Chapter 1: Basic Ostinatos

1. x x x x x x x x

2. x • x • x • x •

3. x • • • x • • •

4. • • x • • • x •

Before trying to play these together, always play them separately first.  I also encourage you to try them on every limb, as well as, alternating limbs.  For example, (1) can be played RLRLRLRL or RRRRRRRR, where R stands for right (or dominant side) and L stands for left (or weak side).  R also refers to the bass drum foot, while L refers to the hihat foot.  (I am actually a left-handed drummer that plays on a right-hand style kit but the notation is simpler if I follow the conventions noted above).

Although it is best to leave the space (•) unplayed to properly “get the feel” of the ostinato, it is often easier (as well as leading to interesting stickings) to play the x’s with R and the •’s with L. So, (3) would be:

R L L L R L L L or L R R R L R R R

Let’s take a look at (1)-(3).  They are all the same pattern!  The difference is how much time you leave between strikes. So, playing pattern (3) at 160 bpm (beats per minute) is equivalent to playing (2) at 80 bpm and (1) at 40 bpm.

(4) is significantly different.  It is often referred to as an off-beat or up-beat pattern.  In examples below, it will also be used as a backbeat pattern.

So let’s have some fun:

1/8th note Rock beat or Regular beat

(1) Right hand on hihat or ride cymbal (according to the conventions listed previously)

(3) Right foot (on Bass drum)

(4) Left hand on snare and left foot (on hihat pedal)

Voila! We have all four limbs going simultaneously and we are playing one of the most popular grooves ever.

If you are having problems coordinating all four limbs, break it down. Start with just your right hand playing (1).  Once you are comfortable and relaxed, add your right foot playing (3).  Then add your left hand playing (4).  Finally, add the left foot, also, playing (4).

Whenever I learn a new pattern or groove I always start by breaking it down limb by limb, as above.  You can learn about what limbs are working together and what limbs or limb combinations are giving you trouble.  If a limb combination is hard for you, then you should practice it more.  If a combination is easy for you, then, you should probably be practicing something harder.  Don’t rush, be comfortable and relaxed before adding additional limbs.

Disco beat, Dance beat, 4-on-the-floor

(1) Right hand on hihat or ride

(2) Right foot

(4) Left hand on snare, left foot

Now, the bass drum is playing twice as fast: 4 beats (4-on-the-floor).  If you can do this, then you can play along with the majority of pop songs.

Practice Suggestions

1. Strive to be comfortable and relaxed when playing

2. Vary the dynamics (volume) of the entire groove or just a single limb.  Remember, to increase your dynamic range, you need to play quietly as well as loudly.

3. Vary the tempo.  Try to play the groove as slow as you possibly can before speeding up.

4. Vary the surfaces you are hitting.  Search for textures and tones.

5. Vary how you are opening and closing the hihat.

6. Try all ostinatos on every limb with all combinations.  For example, you could use a double bass pedal to play (1), your right hand on the ride playing (2), and your left hand on snare playing (4).

7. Improvise. Can you play something different on one of your limbs and keep the others playing an ostinato? Can you play something different on all limbs then go back to playing the ostinatos in “time?”


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