9 Key Drumming Styles – Diversify Your Playing and Listening Skills

drumming styles

Drumming can mean a lot of different things. Most people who don’t know too much about different drumming styles use this term to describe each and every musical use of drums. Those who possess a deeper knowledge of these instruments can recognize different playing patterns.

The purpose of this text is to introduce various drumming genres to drumming beginners. Also, ordinary fans of drumming will find out more about music genres and drumming styles.

1. Heavy Metal

Heavy metal is popular for some amazing drumming styles and sounds. A powerful rhythm section is what makes a difference in this music genre.

As for drumming itself, one of the key trademarks of every subcategory of heavy metal are strong rim shots. While they’re widely used in both hard rock and heavy metal, the latter can hardly work without it.

Hitting the rim of the snare drum and its center at the same time produces that specific heavy metal drum sound. Here you can learn more about this technique.

Another widespread drumming hack in heavy metal is choking the cymbal. Here you simply hit a cymbal and mute it with your hand. The purpose of this technique is punctuating the rhythmic pattern and delivering the staccato playing mode.

Cymbals are generally played more open in heavy metal, to accentuate the beat and get the metal sound. What you can do to get an even more amplified metal effect is to install a pair of X-hats and use them together with your hi-hats.

As you keep making progress, you can add another bass drum to your kit. In this video tutorial featuring Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy you can learn the basics of double bass drumming.

2. Funk

If there’s one music genre that would be nothing without a smooth rhythmic groove, it’s definitely funk. The interplay between the bass guitar and drums is what gives this music genre that playful, seductive rhythm.

The major characteristics of funk drumming is playing on the beat. The predominant drum sounds here are the drum bass, open hi-hats and somewhat irregular snare patterns.

These three elements are key when you want to play genuine funk grooves. The drum section in every funk band uses a wide scope of dynamic details, since versatile dynamics can bring different moods on stage. For funk bands, that’s an extremely important element.

As for the tempo, funk songs usually don’t require lightning-speed drumming, but it does demand exquisite playing refinement and precision.

For all these reasons, funk is something that rookie drummers should leave for later stages of their drumming training.

If you want to drink from the well of funk drumming wisdom, pay attention to Benny Benjamin, who was a Motown session drummer. This means that he played with every important funk performer in the 1960s. Also, he influenced numerous musicians that rose to prominence later.

Also, Bernard Purdie and his Purdie Shuffle is something every drumming funk-enthusiast should look up to.

3. Reggae

Before you get down to learn funk drumming, you can give it a shot in the reggae area. The patterns drummed in these two music genres are similar, the main difference being the slower tempo and lighter groove in reggaes.

So, in reggae you’ll also mostly rely on the open hi-hats, the snare drum and the bass drum, but with some unique rhythmic additions.

One of the trademarks of reggae drumming is the so called 7. Instead of playing the snare drum when the rhythm is on the downbeat, you play the bass drum. By doing so, you emphasize the beat that usually isn’t stressed.

Also, a reggae drummer will use the hi-hat to play some irregular patterns. Together with snare drum fills, these are the most recognizable sounds of reggae music.

Although it’s a downtempo music genre, reggae has its own drumming originality. So, don’t expect to master all the techniques at once, but regular playing will get you there. Plus, it’s a great entrance to funk and R&B drumming.

As for most prominent reggae drummers, the works of Topper Headon from The Clash and Carlton Barret from Bob Marley’s Wailers will be more than educative for every new reggae drummers. Also, Stewart Copeland’s (The Police) backbeat drumming patterns could be useful for reggae drummers.

4. Ska

Another music genre originally from the Caribbean, ska is the next of kin to reggae. It combines some elements of pure rock drumming and some rhythmic syncopation typical for reggae.

While ska songs usually tend to have the usual 4/4 rock rhythm, this pattern is enriched with reggae one drops and a lot of open hi-hat kicks. The latter is an element rooted in funk music.

Since ska bands usually have loud guitars, trumpets and horns, ska drummers need to kick their kits clear and loud.

As you can see, ska might sound cheerful and laid-back, but drumming in this music genre is no cakewalk. It requires meticulous precision and a lot of practice to become a top-notch ska drummer. For starters, listen to Lloyd Knibb, one of the pioneers of ska drumming.

5. Rock and roll

One, two, three, four… and you play the rock. The basic rock & roll drumming is among the simplest drumming forms. There are four beats in a bar. The first and third are on beat, played on the drum bass. The second and fourth are offbeat, played on the snare drums. You play transitions on toms and cymbals.

What’s also great about rock & roll drumming is the diversity of tempos. You can start with a low-tempo track, like “Do I Wanna Know” by The Arctic Monkey, and move on to the mid-tempo “I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles.

If you want to keep it simple, but sound original, dig into Ringo Star’s early songs via these video tutorials. People don’t perceive him as a drumming virtuoso, but he did some straightforward, yet exceptional drumming patterns for rock.

Also, unlike funk, where dynamics is important, in simple rock thrashing, you don’t have to pay too much attention to loudness. In a nutshell, kick it as loud as you can.

When you master those basic rock drumming patterns, you might want to spice things up and add some additional flavor to your playing. In that case, listen to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and his special rock grooves. Have a look at some of his drumming solos here.

6. Punk

More or less fast drumming while mostly interchangeably hitting the bass drum and the snare drum is the essence of punk drumming style.

Also, hitting the open hi-hat gives your drumming a special punk feel.

Logically, the first thing you need to start doing if you want to become a successful punk drummer is to increase your bass drum speed. Here you can learn more about the heel-hoe method. This technique will improve your drum bass efficiency.

The next stop on your path to punk drumming is the physical condition of your wrists. It’s crucial to work on your stick speed and control, as shown in this video lesson. If your wrists aren’t in proper shape, you won’t be able to stand to the challenge of punk drumming.

Finally, you need to listen to some great punk drummers, such as Bad Brains’ Earl Hudson or Tommy Ramone, the first drummer of The Ramones.

7. Swing

Sooner or later every drummer wants to push the envelope and try something new. In case of drumming, trying something new usually means delving into the past and learning from old masters.

This is where swing comes as an extremely interesting genre for drummers. If you think about the 1940s and remember the characteristic sound of swing, you’ll soon realize that the predominant elements are cymbals, or to be more precise the hi-hat and the ride cymbal.

As for the rhythmic pattern, most swing songs are rooted in triplets, which is a typical jazz ride scheme.

For starters, play swing slowly and softly, just to get the mood and the feel you should deliver on the stage. Billy Ashbaugh has put together a practical tutorial for swing beginners.

When playing swing slowly, you’ll notice that it might be more convenient for the sake of the genre to play a dotted eighth-note and a sixteenth-note afterwards. This detail will keep the drumming pattern inside the swing area.

As your playing skills improve, you’ll be ready to give it a more swing (pun intended), which means that you’ll be able to speed up your drumming. More often than not, when you play swing songs at faster tempos, the triplet pattern transforms into a beat that consists of a quarter note and two eighth-notes.

You’ll learn all these little tricks of swing drumming as you keep improving and overcoming new challenges. Eventually, you’ll be able to play swing like old jazz masters, like Louise Bellson, whose drumming lessons you can see here.

8. Pop ballads

Pop music includes many different subgenres, but the term pop ballad refers to a specific type of somber, down-tempo songs; think Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or Adele’s “Hello”.

Due to slow tempo and light rhythm power ballads, drummers need to be alert and precise to hit all their notes on time. When drumming along with a pop ballad, it’s not unusual to play the rhythm a bit behind the rhythmic pattern, i.e. after the beat.

Of course, this means a wink-of-an-eye delay and not playing out of rhythm. Such laid-back drumming contributes to the specific ambience and introspection typical for this genre.

When it comes to the rhythmic structure of pop ballads, drummers often hit sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat cymbal, which serve as connective tissue that holds the band together.

While power ballads aren’t usually demanding from the technical aspect, they do require paying attention to details and being as precise as it gets.

9. Latin

The term Latin music comprises many different music subgenres from Latin America, from samba and rumba to calypso and bossa nova.

The major trademarks of Latin music are irregular rhythmic patterns that often depend on the current inspiration of the drummer. Basically, your rhythm will move from regular patterns to triplets and some arrhythmic fills.

Also, many drummers need to add a set of conga drums or bongos to their drum kit if they want to play Latin music genres in an original way. That’s why bands playing Latin music genres often add a hand percussionist, so that the main drummer can focus solely on their kit and major rhythms.

While playing along a metronome is a must-do in many genres, here it’s impractical. Due to a large number of rhythmic changes and irregularities, a metronome will just confuse you.

What’s recommended is to learn to play drums in some less demanding music genres and then approach Latin music in a natural, relaxed manner. That’s the best way to grasp the essence of this music type and start playing mambo like Tito Puente or samba like Steve Gadd.

The final word

Drumming styles may be different on many levels, but there’s one common thing for all of them: you have a drum kit with which you need to produce the rhythmic patterns typical for each genre. While there are more and less demanding styles from a technical point of view, each of them demands focus and practice.

Sometimes slower and down-tempo ballads can be more challenging for drummers than energetic, up-tempo numbers for dance floors. We hope that this guide has helped you get the gist of each drumming style analyzed in it. Now you should be able to listen to drum lines in these genres, or even play these styles with greater knowledge.

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