This lesson is going to look at a drum pattern/lick called the “Bonham Triplets”. It’s one of the most famous and talked about drum patterns around because of it’s simplicity to learn, super cool sound when performed fast and because of the man that first made it famous.
This lick shouldn’t be confused with the “Bonham Bass Drum Triplets” which are explained in another Drums The Word video drum lesson elsewhere. You can view this video lesson here. Bonham was famous for using two separate triplet drum fill ideas and so you might like to be aware of this to save any future confusion.
John Bonham, the sadly missed drummer from Led Zeppelin, put his stamp on this pattern by using it on a frequent basis throughout a lot of Led Zep tunes. The fill was being used before Bonham by earlier drummers but it wasn’t referred too amongst the drumming community as a unique pattern or given a name before Bonham.
John Bonham came along, “rocked” the lick up and took it new and imaginative places with his drumming forever ensuring the pattern is associated with himself.
The Basic Pattern (All Variations)
The bars above show the three ways the pattern can be played. The pattern is simply two notes played with the hands and a single note played on the bass drum. All three notes are played smoothly and evenly and are commonly played as triplets (although not always).
Bar number 1 is the most common way this lick is performed while bar number 2 is a close second, also being very common. Bar 3 is the least common variation due to the more unusual placement of the bass drum on the second note of the triplet.
It is far more common for drummers to use the right handed sticking for these patterns (sticking suggestion is written directly underneath each variation). I recommend that you become familiar with these patterns using your lead hand (left hand for left handed players). If you then wish to practice the other sticking suggestion (and you should want to eventually) then you should find it easier after first becoming comfortable using your lead hand.
Bar numbers 1 and 2, being the most popular, will be the two common variations I will work with in this lesson but please feel free to substitute variation 3 for any of the exercises that follow. Variation 3, although arguably a little harder to play and “feel”, can sound super cool when played properly!
When practicing these patterns, I recommend you listen closely to how smooth the three notes flow into each other. Try to ensure that all three notes can be played around and around in an even and uninterrupted manner. This lick only sounds great when played properly and evenly.
Once you feel comfortable playing the basic patterns you can then try moving your hands around the drums. The following are some cool sounding and popular ways drummers orchestrate variations 1 and 2.
Variation 1 involves playing the right hand on the floor tom and the left hand on the high tom. This variation allows drummers to play the tom toms without crossing over the arms. This lick is a popular one to use during drum solos due to the heavy tom/bass drum combinations. Very rocky!
Variation 2 allows a drummer to play the snare first and a tom tom (high tom) without crossing over the arms. Bar 1 has the snare drum playing a strong downbeat on the first note of each triplet and can sound really powerful. Bar 2 sounds quirky and can throw the listeners ear due to the strong snare note on the middle note of the triplet. Still cool though!
This variation is the reverse of Variation 2. This time bar 1 can sound a little quirky because of the snare on the second partial of the triplet. Bar 2 has a cool affect, the snare drum is played on the last note of the triplet (the swung upbeat) and can give a real push and “swing” to the rhythm.
This is similar to Variation 3 but with the high tom being used instead of the floor tom.
In Context (Eighth Note Triplet Drum Fill Ideas)
The next step is to take the previous orchestration variations and put them to use as a drum fill. There are of course too many combinations for me to list but here are some of my favorite ideas that I like to use.
Drum Fill Idea 1
The first bar is just an example of a drum beat you could play. You can of course use any drum beat you like and could be a swung or straight rhythm if desired.
The second bar shows the Bonham Triplets being played as a whole bar of eighth note triplets using Variation 1 from the beginning of this lesson (left hand, right hand, bass drum). The hands move around the drums from snare to floor tom.
Careful when you loop this two bar pattern because the bass drum note at the end of the fill sits next to the bass drum note on beat 1 of bar 1. This requires two bass drum notes to be played in succession and can be tricky at speed.
Drum Fill Idea 2
This idea is a cool way of emphasizing the upbeats of the fill bar. The snare drum on the last note of each triplet picks the rhythm up and the alternating tom toms add a point of interest.
Drum Fill Idea 3
The left hand stays up on the high tom while the right hand alternates between floor tom and snare drum. The affect is that the snare drum is played on beats 2 and 4 maintaining a strong back beat during the drum fill.
This pattern could be used a type of drum beat if the snare drum back beat on 2 and 4 is all that’s required. A really cool idea this!
I like to throw this fill idea in when a fill is required but the song momentum of the drum beat mustn’t be interrupted. The listener still has the snare back beat to attach too and relate too.
Drum Fill Idea 4
This is technically quite hard to perform but well worth the effort as can sound super cool when played fast and moved around the drums. The hands alternate from right hand to left hand lead and in this example the tom toms alternate between high and floor tom.
John Bonham himself used this variation while doing some arm cross over patterns to create a visually interesting drum fill.
In Context (Sixteenth Note Triplet Drum Fill Ideas)
The Bonham Triplets can of course be played through any subdivisions of triplet including sixteenth note triplets. Due to the faster rate of sixteenth note triplets playing this lick will be harder and will require more accuracy at faster tempos. Saying that though, they do sound more exciting when played faster so aim to increase your tempo over time and you’ll eventually get there.
Drum Fill Idea 5
This is a similar pattern to drum fill idea 3 with the snare backbeat on beat 4 of the bar maintaining a strong back beat. The fill itself starts on beat 3 of the second bar.
Drum Fill Idea 6
This uses variation 2 from the start of this lesson with the bass drum being played on the first note of each triplet. The hands move around and down the drums.
This fill is a little easier to get out of (resolve) because the bass drum on beat 1 of the first bar would be where the bass drum of the next triplet would be if the triplets were continued.
Playing the “Bonham Triplets” as Sixteenth Notes
This final section looks at taking the basic three note pattern and playing it through sixteenth notes instead of triplets. Although technically these aren’t triplets any more it’s still a variation and fun idea to use with the basic pattern.
The basic pattern is still being played smoothly and evenly but it now moves across the beat and resolves in different places. This is due to each beat of the bar containing four notes (1e+a) and not three as we had with eighth note triplets .
This can be a little trickier to play because of the strong pulse of the three note pattern working against the natural pulse of the four sixteenth notes per beat but if practiced slowly and carefully is a great rhythm to be able to play.
All of the variations we have talked about so far can be used through sixteenth notes as well as the following.
Drum Fill Idea 7
A whole bar of sixteenth notes can hold four groups of three with four sixteenth notes left over. It makes sense to play four “Bonham Triplets” first so that the last four sixteenth notes start exactly on beat four of the bar. It’s pleasant to the ear and also easier to “feel” and play.
You can of course use any combination of Triplets you like but this fill idea is not only quite an easy one to practice it’s also very common amongst drummers. I hear this pattern played a lot in music!
Drum Fill Idea 8
Similar idea to Fill Idea 7 but moves the hands around the drums and breaks up beat 4 of the bar into a more syncopated rhythm.
Drum Fill Idea 9
This final fill idea replaces beat 4 with two groups of sixteenth note triplets combining the sixteenth notes with triplets for a cool rhythmic affect.
If you’re not good at moving from sixteenth notes to triplets then you might find this hard. I recommend you practice this along to a metronome to ensure that the four beats of the bar are not being lost and played accurately.
Have fun with all of these and happy drumming!
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