In The Pocket

Ghost Notes 101

6 Approaches to Give Your Grooves Greater Dimension

by Jim Riley

One thing that separates the novice drummer from the professional is the ability to play grooves that have dimension. Ghost notes are a great way to achieve this, but first you need to understand, on an elemental level, how to create them. In this lesson I’m going to show you the six ghost-note elements that I use when playing music that’s based on a 16th-note subdivision.

When implementing ghost notes, I recommend playing a rimshot on the backbeats (the snare hits on beats 2 and 4), while making sure to play the ghost notes in the center of the drum at a low volume. The wide dynamic range that those two techniques create will give your grooves greater depth and dimension.

The first ghost-note approach is the single tap. These notes fall in between where the hi-hat is played. This first example has the single tap being played on the “a” of beat 4.

Here’s how I might expand the use of the single tap within one measure.

The next ghost-note element is the drag, which is positioned in the groove between the hi-hat notes, similar to the single tap. The drag can be performed by playing a buzz in the center of the snare, but I often prefer to play it as two distinct notes. Here’s the drag played on the “a” of beat 4.

This is how I would typically combine the use of single taps and drags in a measure of groove.

 One of my favorite ghost-note elements is this next one, which I call the “backbeat stutter.” It employs a ghost note immediately following the backbeat. The challenge is to be able to play a rimshot on the backbeat and immediately transition to playing a light tap in the center of the drum. This will take some practice, but the payoff will be well worth it. Here’s a simple example using the backbeat stutter.

This groove uses the three ghost-note elements we’ve covered so far.

The last ghost-note element I want to show you is what I call the “middle two.” It places the ghost notes on the middle two notes of a four-note grouping (the “e” and “&” of the beat).

This example combines all four ghost-note elements (single tap, drag, backbeat stutter, and middle two) in a one-measure groove.

Shifting gears, we can also apply the ghost-note concept to rhythms played on the hi-hat. There are two variations that I commonly use. The first places an additional hi-hat note on the “e” of the beat to create a three-note figure on the hi-hat.

The following example shows how you can combine the hi-hat ghost notes with some of the previous ghost-note approaches for the snare.

Our second hi-hat variation adds a note on the “a” of the beat.

Our final example combines the second hi-hat variation with all of the snare ghost-note elements. I hope these ideas help open you up to a wider world of groove possibilities.


Jim Riley is the drummer and bandleader for Rascal Flatts. He is an endorsing artist for Ludwig, Sabian, Remo, Shure, Gibraltar, Vater, and Latin Percussion.