The rhythmic potential of a beat is not exhausted once it is mastered in its original written form. By employing a technique, which one might call “beat shifting,” any beat can be transformed into interesting variations that are similar to the original yet present their own distinctive flavor. A variation is most easily achieved by shifting the starting point of the beat from the original 1 to any of the other downbeats. To illustrate, let us first play this basic rock beat.

Beat Shifting 1

Now let us shift the starting beat, so that the original 2 is the new

Beat Shifting 2

Beat 1b uses the original 3 as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 3

Beat 1c uses the original 4 as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 4

 

Clearly, neither beat 1 nor its variations are extremely rhythmically inspiring and are merely meant to illustrate. It should be pointed out that it takes an interesting starting beat to make the “beat shifting” technique effective.

Let us now examine a good basic funk beat.

Beat Shifting 5

Beat 2a uses the original 2 as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 6

Beat 2b uses the original 3 as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 7

Beat 2c uses the original 4 as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 8

Any basic Latin beat can be easily varied with interesting rhythmic effects.

Beat Shifting 9

The original 2 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 10

The original 3 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 11

The original 4 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 12

This fusion of funk and Latin borrowed from Steve Gadd offers some very tasty variations. Try using a cowbell on these.

Beat Shifting 13

The original 2 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 14

The original 3 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 15

The original 4 is used as the new 1.

Beat Shifting 16

Keep in mind again that the more interesting a beat is, the more rewarding are its variations. Simple 2 and 4 backbeats do not bear much rhythmic fruit, as beat 1 and its variations show. It is the more sophisticated rock, funk, Latin, and fusion grooves that lend themselves most effectively to the “beat shifting” technique as the other beats demonstrate. You will find that, once the original beat is conquered, the hard work is over and the ensuing variations are little or no problem to master. Hence, one beat equals four beats. This is the bottom line.

Howard Fields was the drummer in the late Harry Chapin’s band from 1975 to 1981.