In The Pocket

“Rock Steady” Demystified

Four Steps to Mastering an Advanced Funk Groove

by Jim Payne

Have you ever checked out Bernard Purdie’s beat on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”? And what about the classic drum break that includes Purdie’s signature hi-hat bark? That’s one of the most recognizable funk licks of all time, and we’re going to break it down here.

“Rock Steady” combines a super-solid groove and some classic funk techniques with a special twist. Here’s my take on how to master it.

Step 1: The Hi-Hat Pattern

The hi-hat part is fairly simple. It’s two 8th notes and then one 8th and two 16ths, à la James Brown’s “Soul Power” with Jabo Starks on drums.

It’s easy to hear the hi-hat pattern as straight 8ths, but there’s more going on. Those two 16ths add drive and help to hold the beat in the pocket. This hi-hat phrase is the basic framework for the full beat.

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Step 2: Both Hands

Using Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi’s technique (as described in his book The Funky Beat), let’s work on both hands by adding the snare to the hi-hat pattern.

You may not be familiar with playing a ghost note after a backbeat. This isn’t easy to do, but it’s an essential part of the funk vocabulary. Spend some time shedding it. Let the ghost note fall onto the head as you bring your wrist up after the accented backbeat. The ghost note should be super-soft, so let the stick just graze the head.

Don’t move on to the third step until the hand pattern is flowing nicely. I’ve found this to be the key to mastering more complex funk beats.

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Step 3: Add the Bass Drum

The next step is to add the bass drum to the hand pattern.

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Step 4: Add the Hi-Hat Openings

On first listen, it sounds as if Purdie is simply opening the hi-hat on the “&” of beats 1 and 3. Simple, right? Not quite. Listen more closely, and you’ll notice something else going on in there. There’s actually a bit of an accent on the “a” of beats 2 and 4, and once in a while Bernard plays a slight hi-hat opening in those spots. If you sat down and tried to open the hi-hat there, it wouldn’t flow very well. So how do you get those subtle openings without disrupting the groove? Try simply playing quarter notes with the hi-hat foot throughout, and the hi-hat openings take care of themselves!

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To get this beat really happening, be sure to accent the hi-hat openings on the “&” of beats 1 and 3 while not making much of the openings on the “a” of 2 and 4. It’ll take a while to get that under control, but it’s a crucial element to capturing the correct feel of Purdie’s “Rock Steady” groove. Here’s the complete beat.

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The Drum Break

Here’s Purdie’s break from “Rock Steady.” Have fun!

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Jim Payne teaches funk and R&B drumming for Berklee Online. He has played with Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. He can be reached at [email protected]