For many percussionists, country music may seem like a genre that does not require a high level of skill on the drum set. However, any longtime fan of this music will know that there is a wealth of musicality and expression in country music songs and the drum set grooves that accompany them. You can also find countless variations on what may be seen as the “staple” grooves of the genre, providing an opportunity for improving one’s technical facility. In this article, I will present three classic drum set grooves from the country music genre, as well as variations for each. I recently had the opportunity to incorporate these grooves while playing drum set on country singer-songwriter Rachel Brooke’s 2020 album The Loneliness in Me. I will be including some audio examples from these songs as well. These variations may be utilized to not only transform your country music vocabulary, but to also expand upon your technical facility on the drum set.
The first of three classic country drum set grooves is what is commonly known as the “Train Beat.” Perhaps the most famous example of this groove is in the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues.” The typical way of playing this groove, as well as a variation in sticking, is shown in Figure 1.
While the first sticking listed makes sense, as simply alternating between the hands would be the easiest way to approach this, the alternate sticking aﬀords some benefits for the player. The most vital aspect of this groove is maintaining a steady flow of eighth notes with no inconsistencies in the pulse. Sticking number two separates the accented and non-accented notes between the hands, allowing the player to focus on keeping the eighth notes steady because they are all in the right hand. Also, it ensures all of the accented notes will maintain a consistent volume as they are all assigned to the left hand. You can create further variations of this groove by adding in more bass drum notes or more accented snare drum notes. The bass drum will typically follow the pattern the bass guitar is playing, as shown in Figure 2.
I played a combination of these variations on Rachel Brooke’s “Great Mistake.”
The second classic groove is the slow country waltz. Some examples of this style can be heard in “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page, “Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter, and Hank Williams’ “The Alabama Waltz.” The typical way of playing this groove, as well as some variations are shown in Figure 3.
The first groove shown here is the most basic version of this feel and typically works great for any country waltz. As songs progress, you may want to embellish upon this groove by either adding in some hi-hat notes with your left foot (as shown in number 2), or some more bass drum notes and ghost notes on the snare (as shown in number 3). I played a combination of these variations on Rachel Brooke’s “The Hard Way.”
You could further embellish this groove by moving your right-hand quarter notes around the kit to either the hi-hat or snare drum, as well utilizing other implements such as brushes or diﬀerent kinds of bundle sticks.
The third country groove worth exploration is the classic shuﬄe. While the shuﬄe is a style that shows up in several genres such as jazz, ragtime, and blues, it is also frequently featured in country music. Classic examples of the country shuﬄe include Buck Owens’ “Under Your Spell Again” and Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The typical way of playing this groove, as well as some variations are shown in Figure 3.
The first groove shown here is what we typically think of as the basic shuﬄe. This will work great in just about any country waltz of any slow to moderate tempo. The second variation not only embellishes by adding some more snare drum notes, but also is slightly easier to play at faster tempos, as the right hand does not have to maintain the swing pattern on every quarter-note beat. The third variation shown is much heavier sounding and is typically utilized for slower tempos, as it requires much more activity in all of the limbs. I played a combination of these variations on Rachel Brooke’s “The Lovells Stockade Blues.”
Country music is a genre that contains musicality, a broad range of emotional expression, and opportunities for exploring interesting and technically challenging drumming. For anyone interested in digging further into this music, the classic songs listed in this article provide an excellent starting point, as each one could be considered a staple of the genre. It is my hope that the variations presented here will spark some interest into the exciting world of country music and help to further your own technical facility around the kit.
Dr. Aaron Graham is an award-winning performer, composer, and educator, and is currently a Sessional Lecturer at the University of British Columbia. He won the 2014 PAS International Composition Contest, and his original works have been performed across the world by university and professional ensembles alike. An active educator, his teachings and reviews have been published in prominent scholarly publications and at conferences throughout the world.