Four on the floor is a phrase that every musician needs to know. It’s a type of groove that drummers can play, and it has been used in thousands of songs over the last century.
It’s an incredibly popular drum groove, and there are so many different applications for it within various musical styles.
In this guide, we’re going to break down what four on the floor means for drummers. We’ll explain why it’s so popular, and we’ll give a few groove examples to check out. We’ll also provide a few tips on improving the way you play four-on-the-floor grooves on the kit.
- 1 What is Four on the Floor?
- 2 Why is it so Popular?
- 3 Different Four on the Floor Grooves
- 4 Things to Note When Playing Four on the Floor
- 5 Final Thoughts on Four on the Floor
What is Four on the Floor?
Four on the floor is when you play your bass drum on all the quarter notes in a 4/4 time signature. This means that you’ll play the bass drum every time you count one, two, three, and four. That will then continue throughout every bar for as long as you play a four-on-the-floor groove.
The most basic form of this type of groove is when you play the snare drum on beats two and four in the bar, and then you play eighth notes on the hi-hat.
Four-on-the-floor grooves typically line up with the bass guitar playing quarter-note rhythms.
Why is it so Popular?
Early Jazz Music
Most of drumming is rooted in early jazz music, and that’s the first style where four-on-the-floor grooves were prominent.
Early big bands would play gigs in halls where people could dance, and the drums and bass had to provide steady rhythms that people could dance to.
There were never mics for the drums in those days, so the drummers had to play the bass drum loud enough for all the dancers to feel it as they danced.
The drummers would play swing rhythms that would be accompanied by the four-on-the-floor pattern with their bass drums. The bass guitar players would then play walking bass lines to match those rhythms.
Four-on-the-floor grooves are still associated with dancing, as steady quarter notes are very easy to dance to. A lot of pop music is written so that people can play it in pubs and clubs, and the four-on-the-floor feel makes for a very vibrant experience.
The four-on-the-floor groove is also used to get a driving feel. It doesn’t necessarily need to make people dance, but the driving feel is fantastic for making songs sound exciting, and always triggers a stank face in other drummers.
You’ll find these grooves being used in rock, punk, pop, and even a lot of reggae music.
Different Four on the Floor Grooves
The modern jazz swing will often have a four-on-the-floor pattern being played when the bass player plays a walking bass line.
To play this groove, you just need to play the classic ride swing pattern and then have your hi-hats closing on beats two and four of every bar. Once you have that going, you’ll softly play the four-on-the-floor pattern on the bass drum.
When you play it softly, it’s referred to as feathering the bass drum. Jazz drumming typically needs your bass drum to be softer than your cymbals, so feathering is important.
Disco grooves will always have very strong quarter notes on the bass drum. In fact, this is one of the most common uses for four on the floor, as most people associate it with disco drum beats.
To play this, you need to make sure that your bass drum strokes are solid and intentional. You can then play a strong backbeat with your snare drum on beats two and four.
With your hi-hat, you can choose from a few options. The most popular disco groove would be playing eighth notes on the hi-hat and opening them on all the offbeats.
You can also play sixteenth notes on the hi-hat to create a busy, driving feel.
When drummers play tom builds on the drums, they’re mostly accompanied by a four-on-the-floor pattern with the kick drum.
An easy way to start learning grooves like this is by moving your hi-hat hand over to the floor tom. You can play the same basic grooves, but it will sound like you’re building to something.
You can then play various rhythms around the toms while keeping the quarter notes in the kick drum to build the intensity.
Drummers who play in church do this a lot to build up to big choruses.
A lot of funk drum beats have a four-on-the-floor pattern that is slightly slower than the other styles. A good example of this is Superstition by Stevie Wonder. The backbeat is very strong due to the kick drum supporting it every time.
If you play a basic eighth note groove with a four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern, it will sound very funky.
Things to Note When Playing Four on the Floor
If you want to improve how your four-on-the-floor grooves sound, you need to work on your kick drum accuracy. Drummers often play their bass drums slightly offbeat, and it creates a flam sound that throws the groove out.
Make sure that you’re playing your bass drums on all the quarter note counts at the exact times that they landin every bar.
It’s a good idea to record yourself playing and then listen back to see how accurate your bass drum strokes are.
Digging the Bass Drum Beater into the Head
When you dig your bass drum beater into the drumhead, it chokes the resonance of your bass drum. This isn’t a bad thing, as many drummers will tell you. It just depends on what sound you’re looking for.
If you want a tight and punchy bass drum sound, then you should dig your beater into the head when playing four-on-the-floor grooves. If you want a resonating and open sound, then make sure to allow your beater to rebound off the head every time it strikes it.
Final Thoughts on Four on the Floor
Four-on-the-floor grooves may feel a bit weird to play at first. As drummers, we learn to only play our bass drum in places where our snare drum isn’t played in a bar. However, four-on-the-floor grooves are very powerful, so you should learn how to play them as soon as possible.
They’re also extremely popular, seeing as they’re widely applicable in most musical styles. So, work on playing your bass drum on all four counts in a bar, and you’ll become a better and more versatile drummer.