A John Bonham Foot Pattern
Creative Ideas Based on the “Four Sticks” Ostinato
by Powell Randolph
Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham is considered by many to be rock’s greatest drummer of all time. He’s definitely one of my favorites, and in this article we’ll focus on a foot pattern that Bonham used often. It’s essentially an alternating pattern between the feet, starting with the left foot on the hi-hat pedal.
Start by getting comfortable with the foot pattern by itself. Make sure the hi-hat is played with the same force as the bass drum.
Now add some flams on the snare and flat flams on the toms.
This next one is a little tricky; it’s like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time. Play alternating 8th notes with your hands (RLRL) over the LRLR foot pattern.
Once you have that down, add accents and move the right hand around the toms. Here’s one option.
In this next example we’re dropping in an open hi-hat hit at the end of the measure. Any notes played on the hi-hat on the offbeat will automatically be open because of the foot pattern. Once you have this example down, experiment with some variations of your own.
In the next example, the hands are playing a three-over-two polyrhythm.
If you add a couple quarter notes to the previous pattern, you have a groove in 5/4 that’s very much like the beat Bonham plays on the song “Four Sticks,” from Led Zeppelin IV.
By spreading out a flam and delaying the last bass drum note, you can create a triplet at the end of the measure. You can play the triplet with either an RL or LR sticking.
These next two examples use that triplet idea throughout the measure. Beat 3 is played as a crossover, with the right hand hitting the rack tom and the left hand hitting the floor tom.
This example is written in 6/4 and is very similar to the groove in the bridge of “Four Sticks.” Pay close attention to the sticking and the tom orchestration. I’ve created a pattern where the right hand descends down the toms while the left hand goes back and forth between the floor tom, rack tom, and crash. This keeps the three-over-two polyrhythm going on the rack tom.
Here, the flam on beat 1 is spread out so that it becomes two 16th notes.
By hitting the snare on beats 2, 4, and 6, and by moving the left hand to the crash, you can create a powerful four-over-three polyrhythm.
Now play the cymbal bell with the right hand, and the floor tom and snare with the left. I also add splashes with the hi-hat foot part on every other note. Kick the hi-hat pedal with your heel to get the open notes, and stomp with your toe for the closed sound. Have fun!
Powell Randolph is a teacher at Alpha Music in Virginia Beach. He tours with Windborne Music Productions, which puts on rock shows with major orchestras around the world. He can be reached through powellrandolph.com.