No matter where you’re at with your drumming – if you’re just sitting down at your set, or you’ve had a couple of drum lessons – there are lots of ways you can start getting familiar with basic drum beats for beginners. Between talking to your friends, checking out resources on the Internet, and working with your teacher, you can get all kinds of helpful information. You can get started even with just your hands, feet, and a desk!
To begin, this article will give you an introduction to placing your hands and feet, and reading a simple method of notation. Then, you’ll be guided through four drum beats for beginners, including recommendations for classic songs to reference! You’ll learn to play each one using a basic kit (a bass drum or “kick drum,” snare, and hi-hat), and leave with a new understanding of all the diverse and wonderful styles of music you can create with a drum set. Play on!
Hands, Feet, and Rhythm
Whether you’ve got a drum set in front of you or are drumming on your desk as you read this, you’re ready to play percussion. The following are recommendations for how to place your hands on a drum set, or alternatively, how to consider assigning your hands to these parts in practice and in your imagination.
These suggestions are formed for a right-handed player, so if you’re a lefty, you might consider reversing your kit and/or these roles for your hands and feet. Above all, everyone should experiment with a few possibilities and work with whatever comes naturally; you can always customize your set-up.
A typical right-handed player with a typical drum set will most likely have the bass pedal under their right foot, with the left foot controlling a loosening/tightening pedal for the hi-hat. The hi-hat is generally on the left, with the snare right in front of you. Try using your right hand for the hi-hat notes and your left hand for the snare notes, while imagining that your hands are holding sticks crossed in front of you (and at different heights – the hi-hat is generally higher than the snare).
To communicate the following starter drum beats, we’ll be using a system that represents each instrument with a line of text, and where all three lines (one for each instrument) are meant to be played simultaneously. The hi-hat is represented with a small “x“ to convey the edged-ness and open space in its tinny ring, the snare is represented with an “s” and is on the center line because it’s usually centered in height, and the kick drum is represented with an “o” to represent the round fullness of its low sound.
Rhythm is all about counting, and most songs are about counting in groups of three or four. This varies depending on the song, though, and sometimes the counts change in any given song. However, for each of these examples, a “phrase” will be given – that is, a short, simple building block of a few groups of three or four that you can repeat, like a Lego you can stack. Try saying aloud the “Sounds Like” after each beat’s transcription, and try looking up the example songs and counting along with them!
This will probably be the most familiar beat to your ear, as it’s in nearly every rock song since the dawn of rock and roll! It’s also one of the easiest for most players to modify, by adding variations, “fills” (special ornamentations at the end of a section of phrases, leading into the next section), and improvisation. Note: Keep your hi-hat tight for this one! Try different tempos, and listen for it in your favorite contemporary songs.
To work with a straightforward, spunky, mid-tempo groove with this beat, jam to “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger.
A more relaxed example is “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas.
Check out an energetic punk rock use of this beat with a fast tempo, with “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones.
This is a more challenging drum beat for beginners, but it’s essential for many contemporary genres. It’s notably present in punk and metal music, but it draws from rock’s roots in soul and jazz music. Sensing and playing a backbeat (the “off” beats, or syncopated beats, in a measure) can be very challenging, so don’t be discouraged if this is hard for you. A few lessons and some practice will take any new learner a long way, as well as introduce you to new and exciting styles of music through the rhythms you explore.
The backbeat is usually kept peppy with a tambourine in classic soul/R&B music, such as “You Can’t Hurry Love” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.
A great example of alternating the basic rock beat (on the verses) with an energetic backbeat (on the choruses) is “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash.
This is an example of organizing a rhythm in groups of threes instead of fours. The overall structure of this rhythm is different from the first two, so take a close look at it, and consider listening to the examples below before exploring. Note: Try this one with your hi-hat loose, for a lingering gentle ring.
There are no drums in the song, but the phrasing still gives a great example of how this flows in “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog.
Another classic and clean waltz to listen to is “Jazz Suite, Waltz No. 2” by Dmitri Shostakovich.
6/8 Jazz Beat
Jazz is an essential foundation for any instrumentalist, particularly percussionists. One great reason to explore drumming through lessons is because of the increased familiarity you’ll gain with the history of the art, including the critical role of jazz, why humans are moved by a good groove, and more. There’s always more to learn about all the catchy beats you can make with your drum set! Note: This is a great rhythm on which to explore varying tensions on your hi-hat. Also, try not to overthink it, but this is especially cool because it’s organized in groups of six, but they feel like two groups of three. Give it a try, and ask your teacher for help if you need it!
H:[xxx xxx][xxx xxx][xxx xxx][xxx xxx]
S:[--- s--][--- s--][--- s--][--- s--]
K:[o-- ---][o-- ---][o-- ---][o-- ---]
“A’oooone, two/a’oooone, two/a’oooone, two/a’oooone, two”
George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, while recorded in many different ways over the years, is a great reference for this feel and rhythm.
Many jazz classics can be counted as fast versions of this. Two examples are “It Don’t Mean A Thing” by Duke Ellington and “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman.
In the end, whether you’re a novice or an experienced musician, percussion can be for everyone. Practice these drum beats for beginners, and you’ll be on the right track. Take your time, let your enthusiasm overtake your pride, seek help if you need it, and enjoy the groove along the way!
Photo by slgckgc