Although linear-drumming phrases have been popular among drummers for some time, students often still ask me to explain the difference between linear and nonlinear drumming. To clarify, in linear drumming’s purest form, no two surfaces are struck simultaneously. For instance, if playing a cymbal, no other drumset voice—such as a snare or bass drum—would be struck at the same time. In nonlinear drumming, multiple drumset voices can be played simultaneously.

There are two main reasons that drummers can be confused about the difference between linear and nonlinear patterns. First, many students often initially learn jazz and rock coordination using nonlinear exercises without addressing linear patterns in these styles. After a student spends extensive time practicing nonlinear exercises, playing in this fashion can become so ingrained that it can be difficult to employ alternate coordination. In order to play linear patterns, students may have to unlearn habits. Moreover, if you’re unfamiliar with linear techniques, it can be difficult to pick out precisely what’s being struck when listening to a drummer play linear patterns.

A second reason for confusion is the fact that drummers who play linear phrases rarely do so in a pure form. Many drummers play linear and nonlinear figures within the same tune or passage.

The following four hi-hat and snare patterns should help clarify the difference between linear and nonlinear drumming. Each of the patterns is first notated without the bass drum. That is followed by a linear version of the main pattern with the bass drum included. Finally, we’ll take a look at a nonlinear version of the same groove.

For more linear-drumming exercises and concepts, check out my book The Bible of Linear Drumming.


Joel Rothman is the author of nearly one hundred drum and percussion books, which sell worldwide through his company, JR Publications. For more info, visit joelrothman.com.