In The Pocket

Grooving on the Snare

Six Beats That Break From the Kick/Snare/Hat Cliché

by Greg Sundel

The first grooves that most of us learn are variations of countless rock, R&B, and pop recordings that feature the bass drum on beats 1 and 3, the snare on beats 2 and 4, and the ride or hi-hat chugging steady 8th notes. While those patterns are essential pieces of the puzzle in becoming a functioning drummer, players throughout history have also kept time in very creative ways utilizing just a bass drum and snare. In this article I’ll transcribe four of my favorite snare-based grooves from classic recordings and share two of my own variations that work great in many musical situations.

You can use any sticking that works for you with the rhythms transcribed here. A single-stroke roll will work for all of them, but some drummers prefer to use their dominant hand for the accents, like with “Hey Pocky A-Way,” which sounds great played with a RLLRLLRL sticking.

Song: “Orange Blossom Special”
Artist: Johnny Cash
Drums: W.S. Holland

The train beat is a standard groove for country music and has been used to great effect by drummers in many other genres. Try playing the transcription below with straight and shuffle feels. Also listen to the way W.S. Holland adds 16th-note triplets during the harmonica solo on the At Folsom Prison version of the song.


Song: “Hey Pocky A-Way”
Artist: The Meters
Drums: Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste

When it comes to snare grooves based on New Orleans second-line drumming, Zigaboo Modeliste is the master. For this pattern, which emphasizes the “3” side of the 3-2 clave pattern, try lightly buzzing each stroke, buzzing just the unaccented notes, and playing double strokes on the accents. Also try swinging the beat by phrasing the 16ths somewhere in the cracks between straight and shuffled.


Song: “Poor Tom”
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Drums: John Bonham

John Bonham was heavily influenced by American music, whether it was jazz, country, rock, or R&B. For this song he infused the traditional train beat with the New Orleans second-line approach to create a very cool sound. Note the heavier and more syncopated bass drum part.


Song: “How Many More Times”
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Drums: John Bonham

This track from Led Zeppelin’s first album features an incredible snare-based groove. Try playing the grace notes at the beginning as double strokes (RRLL) to create a fuller, bigger sound.


These last two examples are my own variations on patterns by Zigaboo Modeliste and John Bonham. I use them when I’m asked to play a New Orleans–style tune. Here’s a groove that falls within Zig’s rhythmic matrix.


I use patterns like the following when I want to add a backbeat to a song that has a second-line feel. I usually throw this in at the end of a solo section or when the song is building to a climax.


Greg Sundel has performed or recorded with Billy Corgan, Lauryn Hill, and Joshua Redman. His book Drum Your Way is available through his website,