Real-World Applications of Linear Patterns

Rhythm and melody are two distinct fundamental elements of music. But sometimes a song’s rhythm is so inspired by the melody that it becomes its own unique voice within a tune, and almost serves a similar function to the melody itself. When applied to the kit, the following linear patterns, which I’ve used with the bands Pleasant Grove and Motorcade, can become quite musical in and of themselves.

In this lesson we’ll vary each of the basic phrases and dig into how to make them more melodic. I’ll also demonstrate how you can orchestrate the phrases around the kit to make the patterns move freely.

Be sure to practice each example separately before implementing the conceptual variations. And remember that when learning a new pattern, start slowly (in this case, around 50–60 bpm) before increasing your tempo as you master each groove.


I came up with this linear-melodic example for a Pleasant Grove song called “Impossible.” When I first sit down at the kit to practice or work out ideas, I normally use this pattern to warm up. Let’s start with only the bass drum and snare and apply a creative sticking.

Now adjust the orchestration so that your lead hand alternates between the rack and floor toms. Start by maintaining the previous accent pattern and bass drum phrase. Also, notice how the toms create their own melody. You can then move your left hand to the rack tom once you’re comfortable with the pattern and are able to move freely around the kit. It’s quite fun as well to stretch out and utilize the whole drumset in this manner. And adding extra lefthand accents on the rack tom opens up the pattern and creates more melodies around the kit.

Try utilizing all the voices on your kit by maintaining the same sticking while orchestrating your right hand on the hi-hat and your left hand on the snare. Play the previous kick pattern throughout, and move between the rack tom, floor tom, and bell of the ride cymbal to create a linear melodic pattern around the kit.


The next example is another linear pattern I played on a demo for my band Motorcade. It has a “motorik” type of feel to it, which is typical of the music of German progressive rock bands such as Can, NEU!, Faust, and Kraftwerk. Despite the fact that Kraftwerk used drum machines, I’ve always found their rhythmic patterns to be quite inspiring. These phrases were also very influential on a ton of new wave bands, such as New Order, Depeche Mode, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I always wanted to master and reinterpret those feels on the kit—blending the organic with the robotic.

Let’s start with the basic pattern. Once you understand the sticking, we can move it around the kit to make it more musical. For now, start with the kick, snare, and hi-hat at around 60 bpm, and notice how it resembles a call-and-response rhythm.

Once you’re comfortable with the basic pattern, move your right hand to the rack tom to play the first part of the phrase, and then move it to the floor tom for the last part of the figure. Maintain the previous snare and kick pattern. Feel free to reverse this voicing as well by starting with the floor tom before moving to the rack, or move it to whichever voice you feel would create something musical on the kit. You can also keep a quarter- or 8th-note pulse with your hi-hat foot so that all of your limbs are working independently.

Next we’ll orchestrate this phrase while maintaining a similar sticking. The bass drum plays the “e” of each beat, and pay close attention to the left hand’s hi-hat upbeat that finishes the phrase. This is an exercise in drumset ergonomics—now you’re utilizing all of your limbs and creating a linear pattern that is not only rhythmically interesting but melodically appealing.

Finally, try orchestrating Exercise 6 around the kit. Start by playing the previous hi-hat notes with your right hand on the floor tom, and move your left hand to the rack tom on the “a” of beats 2 and 4. Again, maintain the previous kick and snare pattern and sticking. Also try playing the ride bell on beat 1 once you’ve mastered moving your limbs around the toms.

Spend some time on these two linear patterns. Once you’ve mastered them, experiment with your own interpretations, and see what interesting patterns you can create. Always use your imagination to come up with ways to apply rudiments and phrases on the kit so you can create something musical. The possibilities are endless.

Jeff Ryan is a Dallas-based drummer and multi-instrumentalist who’s recorded and/or toured with St. Vincent, the War on Drugs, Sarah Jaffe, the New Year, Daniel Johnston, Motorcade, and Baptist Generals, as well as his own ambient-electronic project, Myopic. Ryan also teaches privately in his studio, the Shed.