Straight 8ths Groove Project

Jonathan Lewin 2024
Part 1 – Playing to music

The Straight 8ths Groove has become very common part of rock and pop music since it was introduced in the 1950’s. It works well with many songs across a range of music styles, so many drummers end up playing it a lot. Because of this:
1. It’s good to be able to play it at a wide range of speeds.
2. You need to be able to listen to the band and play the groove in time with them.
3. If you can adapt how you play to suit the character of the music, you will help the song to express the right feeling or tell the right story.

Here’s a reminder of the basic groove, with the ride pattern played on either Ride Cymbal or Hi Hat:

You will probabbly have memorised the groove by now. Please don’t keep reading it as you go throught these exercises, focus on backing music and your playing.
Some people find that it’s easier to listen closely if they close their eyes.

Here are some activities to help you extend your skills.

1. Most students find it best to start at 90 bpm (beats per minute). This is a leisurely walking pace (classical musicians would call it Andante). Find the songs in the list at about 90 bpm, and play the simple groove along to one of them. Ignore any extra notes and fills that the original drummer played; your job is to listen to the band and keep playing your groove in time.

Stay focused on the music and your playing – the song may seem very long compared with the exercises in your tutor book!
If you realise that you’re out of time, try adjusting your speed until you’re back on track. If necessary, stop playing for a moment, listen to the music again and join in on the beat.
If 90 bpm is too fast for you at the moment, do start with a slower song.

  •  Who is playing the beat with you?  This time, as you play, listen out for the other instruments that are keeping the beat. Which of their notes happen at the same time as yours?
    The first beat – the “1” of every bar – is an important landmark in the music to help you stay in time. Can you identify the “1” in the bass guitar groove?
    Very often you will find that you and the bass guitar, and perhaps keyboards and rhythm guitar, are working together to give the music its pulse.
  •  Now try another song from the list, perhaps one at a slightly different speed. Listen as you go and experiment with ways of playing the groove.
  •  Explore the song list further in other practice sessions.
    Try some of the very slow songs, and see if you can keep to the discipline of staying slow. Slower is not alyays simpler or easier!  
    Move on to faster songs. Bear in mind that faster is not always better or more advanced – you need skills to play all of these songs. But by the time we get towards 140 bpm, playing quavers on the right hand becomes increasingly challenging. And even if you can play them, some fast songs sound too busy with all those quavers So,sometimes songs above about 130 bpm work best with a “straight quarters” groove – the right hand plays crotchets, on 1, 2, 3, 4.
  • Listen to and play to other songs. Try the same playing and listening exercises with other songs that you know or can find.  There is a growing range of “drumless” backing tracks for well know songs available on the internet.
  • Move on to explore different sounds in Part Two

List of rock and pop songs at a range of metronome speeds
These songs should be available through most music / video streaming services. Some of them have drums playing from the beginning. In others, the drums appear part way through the song, but you can start when you think is the best time.
You may hear the drummer adding fills and extra notes to the groove. There is no need for you to do this until you are ready. If in doubt, keep it simple!

About 60 bpm

  • Britney Spears – Inside Out    l Depeche Mode – Condemnation
  • Stormzy – Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2  (Glastonbury 2019)
  • Black Keys – All You Ever Wanted

About 70bpm

  • Aerosmith – What it takes    l  Def Leppard – When Love and Hate Collide
  • Kelly Clarkson – Because of You     l   Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  • Passenger – Let Her Go   l  The Beatles – Let It Be  l  Nickelback – Rock Star

About 80 bpm

  • Avril Lavigne – Complicated     l Procol Harem – A Whiter Shade of Pale
  • Dido – Thank You     l Janis Joplin – Another Piece of My Heart
  • Adele – Chasing Pavements  l  Tom Petty – Mary Jane’s Last Dance

About 90 bpm  

l Jamiroquai  – Virtual Insanity  l Incubus – Drive   l  Wings – Big Barn Bed l  The Chicks – Wide Open Space     l The Who – The Seeker   
l  Supertramp – Give a Little Bit   l  BeeGees – Nights On Broadway

About 100 bpm

l  Bill Withers – Lovely Day    l   Talking Heads – Take Me To The Rivert  

l  Blue – All Rise    l  Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
l  Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer    l  Maroon 5 – She Will Be Loved

About 110bpm
l  Queen – Another One Bites The Dust     l  Wilson Pickett – The Midnight Hour l  Sly and the Family Stone – Thank You     l   Spice Girls – Wannabe    Stevie Wonder – I Wish    l   Sam & Dave – Soul man

About 120 bpm

  • The Bangles – Manic Monday     l  The Beach Boys – California Dreamin’
  • Madness – Our house      l  Def Leppard – Animal   l  Lady Gaga – Just Dance
  • Prince – 1999   l  ABBA – Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!   l  Seal – Get It Together

About 130 bpm

  • The Darkness – I Believe In A Thing Called Love     l  Van Halen – Jump
  • Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf     l  Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
  • Robert Cray – Smoking Gun  l  Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way

About 140 bpm

  • Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak     l  Rolling Stones – Jumpin Jack Flash
  • Taylor Swift – The Story of Us      l   Duran Duran – Rio  
  • Kinks – You Really Got Me   l  Bryan Adams – Summer of ‘69
  • Pigbag – Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag  l   Pink – Trouble

Straight 8ths Groove – Playing & Listening  
Part 2 – Variety of Sound

Simply choosing Ride Cymbal or Hi Hat is a useful way to adjust the feel and texture of your Straight 8th Groove. And as they say,“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. So now it’s time to develop a bigger variety of sounds from your instruments. Some of these ideas are best suited to acoustic kits, others will work with electronic kits.

These exercises are mostly about listening to the quality of sound that you can achieve while playing the basic groove. Think about how these ways of playing the groove might work in different songs.  

  1. Ride Cymbal Surfaces – on an acoustic cymbal
    Usually you would play the RC with the tip of your drum stick, striking the cymbal about half way between its middle and its edge. Now listen to the different sounds that you can make by playing different parts of the cymbal.
    How does the bell of the cymbal (the raised central dome) compare with the bow (the main surface of the cymbal)?
    What happens to the sound as you play further and further from the bell?
    At the edge of the RC, what happens if you change from using the tip of your stick to using the shoulder of the stick,as you might for a crash cymbal?
  2. Hi-hat Surfaces – on acoustic cymbals

Usually you play the HH with the tip of your stick striking the top cymbal a little way in from the edge.Hi-Hat cymbals have bell, bow and edge, just as the Ride does. Again, experiment with playing these different parts, and using your stick in different ways.
Try changing these sounds further by using your left foot – as described below.

  • Controlling Hi-Hat sound with foot pressure
    Normally you keep the HH closed, pushing down on the pedal with your left foot. The aim is to get a short, crisp sound, which we call the closed HH sound.
  • Make sure that you can keep a consistent quality of HH sound as you play a row of quavers. Now play the complete groove, adding in BD and SD. Listen to the HH sound, and ensure that it stays crisp. It may take some time to develop control of your left foot. To help with this, you may need to experiment with set up and position of the HH stand.
  • Now experiment with varying the pressure you apply with your left foot. How does this influence the HH sound? On an acoustic kit, keep the two cymbals in contact with each other, but allow them to fizz and rattle together. This is the open or trashy HH sound. On an acoustic kit, see how may different levels between very crisp and very rattly you can achieve. On an electronic kit, you will probably have fewer levels to play with, but should have distinctly open and closed sounds, and you need to be able to make them reliably.
  • Adjusting Cymbal Voices – electronic kits
    If you have an electronic kit, you won’t have access instantly to many different sound qualities from different parts of the same cymbal pad. Some kits have dual zone pads, or change sound quality depending how hard you strike the pad.  
    Most electronic kits offer a range of pre-programmed kits, and these will include different cymbal sounds. Explore the different preset kits, and any “custom” for cymbal sounds.  
    Experiment with this if you can. It allows you to experiemnt with sound without having to buy new instruments!
  • Bass Drum Sound  
    On and acoustic kit, experiment with these two ways of playing the bass drum, listening for the sounds they produce.
    A) Let the BD beater bounce straight back off the drum, by lifting off the pedal quickly.
    B) Push the BD beater into the drum, leaving it there for a moment before releasing it.
    How do these sounds compare?
    Experiment with the damping cushion inside your BD. How can you use that to adjust its sound?
    On an electronic kit, explore the BD sounds on the various pre-programmed kits. You might also be able to adjust tuning, damping or other settings of individual BD sounds.
  • Adjusting Snare Drum Sound
    On and acoustic kit, you would normally play the snare drum near the middle, allowing the stick to bounce back off the drum, to give a single, crisp note. Experiment using different parts of the drum head, listening for the sounds that result. Also experiment with damping on the edge of the snare drum head. This reduces the ringing sound from the edge of the drum, to give you a shorter SD sound.
    On an electronic kit, explore the SD sounds on the various pre-programmed kits. You might also be able to adjust tuning, damping or other settings of individual SD sounds.
  • Balance between cymbals and drums
    Listen to yourself playing the standard straight 8th groove, and focus your attention on the volume of each instrument. Can you hear them all clearly? Does one dominate the sound? Does one hide behind the others? Adjust the volume of each instrument to get a range effects:
    A) Evenly balanced volumes, so that no one instrument is louder than the others.
  • Play this “balanced” groove with the overall kit sound Forte (play loudly).
  • Play the “balanced” groove with the overall kit sound Piano (play quietly).
    D) A full sound from your drums, with cymbals quieter in the background.
    E) A full cymbals sound, with drums quieter in the background.
    F) Imagine you are playing to music that needs each of the kit sounds in turn. Keep a groove going, and move through the effects at B), C), D), and E).
  • Accenting the ride pattern
    You can add shape to the ride pattern by making some notes stand out, as accented (louder) notes. Try this on HH first, and then on RC. Notice how different these accent patterns feel.
    A) Accent the notes on the beat, and play all the “and”s quieter.
  • Play notes on the beat quietly and accent all the “and”s.
  •  Try moving smoothly between these accent patterns, playing in turn a few bars of “normal” groove, then A), then “normal”, then B).
  • When you listen to music, pay attention to the drum kit. What choices is the drummer making about the quality of sound being created, and how is this contributing to the music?

    Straight 8ths Groove – Playing & Listening –  Part 3
    Matching Your Grooves to the Music

Now that you can play in time with the band, and can vary the way you play, the next stage is to understand a song even better and adjust your playing to work with it.

Pick a song at a speed that you can play comfortably. Have another listen to it, and explore further how you are going to play along to it. Be confident in trying your own ideas out – this an excercise in creating your own drums part, not trying to replicate what the original drummer played.

  1.  How will you play the ride pattern?  Would it work best with the long silvery notes of the ride cymbal, or the short crisp sound of the hi hat?  Does this song sound like it needs a big, full, loud ride pattern, or a quiet one?  
  •  How will you play the drum pattern?  Does this song need a big, energetic drum sound, or a calmer, quieter sound? Or something in between?
  • What mood or emotion does the music have? Does it seem to be an invitation to: Dance? Sit quietly? Be joyful? Be thoughtful? Be proud? Speak up for yourself? Say sorry? Relax? Smile? Party? Something else? …   How will you play your drums so that you help the music to create the right mood?
  • Does the song have the same feel all the way though, or does it change? For example, are there changes in loudness or energy level as the song progresses? How might you serve the song by varying how you play?
  • Listen through the song again. Draw yourself a “map” of the song, listing the different parts of it, and how you’re going to play.  Here’s an example of what I mean; my map of Lovely Day by Bill Withers.

Lovely Day – Bill Withers  100bpm

Intro –  HH only.  mp   (8 bars)  

Verse 1 – full straight 8th groove  HH  mf  (16 bars)   “When I Wake up…”
Chorus  to  Ride Cym  (8 bars)  “It’s gonna be .. a lovely  Day”  Start on Day

Verse 2 – HH  (16 bars)   “When the day that lies ahead of me”
Chorus  –   RC  (8 bars) “It’s gonna be .. a lovely  Day”

Verse 3 – HH  (16 bars)   as verse 2
Chorus ( lovely day)  RC  (8 bars)   Repeat x 3  
      Repeat to fade.