Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic

Grooving in Form

Part 1: AABA Beats

by Mike Johnstonb

One of the first things you learn when you begin to play in bands is song form, and one of the most popular forms is AABA. Before we get into our lesson, let’s first define the traditional AABA structure.

The A part is the main section of the song—often referred to as the verse—and is repeated. The two verses are followed by the B section, aka the bridge, which is musically different from the first section. The bridge gives the song contrast before transitioning back to the final A section. The B section often provides contrast in lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm, or texture. It’s also known as the middle eight, in reference to its placement in the form and number of measures, or it’s sometimes called the release.

It occurred to me years ago that the AABA form might work just as well on a shorter time scale. What if each beat of a measure was treated as either an A or a B? In that instance you could have a groove where beats 1, 2, and 4 are considered the A section and beat 3 is considered the B section. This type of approach to beat construction proves to be most noticeable in slightly complex grooves, so in this article we’re going to work with a sextuplet pattern based on the paradiddle-diddle.

The A section will be a paradiddle-diddle played between the hi-hat and snare. (Make sure to bring your right hand down to the snare on beats 2 and 4 to accentuate the backbeats.) For the B section, we’re giving you six options to begin with, but make sure to push yourself to create new B sections once you have these under control.

A Section

The pattern we’re using for the A sections is composed of a paradiddle-diddle sticking orchestrated between the hi-hat and the snare. You’ll play this on beats 1, 2, and 4. Here’s the basic sticking.


B Section

The B section is where the experimentation happens. This is supposed to be a departure from the A section, so creativity is key. Create your own B-section parts after you’ve learned the following six options.


All Together Now

The following example shows how to construct beats using the AABA form. The paradiddle-diddle in the A section is a constant, and the B section is the variable. Each time you try a different B-section option, ask yourself how that group of notes affects the groove differently from the last group. Don’t just play the exercises as notes on a page. Make them groove, and spend time internalizing the effect that each grouping has on the texture and overall vibe.


Here’s what the AABA groove looks like with each of the six B-section options we provided. Work through them, and be sure to come up with your own variations.


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.