32nd-Note Patterns 1Welcome to the third and final installment of my “Groove Freedom” series. For those of you who missed the first two lessons, these articles are based on exercises from my latest book, Groove Freedom. The book is built from the very simple concept of combining a consistent pattern, like a repeated hi-hat and snare part, with a variable pattern played by another limb, like on the bass drum. Having the freedom to keep two or three limbs repeating an ostinato while another limb is free to improvise is a beautiful thing.

I want to first explain the difference between simple and easy. The concept of these articles is simple. You start with a groove ostinato, which in this case is a 32nd-note pattern between the hi-hat and snare. Then you work through various bass drum placements, such as the downbeats, the “e,” the “&,” and the “a.” You practice all the possibilities of single notes, doubles, and triples. After doing that, you’ll have the freedom to play the bass drum in any 16th-note combination. The process is simple to understand, but just because it makes sense in your head, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for your body to execute. This type of methodical practice will take hours of work and patience. Stick with it, and if it helps, write something on your snare head, like, “This page took Mike Johnston eleven days to finish, and he still struggles with it.” Know that we are on this journey together, and I have your back. Now let’s get down to business!

I figured that since this is the last article in my “Groove Freedom” series, we should go out with some fireworks: a 32nd-note groove. I wouldn’t recommend busting out this beast on your next pop gig, but when your buddy comes over to the house and asks you to play drums for him, drop this little biscuit on him and watch his eyes pop out of his head.

Here’s the hand ostinato by itself.

32nd-Note Patterns 2

Here’s that pattern with all the bass drum permutations.

32nd-Note Patterns 3

32nd-Note Patterns 4

The Heat Check
This section is designed to test the skills that you’ve built up through the permutation exercises. It gives you six syncopated bass drum patterns made up of downbeats, e’s, &’s, and a’s. If you were able to play all of the exercises from the permutations, then you have the physical ability to play everything here. The only thing standing in your way is your ability to hear the new pattern. Take each one very slowly—one note at a time if need be. Eventually your ears will kick in and you’ll be able to hear the grooves in their entirety. When you get to that stage, you can take full advantage of your well-deserved groove freedom!

32nd-Note Patterns 5

32nd-Note Patterns 6

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


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