This lesson is going to introduce you to every drummers best friend, the ghost note. These little notes add so much and ask for so little!
By the end of the lesson you’ll understand what ghost notes are, where they can be placed and hopefully just how effective they are at creating great and dynamic sounding grooves.
What Are Ghost Notes
Essentially they are just like any other note but played as quietly as possible, they should be “felt” rather than heard. What this means is that they help to fill out drum beats and fills without drawing the listeners attention away from the main focus of the rhythm.
When you first start to play the drums all of the notes played tend to be the same volume. Eventually you would learn about accents (loud notes) and then ghost notes (quiet notes) giving the drummer the ability to add dynamics to their playing. Dynamic drumming is really where all drummers should be heading in their journey to greatness.
The ghost note helps to add another volume level to the drummers arsenal. Ghost notes fill out rhythms in order to help them to sound funkier and more groovy. Words can’t really explain the affect ghost notes have on a groove/fill, its simply easier to try them out for yourself so that you can hear the difference.
How Do You Play Ghost Notes
Ghost notes can be used anywhere in your playing but this lesson will focus purely on their application within drum beats as this is where most drummers recognise their use.
In order for a ghost note to be played correctly is has to be played quietly. The stick needs to be no more than a couple of inches above the drum being hit in order for the volume to be correct. A gentle tap on the drum is all that’s required for ghost note to sound correct.
At this point you might be thinking well, what’s the point if you can’t hear them. Well, during a loud passage within a song the ghost notes might not be heard but the listener is certainly going to “feel” their use even if they can’t quite hear what exactly is being played. As soon as there’s a break in the volume the ghost notes are going to jump out at the listener and it is then that they will be heard. Their use within quieter songs or drum solos are certainly going to be noticed and they lend themselves to all kinds of cool applications not discussed in this lesson.
Tasteful use of ghost notes is going to not only make a groove/fill sound more interesting and slinkier but will also make you a better and more dynamic drummer. The reason that some of the top drummers in the world can all play them are for these reasons.
OK, that’s enough convincing, lets move on to the beats themselves.
Basic Practice Template
Before we move onto the more common ghost note patterns you need to be able to feel confident in your ability to play quiet and controlled ghost notes.
The following four grooves use a simple technique of playing single stroke sixteenth notes (RLRL) between the Hi-Hat and the Snare drum. The right hand plays on the Hi-Hat and moves to the Snare drum on Beats 2 and 4 for an accented backbeat (loud note). The left hand remains on the Snare drum at all times and plays as quietly as possible, the stick is only raised an inch or two above the Snare.
This is harder than it might sound. The right hand needs to play at a normal volume with the accented Snare notes on Beats and 2 and 4 while the left hand needs to play much quieter. What tends to happen is that as the right hand moves to the Snare drum while the left hand increases in volume to compensate. You must try to resist the natural tendency for the left hand to match the volume of the right.
Eventually, with a little practice, you will find it quite easy for both hands to play at different volumes. Just take your time and really focus on the sound of the beats you’re playing, if the left hand starts to creep up in volume then bring it back down again, both in height and volume.
All ghost notes are marked with brackets around them, this is how all drum music is notated. The following grooves all contain the same hand pattern (RLRL) but with four different and common Bass drum patterns to try out. These ideas although very useful for learning how to play ghost notes are in fact legitimate and great sounding drum beats in their own right.
Ghost Note Groove 1
Ghost Note Groove 2
Ghost Note Groove 3
Ghost Note Groove 4
Common Ghost Note Patterns Within Grooves
Our next step in learning about ghost notes is finding out where they can be strategically placed for best results. The previous ideas filled all the spaces left by the Hi-Hat with ghost notes and although this can sound great, you’ll want to be able choose where to place them to help create original and specific sounding grooves.
A very common technique used by the drummer, continuing on from the previous section, is to place individual ghost notes in between Hi-Hat notes. This fills out a groove with subtle texture that wouldn’t be possible without ghost notes.
All of the drum beats in this lesson will focus on placing ghost notes between Hi-Hats, although this is isn’t the only way they can be used, it is a great place to start when first learning.
The following drum beats all use a basic Bass drum pattern so that you are able to focus on the ghost notes. Eventually you would want to be able to change the Bass drum pattern to suit your rhythmic needs.
Remember to play the Snare notes on Beats 2 and 4 as accents (Loud notes) while the bracketed ghost notes are played as quietly as possible. The Hi-Hat should remain at the same volume all the way through but don’t worry too much when you first start about the Hi-Hat being loud on Beats 2 and 4. You can correct this later if desired.
Ghost Note Groove 5
Ghost Note Groove 6
Ghost Note Groove 7
Ghost Note Groove 8
Ghost Note Groove 9
Ghost Note Groove 10
Ghost Note Groove 11
Being able to use ghost notes within your groove playing is going to give you a far deeper “pocket” (term used for a great sounding groove). Its a technique that many great drummers utilise and to great effect.
The drum beats given in this lesson are just the beginning, we haven’t even looked at placing accents in more varied places or indeed their use within drum fills and solo playing.
If you can get these basic patterns mastered and sounding correct then the next lesson is going to be far easier for you. You’ll find that by learning these ideas ghost notes will begin to sneak into your playing in many exciting and interesting ways.
To take this lesson further, I suggest you try changing and creating your own Bass drum patterns to go with each ghost note pattern. You can even try placing Bass drum notes with ghost notes for an extra challenge, just make sure that the ghost note doesn’t change its volume/dynamic as a consequence.
You can also try playing these ideas with all of the Snare drum notes at the same volume to find out just how different the ghost notes make the groove sound. Try replacing some of the ghost notes with accents to create brand new and unique sounding groove ideas.
Once the technique of “ghosting” has been learnt you’ll find that it becomes a permanent and satisfying part of your playing!
Once you have the basics then please move onto Ghost Notes Lesson 2.
You can also watch a full free video drum lesson teaching how to play ghost notes by clicking here.
Also, another free video drum lesson teaching how to play ghost notes within a shuffle drum beat is available to view here.