Rhythmic drumming is one of the oldest musical traditions created by man. Over the centuries, various cultures have developed their own unique rhythmic patterns and beats. These drum beats form the basis upon which music is built, and serve as the time-keeper and heartbeat for both traditional and modern music. Even for non-musicians, learning basic drum beats can be a rewarding experience.
Types of drum beats are unique to various regions of the world, but three of the most important categories of drum eats are divided into three regions: African, Indian and Western. Both African and Indian music have an oral tradition of teaching and relating drum beats. These regions use vocal sounds to notate drumming patterns. For example, in African music, drumming patterns are laid out using the vocal sounds Goon, Doon, Go, Do, Pa, and Ta. This system is used across the world for hand drumming. Western music uses standard notation, and drums are primarily used to keep the rest of a musical group in time.
A basic rock drum beat typically uses a 4/4 time signature. The bass notes generally lie on the one and three of the measure, with treble notes, usually produced by snare drum, falling on the two and the four. The 6/8 time signature is also very common. 2/4 is a popular time signature for marches. The basic 6/8 beat features a bass note on one and a treble note on four. More adventurous music can feature many other time signatures, like 7/8, 5/4 or 9/8.
Variations of basic rhythms include syncopated rhythms and polyrhythms. Syncopated rhythms have accented notes on “off-beats,” parts of the measure other than one, two, three and four. Polyrhythms feature simultaneous rhythms played in different time signatures. For example, on a drum set, your feet might be playing a 4/4 rhythm while your hands play a 6/8 rhythm.
Some types of music, such as jazz, will bend the rules of rhythm. The tempo could sometimes be described as rubato, or “robbed time.” Within a single measure, the tempo may speed up or slow down slightly, creating a looser, more organic sound. This style can be applied to other types of music to create interesting effects.
Innovation is a key component of music, and it’s important to remember that the science of drumming is an ever-evolving topic. There is no right or wrong way to develop a drum beat. Something that sounds terribly confusing and repulsive to one person might sound interesting and challenging to another. After learning the basics of drum beats, experimentation and practice are the keys to success.