Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic

Groove Construction

Part 5: Ghost Notes Using an Ostinato Approach

by Jost Nickel

Ghost notes are an excellent way to expand your dynamic range. In this lesson, we’ll focus on dynamics and technique while working on ghost notes by using an ostinato approach. 
Ghost notes (notated with parentheses) are played very softly, as opposed to accents, which are much louder. Correct dynamics are achieved by maintaining the proper distance between the stick and the drumhead. When playing ghost notes, I suggest striking the snare from about 1 to 2 cm above the head. Accents are played at a substantially greater distance to the drumhead, and using rimshots can amplify their impact. I also suggest playing ghost notes with your wrist as opposed to your fingers. Attempts to play softly with your fingers can result in inaccurately placed ghost notes.
Ostinato Approach
When working on ghost notes, I’ll generally take either an ostinato approach or an intertwined approach. This month’s instalment focuses on using ostinatos to develop ghost notes. Next month we’ll explore the intertwined approach.
An ostinato is a continually repeated musical figure. To demonstrate, we’ll use a hand pattern on the hi-hat and snare that contains ghost notes and accents. The pattern remains unchanged as we add various bass drum variations underneath.
Let’s begin with the ostinato. The right hand plays 8th notes on the hi-hat while the left hand plays snare ghost notes and accents on beats 2 and 4.
Groove Construction 1
Next we’re going to add bass drum variations. Remember, the hand pattern remains constant regardless of the bass drum figure. We’ll use three sets of one-measure bass drum patterns that increase in difficulty. The first set is notated in Exercise 2 and is based on quarter and 8th notes.
Groove Construction 2
Next we’ll use one measure from this first set of variations as our bass drum rhythm. In this case we’ll take measure 1 of Exercise 2 and place it underneath our hand ostinato.
Groove Construction 3
After you have a handle on this groove, try playing measures 2, 3, and 4 from Exercise 2 with the ostinato.
This next set of bass drum variations increases in difficulty.
Groove Construction 4
As we’ve done previously, we’ll play individual measures of bass drum rhythms from Exercise 4 with our ostinato. The following two examples use measures 1 and 2 from Exercise 4.
Groove Construction 6
Our final set of bass drum variations can be found in Exercise 7. To further increase the difficulty, we’ll add double strokes within the bass drum patterns.
Groove Construction 7
Exercises 8 and 9 demonstrate the ostinato approach with measures 1 and 2 of Exercise 7.
Groove Construction 8
Groove Construction 9
When practicing these grooves, make sure there’s no flamming whenever a ghost note occurs simultaneously with the bass drum.
To conclude, here are two more ghost note ostinatos that you can practice with the bass drum rhythms in Exercises 2, 4, and 7.
Groove Construction 10
If you’re interested in these ideas and want more ghost note ostinatos and groove concepts, check out my book, Jost Nickel’s Groove Book.
Jost Nickel is a top session and touring drummer in Germany, and he endorses Sonor, Meinl, Aquarian, Vic Firth, and Beyerdynamic.