Rhythm First Reading Method

In this lesson I will be explaining how to read the groove below using the 'rythm first' method.

Your first groove

If this makes sense already then great! This lesson might just be an explanation of an alternate way to read grooves. If not, don't worry. We are going to break each groove down into smaller, easier to manage parts that we will work through step by step.

All of our level 0 groove lessons are put together around this method. There is also the Left To Right method you could apply but that can be applied directly to a complete pattern so doesn't need any breaking down. In each lesson the first thing you will see is a rhythm, hence the name 'rhythm first' method. This rhythm is the basis for the groove and will be played on the kick and snare in the full exercise. The first step is to work out the counting for this rhythm. If necessary, scribble the rhythm down on a piece of manuscript paper and jot the counting down under it. In all lessons a handy counting checker is available but as you can see below, the counting for the first example is given for you.

When you are happy with your counting the next thing to do is play this rhythm. It doesn't matter what you play it on, all that matters is that you play it right. Below is the rhythmic basis for the above groove:

Rhythm of the first groove


Play the above rhythm on anything (snare drum, hi hats, pillow, legs). You should be able to play it 8 times in a row at a tempo of at least 100bpm.

In the next step you are going to orchestrate this rhythm between the kick and snare. 'Orchestrate' is a fancy term for playing a given part using different sounds, in our case this means on different drums. The bar below shows how this will work for your first groove. The note in the bottom gap of the stave is the bass drum and the note in the second gap down is the snare drum.

The orchestration of your first groove


Play the pattern above. You should be able to play it 8 times in a row at a tempo of at least 100bpm.

Notice that the rhythm stays exactly the same, we are now just playing it on various parts of the kit to create a more interesting pattern. This is the concept of orchestrating and it is something you will be doing a lot in drumscore lessons.

This will now be sounding quite a lot like the finished product, but you are still missing the right hand part. The final two steps in each exercise involve adding the right hand as both Crotchets (quarter notes) and Quavers (eighth notes). This creates two very similar grooves, both of which you should practice to perfection.

The bar below shows the kick and snare part from above with crotchet notes added on the right hand. Notice how in this example all the hi hat beats fall in time with either a kick or snare. Be warned, this isn't always the case!

All cymbals are notated with an 'x' note head. The hi hat is an x note head positioned above the top line of the stave. Notice that when the hi hats are added to the last exercise they are placed above the kick and snares? When notating grooves we split the notation into two 'voices'. The top voice is usually the right hand part and the bottom voice is usually the kick and snares. This makes the notation far clearer as the rhythms played by both parts are much more visible. You can read more on voices in drum notation Here.

Your first quarter note hi hat groove


Play the pattern above. You should be able to play it 8 times in a row at a tempo of at least 100bpm.

Tip: all you are doing here is playing a hi hat at the same time as the kicks and snares from the previous task.

The final step is to change the crotchet hi hats to quavers. To do this you add an extra hi hat hit in the gaps between each kick and snare, counting an 'and' to keep it in time.

Your first eighth note hi hat groove


Play the pattern above. You should be able to play it 8 times in a row at a tempo of at least 100bpm.

In summary, when using the rhythm first method to learn a groove the following steps are taken. You will be shown a rhythm, then shown the orchestration, then shown how the riding parts fit with it. Eventually your reading will develop to the point where this method becomes unnecessary, but for now it will make the learning process much easier.

The rhythm first method can be reversed to help you work out the counting to any parts you may come across in sheet music. We will go through the process for this later on.

When practising, memorize your parts as much as possible. Use the notation only occasionally to check you are playing your part correctly.

Refer to the 'Parts of the Kit Explained' and Note Values work sheets if you are unsure of any aspect of the notation. It can be very helpful to write in the counting of any exercises you are unsure of. Don't be afraid to scribble all over any transcriptions you have or to write out exercises shown in our lessons then add counting.


Play a pattern that switches between the final two exercises. Start by playing 1 bar of the groove with Crotchet hi hats followed by 1 bar of quaver hi hats. When you are happy with that, switch to two bars of each. Then finally, 4 bars of each.

A list of other lessons you may find useful before studying this area.

  • Notation basicsIncluding basic note values, parts of the kit and repeat marks.
  • Rhythm basicsIncluding quarter and eighth notes.
  • The 2 minute ruleThis is a practice technique that I strongly recommend using.
  • CountingCounting is given in all exercises but you will need to know what it means.


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