Linear Drum Grooves!

When you’re first getting acquainted with drumming, the general consensus is that “the more you do, the better you are,” or at least it was in my musical friend group (or drum circle, if you will).

I remember learning the straight, 4/4 beat – you know, the drum beat – and thinking it sounded good, but it would definitely impress more people if I could add to that groove. So, like every drummer, I started playing what I think of as “beat no. 2,” which looks like this.

It’s only when you start to grow up a little that you learn less can indeed be more. Taking a few elements of a beat away can actually add to the overall feel, giving more room to each individual drum that you’ve worked so hard to tune.

Linear grooves eliminate any double strikes (for example, beats 1,2, 3 and 4 in the above rhythm, in which the player hits either the kick and hat or the snare and hat at the same time).

Linear grooves can feel a little bit like you’re doing maths all the time, as you’re so used to hitting the standard grooves that you’re constantly subtracting strikes in your head. Because these grooves can take a little bit of effort to get your head around, they are, in turn, tremendously satisfying to play once you’ve mastered them.

Side Bar: Learn A Few Linear Drum Licks.

The key to linear grooves is ensuring your inner metronome is running at full capacity, to ensure you’re dividing beats very precisely.

I’ve put together a handful of linear beats that it absolutely couldn’t hurt you to learn. The first section serves as an introduction to the topic, containing some simple and trickier beats that also work nicely as linear warm-ups. The second section is full of examples of linear grooves I’ve come across in songs over the years.

Disco Beat

I couldn’t really write an article about linear patterns and not include the daddy of them all. The disco beat (you may know it by a different name) obviously stemmed from disco music and because of which, has some cheesy connotations.

In the mid-2000s, when British indie music had a bit of a renaissance, the beat suddenly started turning up all over the place again (like Two Door Cinema Club’s What You Know). It’s basically the simplest beat I can use to describe what a linear groove is, though while it is simple, it’s also good to be familiar with.

Disco Beat 2

This is a slightly more interesting variation of the disco beat. I thought it would be good to include so you can see the potential of linear grooves, as well as where simple starting points can lead. It’s not overly complicated, though playing it for a while hopefully won’t lead to death by boredom, unlike the previous groove.

Trickier Groove

This technically isn’t entirely linear, as the snare and hi-hat sizzle fall together in the middle of the bar, but you can easily remove an element if you’re a purist. I just think it sounds cooler. The trickiest part of this groove for me is the double hi-hat around beat 4, for some reason.

Heel-Toe

My drum teacher gave me this groove a few years ago, back when I was learning the heel-toe kick method. It’s in 3/4 and more of a warm up than a groove at this stage, but with a little playing around, it could easily be a part of something bigger.

Real-World Examples

Born on a Horse – Approx. 130BPM
This is the main chorus beat from Biffy Clyro’s Born on a Horse, which I had to learn for a recital in college. I’m glad I did, too, because it’s a tonne of fun to play. This is a good example of “less is more” with linear grooves. The rhythm is a little complex, but the sonic-sparseness of it really helps the whole section pop. As a side note, the verses of the track have a fun little linear beat that utilises a wood block that you should check out.

Shithawks – Approx. 160BPM
This is from a track by The Flatliners, so blame them if you’re offended by the title – I’m just the messenger. The use of toms in this beat makes it feel pretty heavy, almost like a double kicks groove, but for half the price! I spoke to Paul Ramirez, The Flatliners’ drummer, after a show once and he described this beat as “a bicycle,” which will either help you or confuse you further.
Technically the groove on the track isn’t linear, as crash cymbals fall on every beat, so I’ve drawn up the badass version and the purely linear version.

From Yesterday – Approx 135BPM
This is from the verse of a 30 Seconds to Mars track. The cool thing about it is the change of emphasis in the 2nd and 4th bars, with the kicks moving to the off-beat. The ghost note on the snare is something the drummer plays occasionally, but not every time, so I’ve put it in as an optional beat.

A Noble Black Eye – Approx 90BPM
This beat kicks off the track, by You Blew It!, and plays through both verses. Don’t be scared of the demi-semi-quavers, they’re not actually that fast. The addition of the ride bell near the end of the bar makes the groove surprisingly fun to play. The beat looks pretty cramped, but it’s surprisingly spacious, which makes for an interesting feel.