In all my years of playing I still believe all drum grooves fit somewhere in four major time feels. I always make sure my students work in each area. Book studies, fill exercises, groove development, soloing, and even my song library will cover all four. Sure, there are tons of variations on each concept. Every song you play has it’s own special vibe and details. But the primary pulse and subdivisions will always be part of these four larger families.
Straight 8th Note Subdivisions
This is the probably the most basic drum groove we all learn when we begin to play. Your lead hand will play this “ride pattern.” This term came from the idea of “riding the time” or leading the band by dictating/subdividing the time on a cymbal or hi-hats. I know most of you get that idea, but the history is good to know.
We count this pattern as follows: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & (Not 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8) Of course you always adjust the number of counts according to the time signature you’re playing. In most cases the song will be in 4/4 or maybe 3/4 time, but anything is possible. The main idea is to be aware of the subdivision of the quarter note or pulse. At faster tempos we might just play a 1/4 note ride. This could apply to any of the groove families, so I wouldn’t consider that it’s own primary group. The Tom Petty song “Running Down A Dream” comes to mind for this, but I’ve also played that using fast 8th notes. Also be aware that there are thousands of variations and nuances to match the style and vibe of each song. For a classic reference check out “God My Rock” by Paul Baloche.
Straight 16th Note Subdivisions
Note: I use the term “straight” because we could make these patterns swing by applying a triplet feel to them. More on that later.
We count 16th patterns: 1 e & ah, 2 e & ah, 3 e & ah, 4 e & ah. If the song is a slow or medium tempo you can play it with a single hand lead. Listen to Paul Baloche’s “Follow That Star” from the Christmas Worship project for a reference. If the tempo is faster use a right to left, single stroke roll, sort of ride. This is the way I played the patterns for “Hosanna, Praise Is Rising” and “Today Is The Day.” Be sure to build your song library with lots of songs of various styles and groups to challenge the way you adjust the feel of these basic grooves by adjusting the dynamics and accents.
Triplet 8th Note Subdivisions
Now we start feeling the pulse “in 3” or triplet time. Some people would say this is a blues feel. Even though it is used in that style a lot it really does go way beyond that. We count this feel: 1 la lee 2 la lee 3 la lee 4 la lee. I prefer this over – 1 trip let, 2 trip let… and so on, because the syllables flow better. But you’re welcome to count out loud with whatever helps get it in your head. Not many contemporary worship songs actual use this traditional feel. You might find it more in urban gospel styles. For an old classic listen to Andrae Crouch’s “We Need To Hear From You” from the Finally album – A great recording all around.
In modern music we could think of 6/8 or 12/8 meter being a triplet feel. Even though it is felt in three in the broader sense you’re actually dividing the main count into a kind of
8th note feel.
(1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 &) But I use it a lot to get students thinking and playing in the feel of triplets. Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” is a perfect example.
Shuffle or Swing Time
Another triplet feel groove family, but in shuffles or swing we’re breaking up the triplet. Mostly we do this by leaving out the middle note of the triplet. Count – Tri- pa- let, tri- pa- let… but don’t play the “pa.” Or 1 2 3, 1 2 3, etc. without the “2.” This feel is the essence of a shuffle feel or any swing style. What I see most often is that students, and even mature players, can feel straight time well, but don’t know how to “swing.” And the opposite can also be true. But a great drummer has to master both. Listen to lots of R&B tunes as a reference. I used this classic feel on Paul Baloche’s “Arms Open Wide” and Ron Kenoly’s “The King of Kings is Coming.”
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