The world of blues music is a beautiful place. Most of the songs have amazing melodies, and guitar players get to play solos in almost every song. Drummers tend to take a backseat, but that’s not to say that blues drumming isn’t fun.
There are a few iconic blues drum patterns to know, and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear when those lock in with the rest of the band.
If you’re looking to learn blues drums, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a quick breakdown of eight different basic blues drum beats that are essential to know.
Straight vs Swung Feel
Before getting into a few specific beats, you should know that a lot of blues music is played with a swung feel. The amount of swing depends on the musicians, as a lot of them like to push and pull rhythms to create interesting sounds.
You just need to know what swing means, as some blues grooves will be written out as straight notes, but you may end up playing those grooves with a swing feel.
Here’s what a straight rhythm would look and sound like:
Here’s what a swung rhythm would look and sound like:
Rhythm B will often be written as rhythm A, so you need to just know how to swing it if you ever need to within a song. Notation often writes it out straight so that it’s easier to read.
Blues Drum Beats
When people think of blues, this is typically one the first blues drum beat that comes to mind. It’s used in thousands of slow blues songs, and it’s essentially the blues version of a basic rock beat.
In this example, it’s written in a 4/4 time signature. However, it’s often played in a 12/8 time signature. The notes will look the same. You just won’t see the “3s” to signify triplets.
You can also play this groove with a cross-stick on the snare for softer songs.
Slow Blues with a Busier Cymbal Pattern
Here’s the same groove as the previous one, but you’re going to add a few more notes on the hi-hat to create a more diverse pattern.
Playing the pattern like this is one of the most common ways that blues drummers add embellishment to their slow blues grooves.
You could also move your right hand away from the hi-hat and to the ride cymbal to make it sound a bit heavier.
You’ll often see blues drummers play the basic version when on the hi-hat, and then they’ll add these extra rhythms once they’ve moved to the ride.
This groove is also referred to as a straight-ahead shuffle. It’s almost the same as a basic rock beat, but you push the second hi-hat note in each group a bit forward to create a swing feel.
The trickiest aspect of this groove is getting your right hand to play the swung rhythm at a high tempo. A lot of blues shuffle songs are quick, so you need to work on it as much as you can.
The half-time shuffle takes one of the snare drum notes out from the previous beat to make a half-time groove. Instead of two snare hits being on beats two and four, you’ll get one snare hit on beat three.
Half-time shuffles are common in slower blues tracks that still sound quite vibrant. As with the previous groove, you need to have a good amount of control with your right hand to play the swing rhythms.
Make sure to master this basic version before moving on to the next groove.
The Purdie Shuffle is one of the most famous half-time shuffles. The other two are the Rosanna Shuffle and the groove from Fool in the Rain by Led Zeppelin. However, those two shuffles were inspired by Bernard Purdie’s original one that he made famous.
To play this, you’re going to add ghost notes and syncopated bass drum strokes to create a vibrant drum beat. The ghost note that comes straight after the snare accent is the trickiest one to play, but it’s the one that makes the groove sound so good.
Train beats are mostly used in country music, but they can easily be used in a lot of blues songs as well.
To play this, you’re going to play constant sixteenth notes on the snare drum as ghost notes. While you do that, you’ll keep time with your feet on the bass drum and hi-hat.
Once you’ve got that down, you’re going to add accents to make the groove sound a bit more exciting. For the first three groups, they fall on the “and” count. You switch it up with the last group to round out the beat.
While straight grooves are often associated with rock and pop, they’re used all the time in blues drumming too. Here’s a simple one to learn that will work for most songs, but make sure to work on a few bass drum rhythm variations as well.
The last groove is referred to as a Motown-style groove. You’ll play the snare drum as a cross-stick on all the quarter note counts, and your hi-hat will keep going as eighth notes.
Your bass drum will then play on the first two quarter note counts, and then it will fall on the offbeats of the last two quarter note counts.
This type of groove is always used in high-tempo music, which sometimes comes up in blues bands. Blues and soul are styles that are often intertwined, which is why you’ll need to know how to play this.
Tips for Blues Drumming
Listen to Blues Drummers
The best way of getting into a style is to listen to that style as much as you can. If you focus on what the drummers are playing, you’ll get a good feel for what the drum parts should be doing.
There are dozens of amazing blues drummers out there, and they’ve all played for top-quality blues musicians. It’s a good idea to put on an album and listen to what the drums are doing all the way through.
Here are a few good drummers to check out:
- Tony Coleman
- Bernard Purdie
- Steve Jordan
- Buddy Miles
Blues is one of the most laidback musical styles, so it’s important to relax when playing it. As a drummer, relaxing will help you keep a steady tempo.
If you get excited or nervous, you’ll quickly find yourself rushing, and you won’t be anchoring the rest of the musicians as well as you should.
Remember to breathe in and out slowly and have fun playing all the blues drum grooves.
Not all blues is laidback, but you need to stay relaxed even when playing faster tunes.
Attend Open Jam Sessions
Like jazz, blues music is very improvisational. If you want to get better quickly, a great idea is to attend open jam sessions. Most of them have a sign up system where you can hop on the drum kit for a certain period.
This may sound a bit daunting, but you’ll have everything you need if you can play all the blues grooves that we looked at above.
Doing this will make you a better musician, as you’ll be playing with others while simultaneously working on your confidence behind the kit.
Work on Dynamics
Once you can play all the grooves comfortably at various speeds, you should work on playing them at different dynamic levels.
You never know what’s going to happen in a blues track. You could be playing as lightly as possible for the whole thing, or a guitar solo could get very vibrant, and your drums will need to match that energy.
Working on different dynamic levels isn’t something that most drummers do or think about, but you should add it into your practice routine so that you’re prepared.
It also helps your stick control, and that will transfer over to other drumming styles as well.
Perfect Your Shuffles
The last tip is to perfect all your shuffle variations. It’s often seen as the most used type of groove in blues music. Straight shuffles and half-time shuffles are grooves that every blues drummer needs to have locked down.
You may be playing shuffles all night at a blues gig, so it’s good to work on variations to not play the same thing over and over.
The drummers that play the best shuffles have excellent ghost note control, so focus on developing that skill too.
The great thing about blues drumming is that it’s not too far off from rock drumming. If you’re able to play rock drum beats on a drum set well, you should pick this up quite quickly. You just need to get your head around the concept of swing rhythms.
Also, most drummers don’t stick with only blues. It’s the kind of style that a lot of drummers can play, even if they specialize in other styles of music.
Again, listen to as much blues music as possible, and you’ll see how the beats we looked at can be applied in musical settings.