When someone starts playing drums, it’s common to ask themselves what drum beats for beginners they should learn first.
The truth is, the number of different beats and fills any drummer could dream of learning might feel overwhelming at first.
Anyway, I firmly believe that a few dozen drum beats are the foundation of every other drum beat.
Most, if not all beginner drum beats, have a few things in common:
- Usually, they are one measure long and repeat over and over – easier to remember;
- They require the least amount of limb coordination, and might not even require the use of all four limbs;
- With a few rare exceptions, most use the same 4/4 time signature;
- Beginner drum beats work well with many different songs, especially in music genres like pop or rock. Learning a single drum beat allows you to play multiple songs.
Despite being fairly simple to learn, they are useful enough to improve your hand and foot coordination, develop muscle memory and simplify the learning process of intermediate drum beats.
Once you get them all down, you won’t have any problems slowly increasing the drum beats’ complexity.
And the best part of learning how to play the drums? There’s always something new to learn, so just have fun!
In other words, there’s no time to learn every single drum beat or fill in the world, so start your practice routine and enjoy this beautiful journey.
To start you off on the right foot, we’ll be looking at every music genre from jazz to metal.
Any drummer that’s serious about learning how to properly play the drums should be exposed to different musical styles. Your goal is to be as versatile as possible so no future challenge is big enough for you.
Can you read drum sheet music?
Before moving to the next chapter, if you don’t know how to read drum sheet music yet, HERE’s my comprehensive article on the subject.
Take your time, learn everything to the best of your abilities and as soon as you’re ready, come back here to learn some fun drum beats.
I included everything from drum notation to audio, as well as a real-life example of the drumbeat being played on a song.
With that being said, if you’re a beginner looking for new drum beats to learn, here’s a list of 10 drum beats for beginners:
1- Basic Backbeat
The basic backbeat is a standard 8th note drum beat and probably the most popular groove of all time.
The snare lands on the beat 2 and 4, while you play the bass drum on the beat 1 and 3.
As for the Hi-Hat, it’s played twice per beat or 8 times per measure. If every beat is equal to 1/4, and every Hi-Hat is played twice per beat, then they’re all 8th notes (1/4 x 1/2 = 1/8).
In a 4/4 time signature, there are 4 (top number) quarter notes (bottom number) per measure, which means any combination of rhythms can be used as long as they add up to 4 quarter notes.
Since it consists of eighth notes, you simply count it as “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”. Count it out loud while playing at different speeds until it becomes second nature.
Now that we got that out of the way, here’s the drum notation for the basic backbeat:
And the audio:
As an example, here’s the basic backbeat being played in one of the most popular songs in the world:
2- Halftime Drum Beat
If you understood the first drum beat, you won’t have any problem understanding the second one.
It’s pretty much a “slowed down” version of the basic backbeat. It can be used in any part of the song, but most use it on something like a bridge.
The Hi-Hats are, once again, played as 8th notes, or twice per beat in a 4/4 time signature song.
As far as the snare and bass drum, you play each one exactly once per measure. That’s half the times you would play on a regular backbeat, hence the “halftime”.
In a regular 4/4 time signature that you count like “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”, the bass drum is played in beat 1, and the snare in beat 3.
Now that we’ve got that down, here’s the drum notation for the halftime drum beat:
And the audio:
The easiest example of a halftime drum beat that isn’t a shuffle is the one on Metallica – Enter Sandman.
It isn’t exactly like the example above, since Lars plays the bass drum of the &, instead of the 1, but it’s close enough to understand how useful it can be:
3- 16th Note Backbeat
After learning the basic 8th note backbeat, and the halftime drum beat, the 16th note backbeat is the next logical step.
If you usually listen to R&B, rock, or even hip-hop, chances are, you’ve listened to this sixteenth-note backbeat before.
As far as the snare drum goes, nothing changes. Just like the basic backbeat, you still play it in the 2nd and 4th beat.
The same happens with the bass drum. You still play it in the 1st and 3rd beat like we are already used to.
On the other hand, the Hi-Hat is where the biggest change happens. In a 4/4 time signature, a 16th note groove means that you play the Hi-Hat 16 times per measure or 4 times per beat.
Since playing the snare drum and the Hi-Hat at the same time would be awkward enough, the snare drum is always prioritized.
Confused? Don’t worry, here’s the drum notation for the 16th note backbeat:
And the audio:
One of the best examples of the 16th note backbeat being used in real life is the song Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne.
The only difference is the fact that you play the bass drum every beat. It’s more like a “four on the floor” mixed with the “16th note backbeat”, if that makes sense.
4- Four On The Floor
I’ve decided to use this as the fourth drum beat, simply because it’s just like the first one, with two extra bass drum notes.
In other words, rather than playing the bass drum on the 1st and 3rd beat, you now play it on the 2nd and 4th beat as well.
What else do you play on the 2nd and 4th beat? The snare drum. Since nothing changed as far as the snare drum goes, you now play the snare and the bass drum at the same time, on beats 2 and 4.
Once again, you play the Hi-Hat twice per beat, or 8 times per measure, so nothing has changed in that regard.
Practice it slow at first, and make sure there’s no flaming. If you don’t know what a flam is, it’s a rudiment that consists of a stroke preceded by a grace note (almost simultaneously).
We don’t want that happening here, since everything should line up perfectly for the beat to sound as intended.
The additional bass drum notes make the beat extra funky, so funk, pop, and disco are the musical styles where you find this basic drum beat the most.
With everything under control, here’s the drum notation for the four on the floor:
And the audio:
When I think of the four on the floor drum beat, I immediately think of one song in particular:
5- Basic Pop Beat
It’s now time for that pop beat. Yes, the one you’ve heard a thousand times on the radio, especially in the past decade.
As soon as you learn how to play this particular groove, you’re more than ready to play half of the songs on the top charts. So, how does it work?
For starters, the snare drum doesn’t change when compared to the basic backbeat, so it still lands on the 2 and 4.
The Hi-Hat doesn’t change either. In a measure with 4 quarter notes, you play the Hi-Hat twice per beat thanks to holding half of its value as 8th notes.
On that note, you count it as “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &” and play the Hi-Hat every single time there’s a number or a “&”.
When we compare it to the basic backbeat, the bass drum is where most things change.
The first bass drum lands on the 1, which is pretty standard. The second one lands on the “&” after the 2, and the third on the “&” after the 3.
If it’s getting pretty hard to follow, here’s a visual representation of the drumbeat:
And the audio:
As an example, you could simply listen to half a dozen songs from the top chart and I’m sure you could find at least a couple.
If you’re too lazy for that, HERE’s a great video from Brandon Scott on the subject, including multiple examples.
As for me, I’m going with:
6- Basic Shuffle
Ask any drummer what his favorite drum groove is, and most will answer some shuffle variation.
They aren’t exactly drumbeats for beginners, but just like with anything else, you can always simplify it.
Jazz, blues, and sometimes rock are the musical genres where you play shuffles the most, and you’ve probably heard them before without realizing.
A shuffle differs from an 8th note drum beat, but in what exactly? Well, straight 8th notes evenly divide each beat in half.
On the other hand, a shuffle is a specific 8th note rhythmic feel, similar to an 8th note triplet, but without playing the middle note.
To better understand the difference between a regular 8th note triplet and a shuffle, here are the two side by side:
You can create a simple shuffle groove by adding a few snare and bass drum notes to the previous pattern.
Play the bass drum on beats 1 and 3 and the snare on the beat 2 and 4, and voila, you got yourself your first shuffle.
Here’s the drum notation with everything put together:
And the audio:
Shuffles are often more complex and harder to master, especially the ones like Rosanna Shuffle or Purdie Shuffle.
This simplified version is a great starting point. If you want to test out how good your basic shuffle sounds, you can always play along:
7- (Slow) Blues / 12/8 Groove
Blues are the foundation of the most popular music genres. Jazz, rock, country, soul, R&B, and even funk are some of the genres influenced by the blues.
As Willie Dixon once said, “Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits.” That’s why I firmly believe every drummer should learn how to play the blues.
The classic slow blues is most of the time in 12/8, but what does a 12/8 time signature mean?
The bottom number tells us the note value that represents one beat. In this case, the 8th note represents the beat. On the other hand, the top number represents the number of beats per measure, which in this example is 12.
Therefore, there are 12 8th notes per measure, and you count them as “one-trip-let, two-trip-let, three-trip-let, four-trip-let”.
The easiest way to think about it is by looking at 12/8 like 4 beats subdivided into 3 sub-beats giving us a total of 12 beats per measure. From now on, when talking about beats I’m only referring to the 4 main beats.
As far as our example goes, the snare drum is by far the easiest part. As we are all used by now, you play the snare in beats 2 and 4.
The Hi-Hat, on the other hand, instead of playing it 2 or 4 times per beat, this time you play it three times instead, giving it a triplet feel.
Finally, adding the bass drum notes is probably the hardest part of the groove.
You play the bass drum in beats 1 and 3, which is fairly common too. The remaining bass drum notes are played at the “-let” part of beats 2 and 4, which is immediately before the other two bass drum notes.
Confused? Here’s the drum notation for the slow blues:
And the audio:
A good example of a song with this drumbeat:
Jazz is the music genre where everything sounds easy but isn’t.
Unfortunately, the truth is, it’s hard to master and requires a lot of limb independence.
If you want to develop your jazz chops, “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer” by Jim Chapin or “The Art of Bop Drumming” by John Riley are the best introductions to jazz drumming techniques.
You can read more about both books in MY ARTICLE on the best drum books every drummer should own.
For now, the best introduction to jazz is the basic jazz ostinato. It’s something everyone should know how to play, no matter the musical background.
For the sake of simplicity, we won’t be playing the snare drum with the basic jazz ostinato, since it’s hard as is.
The time signature is 4/4, which means we have four beats per measure and a quarter note represents each beat.
First, you play the bass drum in every beat, like the four on the floor drumbeat. In the jazz ostinato, you play the bass drum at a very low dynamic known as “feathering”.
In other words, don’t play it too loud, otherwise, it’s better to not play it at all, while focusing on the ride and snare pattern.
The Hi-Hat is where things get trickier. You play a single Hi-Hat on beat 1 and 3, while on beat 2 and 4, you play it exactly as you did on the shuffle.
If you don’t remember how the shuffle Hi-Hat pattern works, it’s an 8th note triplet missing the middle note.
Plus, drummers also step on the hi-hat pedal on beats 2 and 4, closing the cymbals together and creating a ‘chick’ sound.
Now put everything together and the basic jazz ostinato looks like this:
And the audio:
One of the best songs to play along with a basic ostinato groove is the classic Autumn Leaves:
9- Motown Beat
Motown Records had dozens of records in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 for a while.
As a result, Motown music and the Motown beat became popular in the 1960s.
The standard Motown groove adds a snare to every single beat giving it its unique sound.
First, you play 8th notes on the Hi-Hat, or twice per beat, since the time signature is 4/4 and there are four quarter notes per measure. 8th notes have half the value of a quarter note so you play them twice as much.
As an 8th note groove, you count it like “1, &, 2, &, 3, &, 4, &”. With that in mind, the bass drum falls on the 1, and the “and” of beats 3 and 4.
Just like we saw before, you play the snare drum on every single beat.
It might be kind of hard to follow in the beginning, but here’s what it looks like as a drum notation:
And the audio:
Good examples of Motown music come from the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, or the Jackson Five.
On that note, my favorite example is:
Metal as a whole is far from beginner-friendly, especially considering most metal tracks require a double bass drum pedal.
With that in mind, there are still a few metal drum beats any beginner can play. They don’t require a double bass drum pedal and are easy to learn.
To summarize, they are sections featuring half-time (or even quarter-time) beats, known as breakdowns. While the tempo remains the same, the music feels slower and heavier during those sections.
This next drumbeat is pretty easy when it comes to the cymbal and snare drum pattern, but the same can’t be said about the bass drum.
The time signature is 4/4, and we’ll count like “1 e & ah, 2 e & ah, 3 e & ah, 4 e & ah”.
Starting with the cymbals, the most common choices for this type of drumbeat are the crash and the china cymbal.
You play it once every beat, so four times per measure. So far so good, right?
Well, the snare drum is even easier, since you only play it once on the 3rd beat of each measure.
On the other hand, you play the bass drum twice, on the 1 and the “ah” of the first beat. You play the third and final bass drum on the “&” of the second beat.
If you put everything together, this is what the drum notation looks like:
And the audio:
Even though the beat is different and a bit harder, a good example of a breakdown in a metal song is:
This is just the beginning, but hopefully, this article inspired you enough to grab the drumsticks and practice some of the classics.
Even though I firmly believe any beginner can play every single one of the ten drumbeats above, some are way easier than others.
Just practice them over and over, until it becomes second nature and part of your muscle memory. Start slow and only increase the BPM when it makes sense. It’s way better to properly play a drum beat at 60bpm than to play it sloppily at 120bpm.
You can also play a fun game of adding notes or rests to the previous drum beats, creating new concepts and stimulating your creativity.
I hope this article achieved its main goal of teaching some of the most important drum beats for beginners and the importance of being open-minded when it comes to different music genres.