"Drums are often referred to as the “time keeper” in a band, which makes sense as the drums often set the pulse and foundation of a song."

Foundations of 4/4 Rhythms: A Beginner's Guide to Standard Drum Beats

Table of Contents

Introduction

Drums are often referred to as the “time keeper” in a band, which makes sense as the drums often set the pulse and foundation of a song. Because of this, it is important for every drummer to have a basic understanding of how the beats and grooves we play outline the time and form of a song. This all starts with something called the “time signature.” 

By the way, you can watch the video for this lesson below: 

And you can download the PDF for this lesson here:

WHAT IS A TIME SIGNATURE

In music, a time signature is a way of indicating how many beats are in each measure and what kind of note gets one beat. It is written as two numbers, one on top of the other; in other words, it’s a fraction. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure, and the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets one beat.

Time signatures are important because they help musicians keep time and play together in sync. They also help listeners understand the structure of a piece of music. All the beats we are going to learn today are in 4/4 which means each one has four beats per measure and that each beat in that measure has the value of one quarter note. This is the most common time signature for most rock music.

BUILDING BLOCKS OF A DRUM BEAT

Now that we’ve used the time signature to establish what each measure will look like, let’s talk about the basic components that make up a drum beat. 

Every drum beat we learn today will only incorporate kick drum (also known as a bass drum), snare drum, and hi hat. Here is the key indicating what each of those voices looks like in rhythmic notation:

In all or our 4/4 drum beats today, we’ll play the snare drum on beats 2 and 4 of every measure. Having the snare drum play on beats 2 and 4 during a groove is commonly referred to as “the back beat” and is one of the most common snare drum patterns for rock and pop drum beats.

WHAT ARE EIGHTH NOTES?

In each 4/4 drum beat we’re learning, we’ll be playing eighth notes on the closed hi-hat. Eighth notes sound “twice as fast” as quarter notes because they take up half the amount of space. They are written with a flag attached to the stem and can be joined together with other eighth notes by a beam. We count eighth notes by giving the quarter note pulse the numbers 1 through 4, and all the offbeat eighth notes in between the numbered notes are assigned the word “and”:

Now that we have hi-hat playing eighth notes and snare drum on beats 2 and 4 (as our backbeat), all we need to do to make different drum beats is add kick drum variations.

4/4 DRUM BEATS

Be sure to watch the video so you can see and hear how to play the beats written below. You can also print out the PDF so you can take these beats with you to wherever you do your practicing. Here’s a link to download the PDF: [link here]

HELPFUL TIPS

As you work through these 4/4 drum beats, here are some tips:

  • Use a metronome to keep a steady beat
  • Practice playing the beat by isolating each voice (kick, snare, hi-hat) separately before combining them
  • Experiment with different variations of the beat. For example, combine the first half of one beat with the second half of another. Mix and match and try new combinations.
  • Start VERY slowly and try playing either the hi-hat and bass drum together, the hi-hat and snare drum together, or just the hi-hat by itself as you move from left to right across the pattern. These are the only possibilities you will encounter. For example, in #3, the first four notes would be played like this. 
  1. Bass drum and hi-hat together
  2. Bass drum and hi-hat together again
  3. Snare drum and hi-hat together
  4. Hi-hat by itself

With a little practice, you will be able to play 4/4 drum beats like a pro. Have fun!

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