Difficulty LevelA lot of music is written and played in using a triplet “feel” (three notes to every Beat) rather than an even subdivision such 1/8th notes (two notes to every Beat) and 1/16th notes (four notes). The idea of playing in triplet is that every beat of the bar is split up into three separate notes.

If you find that you are able to play these ideas already then you can skip straight to the intermediate lesson by clicking here.

One common way of writing music that has a triplet pulse is to use the 12/8 time signature. This simply means that there are twelve 8th notes within the bar and these notes are split up into four groups of three. Or, put another way, each of the four beats of the bar are divided into three separate notes.

It’s probably easier if I show you an example of what I mean below.


12/8 Time Signature Example

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

Hopefully you can see how each beat has been divided into three notes (numbered below the bar) and that the counting for this time signature is 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 (numbered above the bar). The previous lesson, on Basic Drum Beats, covered beats that consisted of splitting each beat up into two notes (those bars had a time signature of 4/4 – that’s four 1/4 notes to a bar).

Don’t get hung up on the meanings of time signatures and how they work too much at this point as simply playing the following exercises will teach you all you need to know for now.

Besides, you have probably heard many examples of music that use this form of drum beat already but didn’t realise it. Immediate song examples that jump to my mind are “Every Body Hurts” by ‘REM’ and “A Design For Life” by ‘The Manic Street Preachers’. It’s a form of rhythm that spans all the genres of music and so really must be learnt to the same standard as the 4/4 time signature if you want to be a competent drummer.

The feel of these drum beats will obviously be different to the Basic Drum Beats learnt previously and the hi-hat will feel like it has more work to do simply because of the extra notes being played. It won’t take you long to get used to this new time signature and once mastered can be a lot of fun!

Let’s get started with the drum beats then.


Drum Beat 1

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

A great starting point to get used to this new time signature is to simply place the snare drum on Beats 2 and 4 of the bar and the bass drum on Beats 1 and 3. Play this around and around until it feels comfortable and the triplet pulse starts to feel more natural. Your hi-hat hand might start to get tired so make sure that you retain a loose grip and use as much of your wrist as possible. If you want to play this drum beat faster then try to play lighter with smaller wrist movements.


Drum Beat 2

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

This groove is the same as Drum Beat 1 but with the extra bass drum on the third partial of Beat 3. Make sure that the hi-hat isn’t rushed during this section and remains even and steady. With the placement of bass drum notes on any third partial of any beat the “swingy” nature of triplets starts to become apparent to the ear.


Drum Beat 3

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

Drum Beat 3 has a closed feel to it with the two bass drum notes leading into the downbeat of Beat 3. This rhythm can sound super funky if played accurately and tight. As with all of these drum beats you must make sure the bass drum lands exactly in time with the hi-hat.


Drum Beat 4

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

This groove is a combination of Drum Beats 2 and 3 and can be a little tricky at first as a lot is happening in the first half of the bar. Be careful not to miss out hi-hat notes towards the end of the bar, remember that each beat is split up into three hi-hat notes.


Drum Beat 5

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

I love this drum beat as it has so much space within it for the groove to breath and flow. The bass drum note on the third partial of Beat 2 can cause problems for drummers as the natural instinct is to play something straight after it; usually another bass drum or snare drum note. You must resist this temptation and try not to let the hi-hats be affected by the bass drums interesting placement within the groove – enjoy the space!


Drum Beat 6

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

This seems to be a very natural drum beat to play in this time signature because of the bass drum just before the snare drum on Beat 4. Be careful to place it with the correct hi-hat note though as there is a lot of space between Beat 2 and the third partial of Beat 3.


Drum Beat 7

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

With two of the bass drums appearing on the third partial of Beats 2 and 3 this groove can cause problems so be careful to place them accurately. Whenever I hear this drum beat I think of the blues, it seems to fit most blues tracks rather nicely. See what you think.


Drum Beat 8

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

The middle half of this bar leads satisfyingly into Beat 4 on the snare drum. Enjoy!


Drum Beat 9

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

This is the first drum beat that has a bass drum note at the end of the bar. This bass drum placement makes the groove sound like its being anchored on Beat 1 (it resolves nicely into Beat 1) and so can be popular amongst drummers who don’t want to loose the pulse of the triplets.


Drum Beat 10

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

Very similar to Drum Beat 9 but with that tricky bass drum on the third partial of Beat 2.


Drum Beat 11

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

This drum beat can be tricky to play due to the number of bass drum notes encountered. With three beats of the bar having the third partial emphasised on bass drum, the “swingy” nature of 12/8 should start to
sound obvious and become infectious.


Drum Beat 12

Basic 12/8 Drum Beat

Every first and third partial of each beat has a note played either on snare or bass drum. This marks out the “swing” upbeat very effectively but can sound a little busy as “less is usually more”. Try playing this at a fast tempo, go on, I dare you!


Practice Suggestion 

Try putting these drum beats to music so that you can hear them played in a musical context. Obviously the songs you choose will also have to have a triplet feel but with a little practice your “drum ears” will develop and spotting the music based in three’s (triplets) will become easier and easier. If you can’t find any music that’s suitable then try using REM’s “Everybody Hurts”, its slow tempo will also help you to stay in time.

ADVANCED PLAYER: You could take these grooves and play them at top speed for a really good right hand work out. You might also want to try improvising a little with each and even consider placing bass drums on the second partials of beats. This can be very difficult because the middle partial just doesn’t “feel” comfortable to a lot of players and takes a while to get accustomed too. Try it for yourself to see what I mean!


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