Rock ‘n’ Jazz Clinic

Odd Groupings Over Sama

Combining Concepts for Creative Coordination Development

by Mike Johnston

What do you do when you have two things in the refrigerator or pantry that taste awesome by themselves? You put them together! You start simple, combining things like peanut butter and jelly, eggs and bacon, milk and cereal. Then you branch out as you become more comfortable. Throw a can of mixed vegetables into your chili. Put Nutella and bananas on your peanut butter sandwich. Mix tuna fish into your macaroni and cheese. Not every combination will be a home run, but experimenting is the key.

The same thing holds true with drumming. At first, you learn one subject at a time, like basic grooves. Then, a bit down the line, you learn some fills. Then you decide to work on your hand speed, so the grooves and fills get put on hold for a bit, but eventually you realize that you can mix them all together by creating 32nd-note-based beats that push your hand speed, while you play a tasty fill every eighth bar. This lesson is all about mixing together two great drumming ingredients, the samba foot ostinato and odd groupings, to create a delicious recipe for creative independence.

The samba ostinato is a one-beat loop with the bass drum on the downbeat and the “a,” and the hi-hat on the “&.” That pattern needs to be rock solid before you can try to play the odd groupings on top of it. I suggest first taking a little test. Get your feet going with the samba foot ostinato at 70 bpm, and then play 16th notes on the snare drum as single strokes, double strokes, single paradiddles, and inverted paradiddles. Then try alternating flams, flam taps, and syncopated accent patterns. If you feel comfortable with all of these, you’re ready to start tackling the spicy meatballs of odd groupings over the samba.

The odd groupings that we’ll be using in this lesson (threes, fives, and sevens) are phrased for the hands only, since the feet will be busy playing the samba ostinato. Before you start mixing the groupings, you need to be able to play each one individually. I’ve put each grouping in its respective time signature (3/4, 5/4, and 7/4), so you don’t have to worry about the over-the-barline anticipation that occurs when you play them in 4/4.

The grouping of three is played using an RLL sticking with an accent on the R.


The grouping of five is played using an RLRLL sticking with an accent on each R.


The grouping of seven is played using an RLRLRLL sticking with an accent on each R.


Once you can play each of the odd groupings by itself over the samba, it’s time to start mixing them up. Here are four options.










This final grouping takes fifteen quarter notes to cycle back to the downbeat, so I’ve written it as three bars of 4/4 and one bar of 3/4.


Mike Johnston runs the educational website, where he offers prerecorded videos as well as real-time online lessons. He also hosts weeklong drum camps at the facility each year.