Ghost Note Dynamics & Patterns

In this lesson, I’m going to walk you through a handful of my most-commonly used ghost-note patterns and the techniques I use to achieve them. I’m also going to talk about how to use ghost notes and where to place them. As you work through these exercises, we’ll gradually build up into using all of the patterns within a repeating groove, which can be treated as a useful conditioning exercise, or of course, could be used as inspiration for your own grooves.

Why is this useful? Ghost notes help make a beat groove. They’re a tiny waypoint within a groove, without which, a load of the feel is lost. Practicing how to play them dynamically, getting familiar with patterns that can become automatic for you, and choosing where to place ghost notes are all crucial skills to work on if you want to improve your ability to compose and perform grooves that move you.

Transcription and Guitar Pro file

Exercise 1 – Displaced 8th ghost note pattern

In this first exercise, we’re basically playing straight 16th notes between the hi-hat and the snare, with all of the snare hits being super-quiet ghost notes. Even though we’re keeping an 8th note pattern down with each hand (collectively playing 16th notes), the right hand is going to place an accent on the quarter note on 1, 2, 3, and 4. To do this, I play French grip (with my thumb facing up) and play the edge of the hi-hat with the shoulder of the drum stick, then I play the top of the hi-hat with the tip of the stick for those quieter 8th notes in between.

Exercise 2 – Right hand crossover

This exercise is going to introduce the right hand as a ghost note on the ‘2&’. It’s useful to develop an even dynamic balance between the right and left hands, particularly when the right hand may be playing something considerably louder on the 8th note preceding or proceeding the ghost note – practicing that control is important.

Focus on efficiency here too – when playing the stack or ride, for example, I place my hand in between the two instruments and pivot my wrist, rather than moving my whole arm back and forth.

Exercise 3 – Hi-hat Double Stroke

This exercise changes the pattern slightly, introducing two double strokes. The first is played on the left hand as ghost notes, on the second and third sixteenth notes. The second double stroke is on the fourth and fifth sixteenth note, played on the hi-hat using the same technique demonstrated in exercise 1, but played as a tip-strike first then a shoulder/edge strike on the hi-hat.

Focus on efficiency here too – when playing the stack or ride, for example, I place my hand in between the two instruments and pivot my wrist, rather than moving my whole arm back and forth.

Exercise 4 – Introduce the kick

We’re going to introduce the kick drum into this developing pattern now, and we’ll do this by mirroring each hi-hat stroke. The kick is playing every time the right-hand plays, other than the single ghost note we play with our right hand.

To achieve this double-stroke on the kick at higher tempos, I use heel-toe technique. As you’ll see in this video though, at 90 bpm, I’m comfortable playing two single strokes using just the toe and ankle.

Exercise 5 – Double Stroke Ghost Run

This exercise introduces four 32nd notes as double strokes at the end of the pattern. This produces a feeling of completion, implying that we’re at the end of a section or that a repeat is coming up. You could also practice leading into this exercise by playing this 32nd note run, as you’ll see me demonstrate in the video.

You may need to slow the exercise down to cleanly get these ghost notes in. We’re not going for a snare buzz roll here, we’re going for four defined ghost notes, played as double strokes. If this is tricky for you, make sure to work on your double stroke control as a separate exercise, particularly playing doubles as 32nd notes to a quarter note metronome.

Exercise 6 – Quarter-note count

Now we’re going to drop the hi-hat back to a straight quarter-note count while maintaining all of the ghost note elements we’ve practiced so far.

Exercise 7 – Add the snare accent

As a final exercise for this lesson, we’re going to add a snare accent, turning this collection of ghost note patterns into a pretty cool little groove. A couple of things to mention here:

  1. I drop the kick drum from the beginning of bar 2 – I enjoy the space it creates.
  2. I play two ghost notes on my left hand immediately after the snare accent – this can be a tricky thing to play cleanly particularly at higher tempos so may be something you need to isolate / focus specifically on improving your ability to do this.
  3. Try opening the hats on beat one, or hitting a cymbal on beat one and playing an open hat on beat 2 in the first bar.

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