Basic Rock Beats You Should Know--A Beginner Drum Lesson

By Dan Ryan

Hey there, fellow drummers. In previous articles I've looked at two of the greatest drummers to ever hit ‘em: Bernard Purdie and John Bonham. We took a look at some of their grooves and what made them each so popular. They're great grooves, but maybe you're feeling a little overwhelmed? If so, this article is for you. What I'm about to present is a group of what I would call Basic Rock Beats, as well as a how-to for practice ideas and methods. In case you're wondering, I'm certain both Bonham and Purdie started with these grooves. It is important to remember that all the great drummers started with the basics! Anyway, consider these beats the first step towards becoming an accomplished groove-master. Let's dive in.

Basic Rock Beat 1

So here we are. You've been messing around on the kit in your folks' basement (that's how I spent the first five years of my drumming life), or maybe in the school band room, or the practice room downstairs in the dorms….wherever. You feel good about your playing and want to try and get serious. Great! This is the very first four-limb drumset groove I teach my students, and it's also the first one I ever learned. The part-by-part breakdown is quite simple.

We'll start from the ground and work our way up. The kick drum in this groove plays all four quarter notes; sometimes this rhythm is referred to as "four on the floor". Nothing fancy, just the bottom end of the groove. Experiment with different ways of striking the kick drum; letting the beater bounce off the head, hitting the beater on the head and holding there, or adding a little extra pressure...maintaining relaxation the entire time. If you have to tense up your foot or shin to achieve your desired sound, you should immediately stop and try again after taking a deep breath. These different techniques will result in different kick sounds, from a tight drum'n'bass thump to a loose cannon you might hear in more rockin' genres.

The hi-hat plays one of two rhythms; either all four quarter notes to match the kick drum or straight eighth notes to make it a tad more interesting. As with the kick drum, experiment with different sounds...start with a closed hat, try different levels of openness, use different parts of the stick….again remembering to stay relaxed and use the weight of the stick instead of your muscles. When playing the eighth note rhythm, you can also experiment with accenting either the downbeats or the upbeats to add even more flavor to the sound.

The snare drum has the easy job here; two and four, using your left hand. That classic rock back-beat. Feel free to experiment with hitting the drum in different places to get different sounds; for those with a tad more experience and dexterity, my favorite snare sound is achieved when hitting both the head (with the tip of the stick) and the rim (with the shoulder of the stick, which is where the stick starts to taper towards the tip). This technique will give you a little extra pop in your snare sound, and is extremely useful.

Practice tip: If you are having difficulty with getting your three active limbs on the same page for this beat, I would recommend mastering each of the three possible limb pairings at a very slow tempo first: hi-hats and snare, hi-hats and kick, and finally snare and kick. Once all three possibilities no longer give you trouble, put them all together. You should find this helpful.

Rock Beat 1A

This is very similar to the first beat; the only difference is that we are moving our right hand over to the ride cymbal. This also means adding the hi-hat pedal (with your left foot) on two and four, along with the snare drum. For future reference (and to save double explanations), ALL of the beats in this article can and should be practiced both with the right hand on the hi-hat and on the ride cymbal, starting with the hats. They will be written with the hi-hat beats on two and four so you can see where they fall; to practice with the right hand on the hi-hat simply forget the left foot on two and four. So quick recap: kick on all four beats, ride cymbal on either quarter notes or eighth notes with the right hand, snare on two and four, and hi-hat pedal on two and four.

A quick tip on playing the hi-hat; squash that bug. Seriously. Imagine there's a fly, or (even better) a spider in between the hats. Are you going to tap the hi-hats lightly and give it hope? No!!! Snap those cymbals shut to get a nice tight "chick" sound. Remember to do this in a relaxed fashion: there probably isn't an actual spider between your hats.

Practice tip: again, any coordination issues can be solved by breaking this down to two-limb combos: kick-snare, kick-hats, kick-ride, ride-snare, ride-hats, snare-hats. Then move on to three-limb combos, then finally put it all together. I always recommend starting at as slow a tempo as you can stand and working your way up from there. This eliminates you feeling the need to "keep up", which can often result in substituting speed for accuracy. Remember the moral from The Tortoise and The Hare? Slow and steady wins in drumming.

Snare Variation 1

Once you have mastered the two versions of the first Basic Rock Beat, you'll want to kick it up a notch (just one...for now). There are two ways to go from here; I recommend starting by changing up the snare rhythm (some people would say enhancing the kick rhythm first; not me). So the first variation goes something like this:

Play the Basic Rock Beat, and simply add a snare drum hit on the up-beat of four. The snare rhythm will now be counted "(one) TWO (three) FOUR-AN"....it may make more sense to look at the notation, but here's the code of my counting: the beats in parentheses are rests, where as the capital letters are the beats on which you'll hit the snare drum. For the rest of the beat, refer to either the notation or the explanation of the Basic Rock Beat.

Practice tip: start with your two hands together (left on snare, right on either hi-hats or ride cymbal). This is often the coordination that immediately throws people off; it's also the easiest to fix. Move on to other two-limb combos, then three (for the ride cymbal variation) and finally put it all together.

Snare Variation 2

Here we have the inverse of Snare Variation 1, meaning that the extra snare beat will be moved to the up-beat of two instead of four….the counting will be "(one) TWO-AN (three) FOUR-AN". Try to be sure that (to start with) no snare beat gets accented. All beats, at this point, should be of the same volume. Strive for perfection.

Practice tip: as with Snare Variation 1, start with your two hands playing together to solve that coordination problem, then move on to other two and three-limb combinations until you can put the entire beat together.

Snare Variation 3

Snare Variation 3 combines the two previous snare combinations; we now have additional snare beats on the up-beat of two and the up-beat of four. All other parts of the beat remain the same. Remember to count; since there is a lot going on and nothing really distinguishing between the first and second half of the pattern it is easy to get the beat flipped around. This is fine if you are playing alone; however, do it too often with fellow musicians and you may be spending more time playing alone than you'd like.

Practice tip: same as the first two snare variations; break it down to two-limb combos if you have to, and work your way up to all four limbs.

Once you have mastered all three snare variations, experiment with moving your left hand around the snare and toms on those would-be snare hits. When practicing with your right hand on the hi-hat do NOT be tempted to move your right hand to the toms. Move your left arm only as much as needed to land the tip of the drumstick near the center of the target tom.

Kick Variation 1

Nice work so far! You've mastered the Basic Rock Beat and three basic snare variations! Now let's move on to the next step; altering the kick drum pattern. The right and left hands will remain the same as in the Basic Rock Beat, and our right foot will be doing the fun stuff. The rhythm will be as follows: "ONE (two) AN-THREE (four) AN-ONE" on repeat. As with before, experiment with different sounds on the kick drum, but to start focus on letting the beater rebound off the head. Everything should be relaxed

Practice tip: start with the kick and snare. This is the focus of this rhythm, and once this coordination is mastered adding the hi-hat should be a breeze. When practicing on the ride cymbal, practice the hi-hat and kick drum coordination as well. This is often what will throw drummers off….we're not used to our feet doing things separate from each other.

Kick Variation 2

Now, even though this comes after the first kick variation, we are actually subtracting two beats from the rhythm, so the kick will be counted: "ONE (two) AN-(three...four)". Pretty simple, yet this one actually proves to be a little more difficult to perfect because of the lack of the downbeat of three, so that's why I have it here instead of before the first kick variation.

Practice tip: refrain from accenting either of the two kick beats. Practice the two-limb coordinations and work your way up to full-on, four-limb grooving.

Kick Variation 3

In this variation, we are shifting two of the kick beats forward by an eighth note. Here is the result: "ONE (two) THREE-AN (four)". After the variations you've learned so far, this could either be extremely easy or it could be extremely difficult. As with all the grooves outlined to this point, do not feel the need to push the tempo. Strive for perfection, then increase your speed in small increments. Everyone learned to crawl before they walked, and walked before they ran. The same goes for learning drum grooves.

Practice tip: the kick-snare coordination is probably the tricky one here, so I'd tackle that first. As with all the other beats, start with two-limb coordinations and work it til you can play this groove smoothly.

Alright! Great job...seriously. Often the first few steps are the toughest, and once you get in a groove regarding practice technique and routine it's like rolling a snowball down a hill: it starts out small and weak at first but gains mass, speed, and power the further it gets down the hill. The same can be said of your drumming chops. At first, your end goal seems insurmountable, too far away. Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't play drums. Don't let them tell you it's not worth your time. Don't let anything discourage you. This may seem like a small step on a big staircase, but you can't reach the top without taking that first step, and hey! There are fourteen grooves here (seven on the hi-hat and seven on the ride cymbal)! Come back for more steps towards your goal, and thanks for reading.