Adding Some Funk to Odd Groupings

Applying a linear concept is one of my favorite ways to phrase ideas on the drums. Although they’re inherently funky, linear patterns can also serve multiple purposes. Phrases that work well as grooves almost always translate equally well into fills and other statements.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate linear ideas is to play a groove, pick one limb, and move that limb to different voices around the kit. Immediately the groove will take on a different flavor. Start embellishing multiple limbs, add doubles, and adjust your dynamics. Now the original pattern can really go a long way.

Exercise 1 utilizes single strokes between your right hand on a stack and your left hand on the snare. The first half of the bar starts with the left hand after an initial kick on beat 1. The second half starts with your right hand after the bass drum on beat 3. If you’re having trouble making this feel comfortable, spend some time practicing each half of the example individually before putting it all together.

To get an idea of how you can utilize orchestration, try playing this same pattern with your right hand on the floor tom instead of a stack and your left on a rack tom instead of the snare. Playing 2 and 4 on the snare will maintain the previous groove’s feel.

Exercise 2 embellishes Exercise 1 with accents and a flurry of double strokes over the last three quintuplet partials. This pattern also sounds great on the toms.

Utilizing linear concepts is also a great way to develop rhythmic themes. Exercise 3 applies a three-note grouping starting on the second quintuplet partial of each beat: hi-hat, ghost stroke, and another ghost stroke. The first and fifth quintuplet partials are played by the kick and snare to create a groove. Pay special attention to the open and closed hi-hat notes on beat 4.

Exercise 4 explores a paradiddle theme in the first half of the measure while the latter half contrasts with that feel.

Exercise 5 is worth paying extra attention to. The bass drum on the first beat should be there to start off the groove, but as you loop the pattern, omit it either entirely, or play it on every other pass. There are also some 32nd notes leading up to an open hi-hat, and you can play these with singles or with doubles. Each sticking will work well, but they add a slightly different flavor between the two options.

One cool thing with double strokes is that they work well when played between two different sound sources. Splitting them between a stack or ride on your right and the hi-hats on your left is a cool way to vary the previous pattern. Just make sure the open hi-hat note remains open until the fourth quintuplet partial (“ah”) of beat 3.

One staple of linear phrasing is a three-note sticking: kick, right and left. The next example takes it without variation through a bar of 3/4, where it fits evenly and gives us a five-over-three polyrhythmic groove. Be sure to still feel a solid quarter-note pulse. The five equally spaced kick, hi-hat, and snare strokes should feel like a syncopation over the quarter note.

Exercise 7 explores one of the more common quintuplet rhythms. Play the first (“ta”), third (“din”), and fourth (“ah”) partials of the quintuplet during the first half of the measure, and then utilize the lick-right-left phrase in the second half to create a 4/4 groove.

Continuing with polyrhythms, this next example explores five-over- four with the stack placement. Just as in Exercise 6, make sure you’re feeling the quarter-note pulse. Your stack needs to feel like a syncopation against the pulse. Make sure the ghost notes are extra soft in this beat—treat the bass drum, snare, and stack almost as if they’re the only voices in the groove. The ghost notes should just barely be audible as a texture underneath the main pattern. Dynamics play a massive role in making linear beats sound great.

Exercise 9 employs a five-over-two kick phrasing with an embellishment on beat 4. The spaces leave room for a backbeat on 2 and 4, and we’ll fill in the rest with the hi-hat. If you play the snare and accented hi-hat notes with your left hand, your right hand can play the grace notes of the two flams and both of the hi-hat notes quietly between them.

The next example utilizes three-stroke ruffs as a theme on the third (“din”) and fourth (“ah”) quintuplet partials. This is another great example of a pattern that works amazingly well on the toms. If you want to get fancy, try matching the final bass drum flurry by playing along on stacks, splashes, or bells.

The last idea we’ll explore in depth utilizes the hi-hat foot as its own texture within grooves. Exercise 11 places the second (“ka”) and fourth (“ah”) quintuplet partials on a stack with a single hi-hat-foot note between the two stack strokes on beat 4.

Exercises 12 and 13 explore ideas that are opposite from one another. In Exercise 12, the final two partials of each quintuplet (“ah,” “gah”) are played on the hi-hat pedal and the hi-hat. These will sound best on the same instrument. In Exercise 13 we play the opposite with the pedaled hi-hat on the final quintuplet partial preceded by an open hi-hat with your sticks.

Exercise 14 takes another stab at the left-foot phrasing, this time varying its placement within the quintuplet rather than favoring a single partial. In Exercise 15 we embellish the same groove even further while utilizing the same idea.

Now that you’ve worked your way through the examples in this lesson, take some time to embellish your favorites. A great place to start would be to take that kick-right-left idea and phrase it across multiple subdivisions. If you take a bar of 4/4 in which you play quintuplets on beats 1 and 2 and 16ths on beats 3 and 4, the pattern will fit evenly throughout the measure, and you’ll already have a snare backbeat on beats 2 and 4.

For me, the most fun part of these types of concepts is exploring the patterns with reckless abandon. Finding your own variations and phrasings sparks creativity like nothing else!



Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications.