From 70’s disco hits such as “I Will Survive” and “Turn the Beat Around,” and 80’s rock classics such as “Miss You” and “Another Brick In The Wall,” to modern hits by Maroon Five and Lady Gaga, and even musical guru Frank Zappa, the four-on-the-floor disco beat is an essential groove that all drummers need to have a firm grasp of. This beat is more challenging than it seems, and it’s easy for a beginning drummer to look past it early on.

This month we take a look at overlooked grooves and the subtleties needed to really make them work. This is part one of our four-part series for this month.

Let’s break this infectious groove down to the bare essentials. The bass drum must play consistently on all four downbeats. Whether you play heel down, heel up, beater into the head, or beater off the head you must strive for a strong and deep pocket. The hi-hat generally plays an eighth-note pattern with accents on the upbeats (Ex. 1).

Ex. 1

These accents can be accentuated by opening the hi-hat on the upbeats as well (Ex. 2). This is where the first challenge for a beginning drummer arises: lack of physical independence between the legs and feet. While the bass drum is slamming away with the leg exerting a lot of energy, the hi-hat only needs to open ever so slightly for the correct open sound to be produced. Make sure to keep your hi-hat foot on the pedal and letting up just a small amount of pressure to enable the hi-hats to open. If the foot is coming off of the pedal or seemingly matching the intensity of the bass drum foot, the hi-hat sound will be too airy and sloppy. You are also wasting energy and not playing efficiently if your hi-hat foot is actually coming off of the pedal.

Ex. 2

The second challenge lies within the hands. As the upbeats are accented on the hi-hat, the snare drum must play a consistent backbeat on beats 2 and 4 (Ex. 3). This pairing creates counter motion between the hands and physical independence between the hands necessary on order to play this groove. Additionally, be sure to not allow any flamming between the bass drum and snare drum on beats 2 and 4.

Ex. 3

To develop your ability to control the hi-hat with your foot, play four bars of this beat with upbeat accents on the hi-hat followed by four bars of opening the hi-hat (Ex. 4).

Ex. 4

Sprinkling ghost notes on the snare drum adds a little grease to the groove. Feel free to add them where you feel comfy (Ex 5).

Ex. 5

Finally, a few variations include playing hand-to-hand sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat, adding a few off-beats on the snare drum or creating variety where the hi-hats open and close (Ex. 6).

Ex. 6

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.