The list is alphabetical and not exhaustive, but it should be very helpful to many of you

Drumming Essentials: A Beginner's Glossary to the Beats

In music notation, a bar is a synonym for a measure. Both refer to a defined segment of notation–that resides in a rectangular box (hence “bar”)–that contains a specific number of beats. I think of a bar in music notation much like I think of a sentence in any spoken language. It is a way to break ideas up into understandable and digestible segments.

The bass drum sits on the floor and typically provides the lowest thumping kind of sound on the drum set. It can sometimes be felt as much as heard and the interplay between this drum and snare drum is what usually creates the main drum groove of the song. The bass drum’s sound is created by striking the head of the drum with a beater that is activated by pressing one’s foot down on the bass drum pedal. Common sizes: (depth x circumference) 18” x 22”, 16” x 20”, 14” x 18”

This is a specially made pedal that attaches to the bass drum. It sits on the floor and allows the drummer to strike the bass drum with the movement of one leg and foot. There are single pedals and double pedals. Double pedals simulate the use of two bass drums by adding a second bass drum beater to one pedal and using a second pedal to allow the other foot to control that second pedal. There are many brands and models of bass drum pedals.

A beat frequently refers to the pulse of a song. But the other meaning–the one most common in this book–is a “drum beat” which refers to the repetitive rhythmic pattern created by playing the hi-hat, bass drum and snare drum on the drum set.  Groove is also a synonym for beat.

The contrasting section of the song that is usually only heard once. It is often very different from the other parts of the song; possibly in a different key or using a different rhythm or tempo. It is intended to be significantly different from the rest of the song, sometimes in a surprising way.

bpm is an abbreviation of “beats per minute” which is the way tempos are measured. It’s very similar to the way one’s pulse is measured; by counting how many beats (for one’s pulse it’s heartbeats) fit into 60 seconds. You’ll use bpm to keep track of the tempos you are able to play things at. When you log your progress in a practice log, bpm is one of the measurements you’ll use.

A set of several specific rhythms most often associated with latin music. In rhythmic notation, one common version of clave called “3:2 son clave” is shown below:


 The section of the song that is almost always the same musically and lyrically. It is often the most memorable portion of a song; the part that contains the “hook” and gets stuck in listener’s mind.

This is a repeating pulse, created by a metronome or similar device, that ensures the tempo is always exactly the same. A click provides an unwavering pulse that’s used as a reference point for the drummer and the other musicians while recording in a studio. This single reference point allows all the musicians to link up and play in time together on the recording.

Often made of metal, the cowbell is a hand percussion instrument named after the bells that ranchers or farmers would hang around the necks of their cows so they could find them. The cowbell has been used in rock, pop and latin music and is often used by drummers in their drum kit setups.


Three good examples of rock drummers using cowbells in their drum beats can be found in:

  1. “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain (drummer: Corky Laing)
  2. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult (drummer: Albert Bouchard)
  3. “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth (drummer: Darrell Sweet)

These cymbals are used most often to accent significant musical moments like the downbeats of a measure or unison figures played among the band. Common sizes: 16”, 18”, 20”

The very first note of a measure of music. Sometimes thought of as “the 1” or  “beat 1” of a measure of music. Can sometimes be thought of as the “opposite” of the upbeat (see later in this glossary).

Originally referred to as a “fill-in,” a drum fill is simply a short musical phrase–played on the drums– that fills in an empty space in the music. Its musical purpose is to connect and/or announce different sections of a song, or simply to create some excitement to keep the interest of the listener. In the context of our teaching method, “The 5 Pillars of Drumming,” fills fall within the 5th pillar of vocabulary.

another way of expressing groove, feel expresses the feeling that the time keeping of a musician evokes. Most often, the musician in question is a drummer, although it could be any instrumentalist. If a musician has a good feel, that means that playing with them feels good because of the skill and feeling with which they play. In context, someone might say, “that drummer has a great feel.” Synonyms of feel are groove and pocket. For example: “The drummer has a great pocket,” or “that bassist has a great groove.” 

This refers to the physical structure or architecture of a song. For example, a common song form is “AABA” which refers to the way the two song sections (one labeled “A” and one “B”) are organized within the framework of the composition. There are many song structures and forms, but the idea of understanding the architecture of a song is helpful for musicians (particularly drummers). The reason it’s especially important for drummers is that as the “musical tour guide” for the other musicians, which is an important function of a drummer, the drummer needs to deeply understand this architecture and be able to anticipate the different sections of the song. This anticipation–which can only exist when built on the deep understanding of the form—allows the drummer to signal changes. For example, when the drummer understands the song form (whether he’s using a chart of memory to navigate it) he can use drum fills or other rhythmic devices to signal to the other musicians in the band that the movement from one section to another is approaching. With this in mind, one can see how the idea of a “musical tour guide” is an appropriate description. 

In the frame of reference used here–hand technique in drumming–the fulcrum is the main place on the stick where two of one’s fingers grip the stick. These fingers hold the stick in such a way as to make the stick into a lever that can rotate up and down. This fulcrum created by the fingers is one of the critical elements of one’s grip and of hand technique in general.

These are simply notes played quietly on the snare. Ghost notes are often played within the framework of drum beats in order to add texture and deepen the feeling of the groove. More simply put, in the right (musically appropriate) situation, well played and well placed ghost notes within a beat that is otherwise well played should result in a groove that feels even better than before the ghost notes were added.

To drummers and other musicians, a gig is a paid job where they will perform live. This slang term originated from and is shorthand for the word “engagement.” 

The word groove is often used as a synonym for a drum beat. The other common meaning is the feeling that a drum beat or other playing evokes. If a drummer plays a drum beat and it feels good to the audience and the band, then it would be said that he or she has a “good groove.”  Two more synonyms for this “feel good” meaning of “grove” are:  

  1. pocket
    in use: “Wow, that drummer has a deep pocket,”
  2. feel 
    in use: “She has a great feel.”

These cymbals come in pairs and are used as a single unit. They are most often used to mark the subdivisions of time (like eighth notes, sixteenth notes or triplets). The way the two cymbals are placed together allows for many different sounds to be created depending on how much distance you allow to be between the two cymbals. That distance is controlled by one’s left foot (at least most often the left foot is used when the drums are set up for a right handed player) by way of the hi-hat stand. Common sizes: 13”, 14”, 15”

This is a special stand used to mount a pair of hi-hat cymbals. What makes this equipment unique is that there is a thin metal rod that the top cymbal is attached to. That allows the space between the two cymbals to be controlled by the left foot by means of a foot pedal that controls the movement of the rod.

The ability to play one or more repeating rhythms with one or more limbs while having freedom to play improvisationally with the other remaining limb or limbs is called independence. Of all of the skills that drummers must have, independence is often thought of as the most difficult one to obtain. I’m not sure I agree; with the right system in play, independence is just a matter of practicing in the right way.

 In popular music, the Intro to a song is a section at the very beginning of the song that is meant to catch the listener’s attention and set the mood of the song. The introduction may be instrumental or have limited lyrics and it often does not repeat anywhere else in the piece.

This is the foundational rhythm of jazz drumming that is played on the ride cymbal. In jazz, this pattern is a defining part of what the drummer plays when playing in a group. 


This rhythm is sometimes described using the spoken phrases “Walk the dog, walk the dog” or  “Spang-a-lang, spang-a-lang.” These phrases are used because when said with the right rhythmic construction, these two collections of words can mimic the rhythm of the jazz ride cymbal pattern. 


You’ll often see the ride cymbal pattern notated as shown below:

A drummer who plays any clave rhythm with their left foot and then plays freely with their other limbs is “playing left-foot clave.” 

Technically speaking, if none of the notes you are playing overlap, you are playing a linear pattern. The idea is thought of in reference to fills and beats and generally mixes your hands and feet together in the patterns that are being played. More specifically, when speaking of linear grooves, they are often full measures of 16th notes that are allocated between the hands and feet; like so:


Synonymous with “bar.” See “bar,” the very first entry in this glossary.

A device, either mechanical or electronic/web based, that emits sounds that pulse at regular, unwavering intervals. Often the number of pulses within any given spacing can be altered as can the tones of the pulse. The tempo is controllable so that any measure of beats per minute can be assigned. The pulses can also be visual and in some cases, tactile (The Soundbrenner Pulse Metronome).

Metronome Picture

as related to counting while reading music, a mnemonic is a verbal sound that is assigned to a particular subdivision of a rhythm. These sounds are assigned in order to help one keep their place and understand what is going on rhythmically with the music being played.


For example, if we use the same notation from the linear drumming entry above, the mnemonics are shown written above each note the sound is assigned to. (see below)


Named for the orchestral snare drummer, Sanford Moeller, this method of striking the drum involves a pumping motion with the arms that causes an involuntary upward movement of the wrists. This movement allows the drummer to make a single movement and get two, three or four strokes. As you might imagine, the ability to get more than one note from a single movement is quite useful for any drummer.



This is the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not mathematically related to one another. The simplest example is playing “two against three” aka 2 vs 3. Eighth note triplets (a “three”) and eighth notes (a “two”) being played simultaneously is an example of 2 vs 3. Other possibilities could be 3 vs 5 or 2 vs 5 etc etc.

 In rhythmic notation, a quarter note is a note that divides a measure into four equal parts. A dictionary might define a quarter note as a note that has ¼ of the value of a whole note, but that doesn’t seem particularly useful to me. Below are four quarter notes as represented on the snare drum line of a percussion staff.


Large cymbals most often used to mark subdivisions of time during a drum beat. This function is similar to the hi-hats, but the difference in sound between the ride cymbal and hi-hats creates the opportunity for beats and grooves to be created that suit different genres, styles, and moods. Common sizes: 20”, 21” 22” 24”

also known as The Drum Rudiments, are a series of hand patterns used in a style of snare drumming known as “rudimental drumming” that is also closely associated with military drumming. Over time, it has become known that drummers are able to develop strong hand technique by using these patterns. The single and double stroke roll, paradiddles and flams are just a few examples of the components of the rudiments.

Besides the bass drum, the snare is the most important drum on drum set.  The snare drum is what provides the “backbeat” (louder beats on “2” and “4”) that define much of the rhythm of rock and pop music. It has a very unique sound, much of which can be attributed to the snare wires that are attached to the bottom drum head. Drummers can be obsessed with snare drums and sometimes acquire many different brands, sizes and builds of different materials to obtain different sounds. Common sizes: (depth x circumference) 5” x 14”, 6.5” x 14”, 5.5”  x 14”

Relating to song form, the solo section is often where the guitar or piano (or other instrument) plays a solo related musically to another section of the song. The idea is often to showcase that instrumentalist’s abilities in a musical way and musically to create a dramatic high point in the song. The solo may occur over any of the already established sections of the song, such as the chorus, verse or bridge. In rock and blues the solo is most often played by the guitarist although it could be a piano, saxophone or other instrument.

These are the tools most commonly used to strike the drums. They’re usuallyl made of wood (although carbon fiber sticks and aluminum sticks coated with plastic are also available). The most known brands are Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Vater, and Ahead. Sticks come is a large variety of lengths, weights, woods and tip styles.

an adjective that is synonymous with grooving. In other words, if a drummer (usually a jazz drummer) is swinging, they sound good, their groove feels good etc. Swing is also thought of as a jazz time feel, based on triplets that would usually employ the jazz ride cymbal pattern as part of what the drummer plays. The entry earlier in this glossary about the jazz ride cymbal pattern is often thought of as the single most important element in a jazz drummer’s playing that will define whether or not they can “swing.”

In drumming this is the manner in which physical movements are used to create the sounds that you wish on the drums. This includes hands and feet. Quite a deep pursuit, strong technique for drumming takes significant time to develop but the payoff is generally thought to be worth the investment.

The speed a song is played (most often measured by “beats per minute” which is abbreviated as “BPM.”

 the definition of the metrics for the system that you will be making music in when you are reading or writing rhythmic notation. These metrics are expressed by a fractional number, for example 4/4, which is the most common time signature in American music. Each measure in the system will have a certain number of beats, defined by the numerator (top number of the fraction). Each measure will also have  a rhythmic figure that is the unit of measurement for the system and that is represented by the denominator (bottom number of the fraction).  


Let’s look at the 6/4 time signature example that’s depicted below. You’ll see that the time signature is stated as 6/4 by the fraction at the very left of the measure (the measure is just the rectangular box that the notes are housed in). Next, you’ll notice there are 6 quarter notes in the measure, because the 6 in the fraction tells us that the system is based on 6 beats per measure. Finally, the notes below are quarter notes, defined by the bottom value of the fraction, a 4, which means that the basic unit that defines the pulse here is the quarter note.


These are drums that are tuned to various pitches and set up around the drum kit. Usually, for a drummer who is right handed, sitting at the kit that is set up for a righty, the drums will move from higher pitches (left side) to lower pitches (right side). Often, the lowest pitched toms have legs and stand on the floor–not surprisingly these are called “floor toms.” The drums that are mounted elsewhere on the drum set are called “rack toms” or “mounted toms.” Common sizes (depth x circumference): 8” x 10”, 9” x 12”, 16” x 16”, 14” x 14” 

 in contrast to the downbeat (see above listing alphabetically), the upbeat is often thought of as an unaccented rhythm in the measure of a song. More specifically, when musicians speak of an upbeat, they are frequently referring to the eighth note (with the spoken counting mnemonic “and”) that follows a quarter note or numbered beat.

The section of a song—which usually repeats—that has different lyrics each time it occurs, often telling a story. It should contrast with the chorus (the “catchiest” part of the song that is always the same), and move the song forward lyrically. A typical piece of popular song structure.

Just like in any written language, vocabulary in drumming can be thought of as “words” that one says when playing the drums. Many of you reading this know this already because the book you’re reading right now was given to you as a bonus when you purchased the “Pro Sounding Drum Fills for Beginners” video course.


And if you didn’t purchase that course, and someone gave you this book (which I am happy for by the way), then you can purchase the course by going here:


The most common examples of vocabulary in drumming are drum fills, but they can be other things too. Vocabulary could be a specific short pattern you like to play on the hi-hat, or a six note idea between your toms and bass drum. As long as the vocabulary is specific and repeatable, you can think of it as vocabulary and remember it so you can use it whenever you wish.

Free E-Book Gives You 5 Must-Know Drum Licks.

Enter your information below to receive your free digital copy of 5 Killer Drum Licks now.

You’ll also be added to our email list which is highly regarded as the most entertaining and helpful email list in the drumming community.