Getting into the world of jazz drumming can be tricky as there are so many different aspects that you don’t need to focus on with other drumming styles when you start out. Jazz drumming is more about feel than anything, but there are a few basic drum beats that will help you along the journey.
Here are ten drum beats that are essential for every jazz drummer to know. All jazz grooves are played in different subtle ways throughout songs, but these are the basic forms of those beats for you to learn.
Each beat here has drum notation and an audio file for you to get a full idea. If you don’t already know how to read drum notation, here’s a complete guide to help you learn how to read drum sheet music.
Here is the most basic form of a jazz swing beat. You only need to use your ride cymbal and hi-hat foot, but this beat is the most important one to learn when getting into jazz. All swing grooves are based on this one, so it’s important to get it locked down before you move on.
Your hi-hat foot will fall on the second and fourth beats of every bar, while your right hand will play what is known as the jazz ride swing pattern.
That pattern is a quarter note, followed by the first and last eighth notes in an eighth note triplet grouping. This rhythm repeats in the second half of the bar.
Four on the Floor Swing
The next jazz drum beat includes playing bass drums on all four quarter notes in the bar. Your right hand and left foot will play the same things as in the previous groove, but your right foot will be brought into the picture.
When it comes to swing grooves, you shouldn’t play your bass drum too hard. Having a driving bass drum will pull away from your ride pattern, which should be the main focus.
So, play your bass drum as lightly as you can while playing this beat. It’s referred to as feathering the kick drum when you do this.
Four on the Floor with Snare
This next beat is a combination of the first two that we just went through. You’re now going to add your snare drum on the second and fourth beats of the bar. They’ll match the timing when you play your hi-hat foot.
Jazz drummers will typically use this groove in big choruses where all the musicians are playing driving rhythms. You have to use this sparingly, though, as it’s too heavy-handed for a lot of jazz structures.
If you use this groove too often, you’ll sound like a rock drummer trying to play jazz.
Simple Snare Drum Comping
It’s referred to as comping when you play snare drum rhythms that match and support what the other instruments are playing in a jazz setting. While you have the ride swing pattern locked, you can comp with your snare drum to add a bit of variety.
Here’s a very basic snare drum comping example. The snare drum notes fall on the offbeats, and you need to make sure that they fall into the next ride note that follows.
This may be difficult to play at first, but you’ll need to master it to free up your left-hand independence skills to continue with trickier comping grooves.
Busier Snare Drum Comping
Here’s a much trickier example of a snare drum comping drum beat. The challenging part will be playing the third snare drum in the bar, as it comes on the eighth note triplet space directly after the previous ride cymbal note.
Being able to play a snare drum in that section of a bar will free up your left-hand independence even more, and that will help you create comping patterns on the fly when you’re improvising over a swing beat.
Snare and Bass Comping
You can also play comping patterns with your bass drum, and then you can mix snare and bass drum notes to create musical levels within your swing grooves. I’d suggest getting comfortable with snare drum patterns first before trying this.
With this groove, you have a deep sound from your kick drum and a light sound from your snare. The light sounds are sandwiched between two deep sounds while the ride pattern is flowing continuously.
This groove will have all four of your limbs working together, making it the trickiest one we’ve looked at so far.
Snare Comping Shuffle
This next beat fills all the notes in a bar that is subdivided into eighth note triplets. The classic ride swing pattern will stick, but you’ll change it up with the snare by playing it on every second and third triplet.
By doing this, you get a shuffle rhythm. This specific drum beat can work as both a swing groove and fill. When you use it as a fill, it will build your drumming with intensity before playing a crash cymbal at the end.
It’s another swing rhythm that is quite tricky to learn at first.
Latin music often makes its way into jazz ensembles, so every jazz drummer needs to know how to play Latin grooves. While they’re Latin grooves in their roots, they’re regularly referred to as jazz drum beats as well.
The first one that most drummers learn is the Bossa Nova. This groove will have you playing straight eighth notes on the hi-hat while keeping consistent doubles going with your kick drum. While that’s happening, you’ll play a repeating cross-stick rhythm on the snare drum.
This next Latin groove is a basic building block to a mambo groove, but it’s commonly used in slow jazz ballads.
You’ll play straight quarter notes on the bell of the ride cymbal, and then you’ll alternate between your right and left feet while doing that.
Underneath that, you’ll play a cross-stick on the snare on beat two and two tom notes at beat four. You can play those tom notes on any tom, but it often sounds great to alternate between different toms as you repeat the groove.
This last beat is called a mambo, and it’s often used in jazz bands when the song is very quick and vibrant. A classic mambo would have multiple percussionists playing various rhythms, but this beat aims to combine those into one drum kit part.
It’s arguably the most challenging beat to learn on this list, but it sounds incredible once you get it down. You should aim to play it as fast as you can while still feeling comfortable.
Tips for Learning Jazz Drum Beats
Listen to Jazz Music
Jazz music is vastly different from most other styles, especially in the way that jazz drummers approach playing the instrument. Most drummers sound very square when they first learn how to play jazz drum beats.
You need to get to a point of fluidity between your playing and interaction with other musicians while performing. The best way to do that is by listening to as much jazz music as possible to see how other drummers do it.
Stick with Simple Beats At First
There’s a good reason why the basic ride swing is the first thing you should learn. You will use it in many songs in a jazz band context. Once you get it down rhythmically, you should keep practicing it so that you can improve how it feels to play.
Many drummers approach the ride swing pattern differently. Some play it heavily, while others accent certain notes. There aren’t any rules on which one is best, but practicing the pattern regularly will help you develop a personal way of playing it.
Work on Different Tempos
Slow jazz is often harder to play than mid-tempo jazz. In the same breath, you never know when you’ll have to play an intense double-time swing tune.
The best way to be prepared is by practicing these beats in as many different tempos as possible.
By doing that, you’ll be able to feel comfortable when playing them within various songs and forms.
Play Jazz with Other Musicians
My final tip for getting better at playing jazz is to get out there and start doing it.
It’s very common to find jazz venues that do jam nights where anyone can play. That will push you musically and force you to improve.
If that’s too daunting, find some musicians you know and start a small jazz ensemble. The more you play with other musicians, the more you’ll start understanding how jazz drumming works.
It’s all about having a fluid musical relationship with the other instruments playing around you, and you’ll be able to test the drum parts you’ve learned.
While some of these jazz drum beats may seem easier than others, it’s important to practice them as much as you can to make them both feel and sound better.
You’ll be heavily relying on your ride cymbal when you start playing jazz, so it’s a good idea to invest in a high-quality one if you want to get into jazz drumming. You’ll be hearing it a lot.
If you’re thinking about what drums to use, any drum kit will work for jazz, but jazz drummers tend to prefer smaller ones due to them producing higher tones with the bass drum and toms.