost notes should resemble a shaker sound while the accents on the snare drum should make a serious impact. These accents will start to sound like another clave rhythm. You could play different clave rhythm accents to add some variation. When it comes to latin music, there are a wide variety of rhythms to choose from.
Getting this groove to a seriously high tempo while still sounding clean is what makes it an advanced drum beat. Make sure that every bass drum note can be distinctly heard. Think of the kick pattern as a heartbeat that is constantly pumping and think of the clave rhythm as the main focus of the groove.
11. 16th Note Ghost Groove
Here’s another groove that will help you develop your ghost note technique. Every advanced player should be able to play a drum beat like this with the ghost notes on every 16th note. This beat will get your wrist, fingers, and arms pumping and train you to play a wide variety of other grooves.
The key is to keep the sound levels even between all of your limbs. Drummers tend to play both limbs loud when they see an accent. With this groove, your hi-hat should remain the same loudness throughout while your left hand changes the dynamics. That’s definitely easier said than done.
12. The Drew Groove
The last groove on the list is undoubtedly the most challenging. This drum beat started circulating in the early years of YouTube when a drummer named Drew uploaded a video of him playing it. It quickly became viral and it’s still recognizable when drummers play it.
Advanced drummers should know how to play this groove as it’s a prime example of how creative linear drumming can get. Linear drumming is when you don’t hit any two drums at the same time.
It’s a 4-bar phrase that sounds extremely juicy once you play it up-to-speed. I wouldn’t suggest playing this groove at a gig. However, it’s a great groove to impress your friends with while pushing the boundaries of linear drumming at the same time. It’s one of the coolest drum beats around.
The trickiest part of the groove would be playing soft ghost notes straight after the backbeats.
What is the hardest style of drumming?
The hardest styles of drumming would arguably be latin and jazz. This is because they require a serious amount of control between your limbs. They also require a great amount of musicianship. There’s a lot of improvisational aspects to them, meaning you’ll have to listen to the musicians you’re playing with and play rhythms that are needed to support the music.
Latin music has several clave rhythms that you should know. You should be able to play them with both your hands and feet.
Jazz music is a bit more expressive depending on what subgenre of jazz you’re playing. A basic swing pattern can turn advanced very quickly. It involves a lot of syncopated rhythms. Learning these rhythms isn’t the easiest process for a lot of drummers.
Which drum beats should you learn first?
Every drummer should learn to play an 8th note groove first. This groove is the platform that all drumming is built from. Once you can play it comfortably, you can add small things that give it variety. This could come in the form of ghost notes, extra hi-hat notes, or more bass drum notes.
The next step is to learn some grooves for different musical styles. This will help you become a better drummer pretty quickly. Learning slow blues, basic latin, and basic swing grooves is a great way to grow as a drummer.
Should you learn to play every style of music?
Many drummers prefer to specialize in specific musical styles. However, learning to play many different styles of music will benefit you greatly as a drummer. Someone may call you up a few years down the line to ask you to play drums for their latin band. This opportunity could be missed if you never learned to play a basic latin beat all those years ago.
More complete drummers will get more work, more connections, and greater satisfaction from having command over their instrument.
It would be unrealistic to say that you can be a master of every style. However, having a firm grip on many styles is what you should be aiming for as a drummer.
Should I learn to read sheet music?
Sheet music is the key to quick learning. It makes learning patterns and grooves really easy as they are plainly laid out in front of you. No drummer ever regretted learning how to read sheet music.
The fundamentals of sheet music aren’t difficult to grasp. Learn what 8th notes are and where each drum note is placed on a bar. Everything after that will come pretty easily.
If you can play the beats on this list, you can comfortably say that you’re a great drummer. They will equip you to tackle just about anything a band throws at you. Just remember that you’re the heartbeat of a band. You’re the one that keeps everyone together whether you’re playing an 8th note groove or the funky drummer groove.
If you’re not able to play these grooves yet, get practicing with the sheet music. If you can play these grooves comfortably, start learning some drum fills to go along with them. There are a wide variety of drum fills for every situation. Learning an instrument is a journey that we’re all on. Remember to enjoy it. The great thing about drumming is that you can’t play any wrong notes!