When learning to play the drums, there are so many beats, fills, and techniques to learn that it can be quite overwhelming for beginners to have direction. However, one of the best things about drumming is that learning one or two grooves will allow you to play along to hundreds of songs.
In this guide, we’ll show you ten iconic drumbeats that you need to know. Mastering these will make you a versatile drummer who is able to play multiple styles of music. We’ve also added two variations to each groove to keep things interesting if you want to branch out a bit more.
(I made the PNGs myself with a transcription program, so they’re copyright free)
- 1 Basic Rock Beat
- 2 Four on the Floor Beat
- 3 16th Notes on the Hi-Hat Beat
- 4 Basic Funk Beat
- 5 Basic Swing Beat
- 6 Bossa Nova Beat
- 7 Reggae Beat
- 8 Half Time Shuffle Beat
- 9 Samba Beat
- 10 Tom Build Beat
- 11 Tips for Learning Different Beats on the Drums
- 12 Final Thoughts on Beats That Every Drummer Should Know
Basic Rock Beat
The basic rock beat is the foundation of all drum grooves. It’s what every drummer will learn in their very first drum lesson, what makes up most easy beginner songs, and it’s what seasoned drummers continue to play regularly at professional gigs.
It’s undoubtedly the most important beat that every drummer needs to know, and it’s the one beat that will fit in more songs than any other. Another name for it is a basic eighth note beat.
To play the basic rock beat, you need to play consistent eighth notes on the hi-hat and count them as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.”
After that, you’ll need to play the bass drum on counts 1 and 3, and then you’ll need to play the snare drum on counts 2 and 4.
In this first variation, you’re just going to add two more kick drums to the beat. You’ll play them on both the “1” and the “and” before the snare drum. Then you’ll play them on the 3 and the “and” before the next snare drum.
This is the beat for I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll by Queen, but it has the added aspect of the hi-hat notes to keep it driving. The extra bass drum notes sound great when you’re playing to a song where the bass guitar matches those rhythms.
This next variation also has an extra kick drum, but you’re only adding one that falls on the offbeat after the first snare drum. This may feel a bit weird to play at first, but it’s an easy beat to learn that will get you accustomed to playing a kick right after a snare.
Four on the Floor Beat
The four on the floor beat is when you play a standard eighth note rock beat, but you play a kick drum on all the quarter note counts. So, your bass drum and snare drum will be played at the same time on counts 2 and 4.
This is a good beat to play for songs that have driving rhythms. It could be used in funk, rock, disco, and a multitude of other styles.
In the basic variation, just focus on lining your bass and snare drum up. It will feel a bit weird at first.
This variation of the four on the floor is the classic disco groove. It’ll bring you right back to the dance songs of the 80s, but it’s extremely common in modern music as well.
You’ll be opening the hi-hat on all the offbeats, giving you a driving feel with a spunky vibe.
If you’re struggling to get those hi-hats to open cleanly, just focus on pressing both your feet down at the same time on the pedals. Then just play the basic eighth note groove on your hands, and the groove should create itself.
This groove has even more of a driving feel, thanks to the extra snare drum notes that fall just before the main beats. Those offbeat snare drums will be the only notes you play that fall on their own, so you’ll need to stretch your coordination skills to play them.
16th Notes on the Hi-Hat Beat
This groove will work in many of the same songs that a basic eighth note groove will, but it will add more rhythmic depth with its busier hi-hat pattern. It’s a good one to pull out when songs feel like they need a bit more energy and spark from the drums.
To play it, you must place both your hands on the hi-hat and play consistent 16th notes. You’ll then need to move your right hand over to play the snare drum on beats 2 and 4.
Your bass drum will then be played on beats 1 and 3.
This groove just has one extra bass drum note. It’s a good groove to get used to playing your bass drum in a different spot while keeping your hands playing the same rhythms. It should be easy to play as your bass drum lines up with your right hand every time.
You’re now going to take the kick drum on beat 3 away and only play a kick on the “and” after 3. This groove sounds a bit more like a hip-hop groove with that rhythm, but it can also be used in multiple styles. That break from the kick drum makes it sound slightly suspenseful, which is cool!
Basic Funk Beat
Funk drumming requires a lot of interplay between your snare drum, bass drum, and hi-hat, so this groove sets the foundation for developing the skills to do that.
This groove has you playing straight eighth notes on the hi-hat, a few snare drum notes to create a bouncy feel, and then another suspenseful kick drum note before the last snare drum backbeat.
To step it up a level, you can try to make the snare drum notes on beats 2 and 4 louder than the other ones.
If you want to make the beat sound even funkier, you can play 16th notes on the hi-hat with your right hand. It’ll be challenging to play this groove at quick tempos but being able to play fast 16th notes with one hand is essential in funk drumming.
With this variation, the funk beat isn’t so basic anymore. However, it’s a great groove to develop that interplay even more between the hi-hat, snare, and bass drum.
You have multiple kick drums and snare notes placed throughout the groove, and they create a funky beat that sounds amazing when played at an energetic tempo. Just make sure to practice this variation enough so that the beat sounds clean when you play it.
Basic Swing Beat
If you’re interested in playing jazz on the drums, the first fundamental groove to learn is a basic swing beat. You’ll be focusing more on the ride cymbal and hi-hat when first starting to play jazz, so this first beat won’t even have a snare or bass drum in it.
You’re going to play the ride cymbal while counting in triplets, which are groups of three. There’ll be three counts in between every quarter note pulse. On beats 2 and 4, you’re going to close the hi-hats together.
This basic swing groove can be played for hundreds of swing tunes. Some are very slow, while others have incredibly quick tempos.
This variation will have the same pattern, but you’re going to add bass drum notes on all the quarter note counts. The trick here is to play those bass drums very softly. It’s referred to as feathering the bass drum, and this technique sounds more appropriate in jazz groove settings.
The best way to feather the bass drum is by keeping your heel down and then letting the beater rebound lightly off the drumhead. If you play the bass drum too loudly, the swing feel will lose its touch.
You’re now going to bring your snare drum into the mix. Like the bass drum, try keeping your snare drum notes light and bouncy. It’s referred to as comping in jazz when you play different rhythms on your snare to go with whatever the song is doing.
This groove will start you on your comping journey, as it will train you to play the snare drum in different places while keeping a swing beat going.
Bossa Nova Beat
The Bossa Nova is the first beat that every drummer should learn if they want to start getting into Latin drumming. It’s also a very commonly used beat for pub and restaurant gigs, so it’s good to know even if you’re not the biggest Latin fan.
You’re going to play consistent eighth notes on the hi-hat, and then you’ll play a repeating kick drum patternwhere you have two successive notes before and on every quarter note pulse. While keeping those rhythms going, you’re going to play a clave pattern on the snare with cross-stick strokes.
If you want the beat to sound a bit more open, you can move your right hand over to the ride cymbal to get a denser sound. You can then add a bit more stability to the beat by keeping time with your left foot on the hi-hat.
Now that you have all four limbs moving, you’ll be ready to tackle more complex Latin drumbeats.
Another variation that you can play with a Bossa is to just play constant eighth notes on the snare instead of playing the clave pattern. It makes the beat sound more driving, so it’s a good variation to play when a song needs more energy rather than being laid back.
The reggae beat is one of the easiest drumbeats to play. However, it takes a bit of time to master the dynamics needed to nail the reggae feel.
This version of a reggae beat is the one-drop. It only has one bass drum in every bar, and you’re going to play a loud cross-stick at the same time as that bass drum.
If you want to make it sound a bit spunkier, you can play the hi-hat louder on beats 2 and 4.
To make a reggae beat sound a bit busier, you can double up your notes on the hi-hat. You can either play them straight or swung, but it depends on what the other instruments are doing in the song you’re playing to.
Some drummers like to switch between playing straight and swung notes on the hi-hat to get a more authentic feel in the reggae style.
This variation just adds two cross-sticks to add a bit more depth to the groove. You could either play this as a repeating groove, or you could play these extra snare notes as a small drum fill when playing the first variation.
Half Time Shuffle Beat
The half-time shuffle is such an iconic groove to play on the drum kit. One of the most notable drummers to bring this groove to everyone’s attention was Bernard Purdie. This version of the half-time shuffle is also commonly referred to as the Purdie Shuffle.
It involves playing triplet rhythms between your snare drum and hi-hat and then playing a strong backbeat accent on beat 3.
The tricky part about this groove is playing a soft ghost note straight after that strong accent.
This next version of the groove is called the Rosanna Shuffle. It was played by Jeff Porcaro in the popular Toto tune, and it’s become just as iconic as the basic half-time shuffle. This beat needs to be played at a higher speed, and it involves several complex kick drum placements.
This variation of the shuffle is what John Bonham played for Fool in the Rain by Led Zeppelin. It has the same rhythmic idea, but it varies a bit by adding an open hi-hat and having fewer ghost notes on the snare drum.
If you can play all three of these half-time shuffle grooves cleanly, you’ll be able to play any other variation quite easily.
If you want to dive deeper into Latin drumming, the Samba is another essential beat you need to know. It’s very similar to the Bossa Nova with its rhythms, but it’s played a lot faster. If you take a Bossa Nova beat and speed it up dramatically, it will become a Samba beat.
This basic Samba beat will just have you working on playing the two consecutive bass drums at high tempos. You won’t need to worry about adding snare drum patterns just yet.
Once you’ve got that foot pattern down, you can try adding a few snare drum rhythms. With this version, you’re going to play snare drum cross-sticks throughout the groove.
This next variation will have you playing an open snare rhythm that interplays with floor tom strokes. It sounds very bouncy and energetic but note that playing between the snare and floor tom while keeping your other limbs going can be quite tricky.
Tom Build Beat
This type of beat will most commonly be used in pre-choruses of different songs. It allows you to switch things up from playing on the hi-hats, and doing a tom build will add suspense that will make it very satisfying when you move to cymbals in a chorus.
For this beat, you’re going to play eighth notes on the floor tom. You’ll then play varying rhythms around the other toms.
Here’s a groove to play just before breaking into a loud chorus. While it could be considered as a drum fill, you may find yourself playing this same bar over and over in certain songs, so it will become a drumbeat.
The next variation is a half-time tom build. It also has a snare drum added to make it groove a bit more. This kind of beat can be used in more parts of a song than just pre-choruses. It sounds a lot meatier than if you were to play a half-time beat on the hi-hat.
Tips for Learning Different Beats on the Drums
Use a Metronome
Using a metronome is one of the most important things you can do when learning a new drumbeat. The metronome will train you to maintain solid timing, and that will be your role when you play these new beats with a band.
So, learn the groove without a metronome first. Once you can play it over and over without stopping, turn a metronome on and practice playing it repeatedly at different tempos.
If a groove is very difficult to play, a good technique to learn it is to put a metronome on a very low tempo and then play each note as the metronome clicks.
You should use a metronome while learning all skills on the drums, but it’s especially important when learning new beats, as it’s the best way of learning them in a way that makes them sound solid and clean.
Focus on Muscle Memory
Muscle memory is another very important aspect of drumming. It refers to when your body does something so often that it goes into autopilot mode. The best drummers have amazing muscle memory when playing, and you can train your muscles to recognize these grooves as you learn them.
This ties in with practicing with a metronome. The more you play these drumbeats repeatedly, the more muscle memory you will develop.
You can start learning the beats by reading the notation. After a while, you shouldn’t need to read the notation any more. You should memorize it with both your mind and body.
The better your muscle memory is with the grooves, the easier they will be to pull out when you’re playing with a band.
Muscle memory is also important when it comes to particular techniques for playing these beats. You’ll need good muscle memory to play consistent 16th notes on the hi-hat, and you need that skills to play several of the beats that we mentioned above.
Play to Music
Once you’re able to play the beats comfortably on your own, you should try to play along to different songs. The reason all these beats are on this list is that they’re the most commonly used drumbeats around.
So, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of songs that have these beats being played in them. If you’re working on a particular beat, find a few songs where you think that beat can be played. It will help to find songs with different tempos, as that will allow you to practice playing the beat in different settings.
If you can play these beats comfortably to tracks that have been professionally recorded, then you should be good to go when it comes to playing them with in-person band members.
You should also carefully listen to what the drummers are doing in professional tracks and how they apply these beats to the music.
Create Your Own Variations
When you’re very comfortable playing these popular beats, try to make your own variations with them. This is where you can add a personal touch to your drumming. Coming up with your own ideas is how you boost your musicality, and it can be very rewarding to expand on these beats that are already so popular.
You just need to maintain the overall feel and idea behind the beat, and then you can add small things to make it personal. For example, you can add extra ghost notes on the snare, or you can add a few tasty kick drums.
Final Thoughts on Beats That Every Drummer Should Know
If you learn every drumbeat that we’ve listed, you’ll have a versatile skill set that will allow you to fit in with most bands.
These are all basic versions of these beats, and the variations add a bit more depth and playability to them. However, it’s up to you to master them and then make them your own. When learning all the beats, make sure to use a metronome to keep good timing and play them all over and over to develop good muscle memory.