The Grid - Understanding Rhythm on the Drums

Published: 30th May 2012
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This is the best way that I've come across to master your understanding of rhythm. These ideas will be universally applicable and will solve most of the rhythmic problems that you will run into. I say most because there are deeper complications with tuplets and polyrhythms. But we'll touch on those subjects later.

Now, how do we use this thing? Let's begin by giving each note a value. Since the sixteenth note/rest is the base value for this grid, we'll give it a value of 1. An eighth note/rest is equivalent to 2 sixteenth notes/rests, so that will be 2. A quarter note/rest is equal to 4 sixteenths, so that will be 4. We'll start with these basics.

NOTE: All of the following rules are written only about the notes. They apply to rests too.

Anytime you see a sixteenth note, move over one space in the grid to find out what count the next one starts on. If you have a sixteenth note on beat 1, the next will fall on the E of 1. If you have a sixteenth note on the & of 2, the next will fall on the A of 2. If we have a sixteenth note on the A of 3, the next one will fall on beat 4. Remember, move only one space per sixteenth note.

Eighth notes will skip one space. If we look at the natural count for eighth notes (just read the black boxes), we will see that it appears in every other box. Any time an eighth note falls on a beat then, the next note will be on the & of that beat. When an eighth note is written on an & beat, the next note will fall on the next beat. In addition to lining eighth notes up on the beats, we can also play them on the E's and A's (just read the white boxes). Therefore, any time an eighth note lands on an E, the next note will be on the A of that beat, and anytime an eighth note lands on the A of a beat, the next note will be on the E of the next beat. Simple!

Quarter notes are even easier. We've already learned in previous work that the quarter notes will always follow the 1, 2, 3, 4 count. So that's down. Now, if we have a quarter note that falls on the E, &, or A of the beat, the next note will fall on the same part of the next beat.

Dotted notes are next, beginning with dotted eighths. The dot will add half of the note's value, so, as an eighth note is worth 2 we'll add 1 to that. Therefore, dotted eighth notes get a value of 3. These will cycle over every three beats before they land on the beat again.

Here are a few more values for you to figure out how to use on your own. The dotted quarter gets a value of 6. The half note gets a value of 8. A whole note is a 16 value. Dotted half notes are a value of 12. And for added fun experiment with values of five, seven, nine, etc. by combining 2's and 3's.

Now let's take a look at the 12/8 grid.

This one will have slightly different values but will work in the same way. An eighth note is the smallest subdivision written in the above grid, so we will bestow upon it the honor of the value of 1. This will make quarter notes worth 2, dotted quarters (the pulse as shown by the black grid spaces) worth 3, half notes worth 4, dotted half notes worth 6, and dotted whole notes worth 12. Apply the same rules as with the 4/4 grid, and you should have no trouble working out all common rhythms in both of these time signatures.

To learn more, download my FREE 29-page ebook here.

Aaron is the owner of where he provides drumming lessons and tips.

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