There are many different genres and sub-genres of music and there are styles of drumming to go along with each of them. Below you’ll find some of the most common and popular of these styles.
When we refer to different styles of drumming, we could be referring to many aspects. Jazz, Blues and Rock all have certain nuances, phrases, techniques, and sounds that are associated with the style of drumming that accompanies them. Alternatively, you can also compare acoustic drumming and electronic drum sets.
Different drummers have their own unique ways of playing, even within the same style or genre. This can be down to an individual’s own personal style and sense of timing. Within this page, I will outline some of the terminologies which go part of the way towards explaining these styles and nuances and hopefully enlighten you more about the world of drumming.
Check out this video Daru Jones (Jack White, Slum Village, Black Milk, Jamie Lidell). He’s got a very unconventional setup but it works really well for him.
Rock and Pop Drumming
Rock music is a huge genre. It encompasses everything from the 1950s right up till today and continues to evolve.
What really distinguishes rock music from any other music is the use of a backbeat. The backbeat became popular in the 1950s and 1960s and took off in its own way to spawn lots of different types of music.
Backbeats are typically played on the snare drum which is placed on beats 2 and 4 of the bar, in a standard bar of 4/4. The effect a backbeat has on a song is undeniable and infectious.
Before backbeats were widely used jazz drummers would often accent beats 2 and 4 of the bar. This would be in a typical swing pattern. The way they would accent these beats was by pressing down on the hi-hat pedal and playing the ride cymbal a little louder.
This extra volume on these two beats really enhanced the “swing” feel, but more about that a little further down the page.
So this style made its way into early rock’n’roll music. The hi-hat and ride combination was replaced with a stronger snare stroke. Also swing eventually gave way to a more straight sounding eight-note pattern. The result is a typical rock beat that you might hear today.
Here’s an example of a typical rock beat with AC/DC’s smash hit “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Rock music has a tendency to involve heavy drumming, the format of rock songs can vary a lot. You can have straight rock, funk rock, pop-rock, blues rock, and many, many more. Some rock songs are based on blues and jazz forms, which I will go into more detail about in the jazz section.
Rock drums have changed in style too when it comes to the actual drum sound. A typical rock drum kit will have big loud drums with equally loud cymbals.
Some great and legendary rock drummers you should check out are Neil Peart, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Dave Grohl, Mark Portnoy, Ginger Baker, Danny Carey, Ringo Starr, Stuart Copeland, Phil Collins, Roger Taylor, Chad Smith.
Blues is closely related to rock and quite close to jazz, too, in some ways. Blues drumming can usually be divided into one of three categories, to begin with. You can have straight-eight blues, shuffle blues, or 12/8 blues. There are more variations but we’ll deal with these three as they happen to make up the majority of cases.
The US and Europe have different terminologies in which we talk about note values. For example, crochet in Europe is a 1/4 note in America. A quaver is a 1/8th note. Sometimes rhythms are referred to by these fractions. For example, you’ll often find a groove called a “Straight eight” groove.
The hi-hats in this example are played straight, so this means that the timing between consecutive eight notes is equal. You can mix up the placement of both snare and bass drum to create new patterns but the main timekeeper here is played straight.
Possibly one of the most recognisable and famous songs (although it can be found everywhere) is Micheal Jackson’s, Billie Jean. Here is Micheal’s long time drummer Jonathan ‘Sugarfoot’ Moffett playing it live on the HIStory tour.
A Shuffle blues means that the pattern is not straight. Instead, the eight notes are played with more of a bounce where the notes are not equally spaced. This feel is very familiar and can be heard in countless tunes from jazz, rock, pop, and more.
This video shows a “Texas Shuffle” which is one of the most difficult beats to play on the drums. If you’re looking to get into blues music and blues drumming, this one is a must.
It’s worth pointing out that a “shuffle” or “swing” feel is not only a feature of blues. You will hear it in many, many genres.
Here’s a great masterclass in Blue Drumming from Tony Coleman.
Jazz has evolved and developed (like any true art form) from a succession of progressions dating back to the turn of the 19th Century in places like New Orleans in America.
It is considered that the origins of jazz come from Ragtime with significant stylistic developments in between all the way up to the 1970s with Jazz-Rock fusion. And you will still find developments today.
Broadly speaking, jazz has seen changes each decade from 1900 to 1970 and these developments reflect the socio-political climate in which they are conceived.
An excellent example of the most famous pattern in jazz is the ‘swing’ ride pattern, which is essential to jazz drumming, on the theme tune of the pink panther.
The full drum kit comes in at around 45 seconds. You can hear a swing pattern being played on the ride cymbal. Also, as we touched on in the section on rock drumming, the drummer plays the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4, for some extra “swing” feel.
The evolution of Jazz through these periods and today has created a deep and complex musical language, which can provide us, as musicians with challenging yet highly rewarding experiences as we seek to master the art form.
The developments of these various styles represent a body of jazz as a whole. We shouldn’t overlook any of them, as we would be ignoring the large-scale unity, which defines the nature of art.
Swing patterns in jazz can be played on any drum or cymbal. You’ll regularly find that the hi-hat foot is chosen to do the timekeeping.
Jazz is in no way restricted to swing. In fact, jazz may be the most all-encompassing music out there, as jazz musicians are constantly welcoming new styles and sounds into the idiom. Throughout your journey in jazz, you’ll find plenty of straight-eight jazz music, as well as shuffles and pretty much any other rhythm there is.
Reggae can be traced, as a genre, to its roots in Jamaica, as far back as the 60s. As a music style, it was influenced strongly by traditional calypso and mento music, including American Jazz, blues and rhythms.
One of the most common characteristics of reggae is the avoidance of overplaying on beat 1. Emphasizing the first beat is more common in lots of rock and pop tunes and not so common in the likes of jazz and reggae.
Effectively, this means that you shouldn’t play too loud on this beat. More popular beats are the 2, 3, and 4 of the bar. Expert reggae drummers will craft fills and beats to highlight these beats.
There are 3 main Reggae drum beat styles that you should master. One Drop, Rockers and Steppers.
The one-drop reggae drum beat style lays emphasis on the bar’s 3rd beat, and the bass and snare drum are played jointly. Often you will find that you do not hit beat one, which is the reverse of the majority of regular music out there. This style was made popular by Bob Marley’s drummer Carlton Barrett.
You will gain more insight into this style by checking out Bob Marley and The Wailer’s “One Drop”. Often, Barret employed uncommon triplet figures when playing the hi-hat, which is typified in “Running Away”.
Next up is the rockers Reggae drum beat, beat one and beat three is where the emphasis is laid, which is typified in Gregory Isaac’s song titled “Night Nurse.” Also, included in the Rockers Beat is the syncopated counter rhythm, typified in songs such as the “Sponji Reggae” – The Black Uhuru Music.
And finally, we have the steppers Reggae drum beat. In this style the drummer plays 4 solid quarter notes on the bass drum, resulting in a strong driving pulse beat. This beat style is exemplified in Bob Marley’s “Exodus”.
Some great and legendary jazz drummers you should check out are Angus “Drummie Zeb” Gaye, Mikey “Boo” Richards, Kirk “Kirkledove” Bennett, Winston Grennan, Carlton “Santa” Davis, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Lincoln “Style” Scott, Carlton “Carly” Barrett, Lloyd Knibb and Lowell “Sly” Dunbar.
The music of Latin America combines many influences, from the rhythms of West Africa to the melodic instruments of Europe. One element that unites most Latin American music is a robust rhythm section with many types of drums.
On the drum set, this can be quite daunting. It can consist of beats and styles that we have already discussed, such as straight-eight rock grooves. Other Latin music will need familiarity with traditional patterns and clave.
The clave is a repeating musical phrase played by one or more percussion instruments. Claves are particularly linked to the music of Caribbean islands, although South American countries like Venezuela and Brazil have their own variants on the clave.
Here is a demonstration of the 3:2 clave:
And here’s how you can apply claves to the drum set:
There are a number of different variations
The clave is a two-bar pattern that can be played in two different directions. The pattern consists of 5 notes and can be played 2-3 or 3-2. This would mean that 2 beats are played in the first bar and 3 beats are played in the second bar. (or visa versa for 3-2).
It is good to practice both directions, as each one offers a totally different feel. There are a number of different varieties of the clave, each one is very similar (3-2 or 2-3), but with a slightly different feel. Make no mistake, each version of the clave has its place in different types of music! The different types of clave rhythms are:
- Son clave
- Rhumba clave
- Bossa Nova clave
- 6/8 clave
When you’re first starting out, there are a few basic grooves and patterns you should try and master before diving into the music. If you can get confident with these within both your hands and feet, you will have no problem with some basic and even advanced Latin grooves. Remember to start slow! Some of the basic grooves are.
- Rhumba Clave
- Son Clave
- Bossa / Samba Bass pattern
- Shuffle Patterns
Learning these patterns with your hands and your feet will improve your independence. These are just a few examples of some of the patterns you will run into when exploring Latin music. Immerse yourself in the music and you will develop a greater understanding of the musical language involved.
Here’s an amazing concert from Michel Camilo featuring the drummer Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez.
Some great and legendary Latin drummers you should check out are Enrique Pla, Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, Tito Puente, Bobby Sanabria, Sheila E., Graham Lear, Steve Berrios, Jack Costanzo, Edison Machado, Pedrito Martinez, Hélcio Paschoal Milito, Claudio Slon and Naná Vasconcelos.
Matched Grip vs Traditional Grip Drumming
There are two main grips in drumming which the majority of players will use. They are called the matched grip and the traditional grip.
The matched grip feels natural. The main points of this grip are that each hand matches and the palms point downwards or slightly downwards.
Ringo Starr was one of the main ambassadors for the matched grip in the early days of kit drumming.
The traditional grip came about from marching drummers. When marching with a drum hundreds of years ago, there were no fancy drum harnesses that we have today. Drummers would place the drum to one side for comfort as it was near impossible to march with the drum in front and centre. With a drum to one side, it is harder to use a matched grip. For this reason, drummers invented what is now known as the traditional grip.
The traditional grip is not matched so each hand holds the stick differently. One hand uses the above technique as explained in matched grip, while the other uses an inverted grip. This inverted grip is palm up with the stick lying across the palm and under the thumb. You will see this grip often in old footage of jazz drummers from the mid 20th century. This grip is still used today and is favoured by some drummers.
Playing in Odd Time Signatures
Odd time signatures are when we play anything other than 4/4 or other common time signatures.
Odd time signatures, as the name suggests are usually involving odd numbers such as 5, 7 or 9. That said, 3/4 is technically an odd time signature yet it doesn’t sound alien to our ears. This is because we have heard it lots of times in popular songs.
Learning to play in odd time signatures is similar in that the more you listen and familiarise yourself with them, the easier they are to comprehend and play.
Here’s the infamous jazz tune “Take 5” with Joe Morello on drums. This song is in 5/4 timing.
Count along “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” and see if you can stay with the rhythm all the way through the song.
All the musical styles we’ve looked at so far have been tempo based. This means that they involve a common meter with which the band members play together. There is also another style of music that does not involve tempo or beats per minute.
Free jazz is one such example.
Free jazz became common in the early 1960s among artists such as John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders.
Take a listen to some of John Coltrane’s free jazz with the legendary Elvin Jones on drums. The drums begin at around the 1-minute mark.
Notice how the playing is totally improvised and all the musicians have total freedom to play whatever they feel like. There is no common tempo here for the most part. You can use this free-form concept in your drum solos.
Some final thoughts…
I hope that this drumming styles page has given you a bit more information on some of the main styles of drumming and the terms you can find at the moment. Everyone has a unique style that is influenced by what and who we learn from. Take inspiration from where ever you can, art, music, theatre, other drummers and anywhere and everywhere you can!
Good artists copy, great artists steal.