If you spend time learning how to play the drums, or even simply discussing music, you are likely to encounter references to the “four on the floor”, also “four to the floor” rhythm pattern. After all, it is one of the most essential beats for playing popular music and is used in a variety of different music styles.
So what is four on the floor? What songs and musical genres utilize four-on-the-floor beats? Where did the four on the floor drum beat originate and what related drum techniques should you be aware of? In this article, we will attempt to answer all of these questions and provide a comprehensive overview of four on the floor.
What is Four on the Floor?
Four in the floor, or four to the floor, is the name given to a rhythm pattern that is primarily associated with dance music and disco music. The beat itself is characterized by a uniformly accented beat in 4/4 time, with the bass drum being hit on every beat (a simple 1, 2, 3, 4) in common time.
It is a fairly simple rhythm pattern and was popularized during the 1970s, with the rise of disco. In more recent times, it has become widely associated with the genre of electronic dance music, or EDM. However, while these are some of the main genres linked to four on the floor beats, it is common throughout pop music and even jazz music.
The minimalist rhythm pattern is ideal for providing a steady beat that allows other instruments to stand out and it is also a popular rhythm pattern for artists and bands making use of electronic drum sets.
Which Songs Use a Four on the Floor Drum Beat?
A huge number of popular songs make use of the four on the floor beat, so it would be impossible to list them all. The drummer who is most commonly associated with this rhythm pattern – and often credited with popularizing it – is Earl Young, who played drums for The Trammps.
Young also featured on the track ‘The Love I Lost’ by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and it is this track that is often highlighted as a defining example of the rhythm pattern.
Many classic disco songs from the 1970s feature the four on the floor drum beat, including classics such as ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees and ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. While it can also be heard in many other genres, with some popular examples including ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ by Pink Floyd and ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie.
Another good song for identifying the beat and hearing it clearly is ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen. While it is now considered a fairly conventional rhythm pattern within most genres, it might be considered fairly unconventional within reggae. Nevertheless, it is still heard in tracks like ‘Exodus’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers.
It is fair to say that the beat is not only popular but also extremely diverse, and with it, you’re going to have a lot of options for playing along with popular songs.
How to Play a Four on the Floor Rhythm
As previously stated, the defining characteristic of the four on the floor beat is the uniform 1, 2, 3, 4 pattern on the bass drum. This is usually combined with upbeats being accented on the hi-hat cymbals. It is a fairly standard rhythm pattern, which is simple to learn and can be especially ideal for beginners who are getting used to keeping rhythm.
With that being said, there are some things to watch out for, as well as some more advanced techniques that are worth keeping in mind for when you want to try something slightly different.
The main thing to watch out for when playing a four on the floor pattern is inconsistencies with timing. You do not want to ‘flam’; this occurs when you play a beat either just before or just after another, resulting in the beat being played twice.
With the four on the floor pattern, the key is to achieve clear, steady bass drum sounds, so you need to be careful with this. While learning, it is best to start off slow and really practice the technique, before speeding things up later down the line.
One slightly more advanced technique to be aware of is known as ‘feathering’ and this involves playing the bass drum extremely lightly. This is especially common when using the four on the floor rhythm for jazz drumming, but it can also be used with other styles of music too.
The technique can be extremely effective when played well, but consistently feathering the bass drum takes a lot of control and precision.
The Importance of Four on the Floor
As a drummer, learning the four on the floor rhythm pattern is an excellent example of the first basic drum beats. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for spending time perfecting the timing of the individual kick beats, because it is such a common rhythm in popular music.
While four on the floor may not be the most exciting rhythm for a drummer to play, you are likely to be required to play it at some point, especially if you play a variety of different music styles. It can be valuable for teaching drummers to understand their role and to avoid being a distraction within a song.
The main thing to remember with four on the floor is that listeners enjoy its simplicity and it provides the other instruments and a band’s vocalist(s) with a great opportunity to take center stage.
The Last Word
The four on the floor music beat is iconic within disco and dance music and is also frequently heard across other genres of popular music as well. Since being popularized in the 1970s, it has since become one of the most widely utilized drum beats for a range of genres, even including pop, rock, jazz, and EDM.
Although the beat itself is simple, and it is easy to both learn and play, it is also important for drummers to get to grips with. After all, it can help to provide the foundation for other instruments to shine.
At the same time, its simplicity also makes it ideal for musicians who wish to use electronic drum machines or similar equipment.