Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic
Part 5: Ghost Notes Using an Ostinato Approach
by Jost Nickel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Exercises 8 and 9 demonstrate the ostinato approach with measures 1 and 2 of Exercise 7.
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.
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.