Kick drums. Where would we be without them? They are the foundation of the rhythm section. In most dance music, the kick drives the rhythm and groove of the entire song. Even in other genres, the kick drum provides a grounding. It marks the most important beats in the rhythm pattern, it helps us understand the rhythms of the rest of the drum kit, other percussion, and even other instruments.
With such an important role, have you ever stopped to think about how you use kick drums? Do you place them on every beat, four-on-the-floor style? Do you arrange them off-beat, with a more funky style? Do you lay them thick with five or six every bar, or is one or two enough for you?
Even more importantly, how do these different approaches differ? What effect do they have on your music?
Four On The Floor
This is the simplest kick drum rhythm, with one kick on each beat. It’s also one of the most popular. This is particularly useful in dance music or driving rock because it’s regular (meaning it’s predictable, comfortable, and easy to dance to). It’s also quite energetic because it emphasises every beat. Even though a bar may consist of four beats, it almost feels like each bar is one beat long. The shorter cycle length (the pattern repeats every bar) make the pace feel quick.
This approach is most useful where the creative direction for a piece (or section) is “stable, yet exciting”. A prime example of this would be a climax final chorus of a song, or a section of maximum impact in a dance track. The drawback, of course, is that it’s plain and not very interesting on its own. The four-on-the-floor should not be the source of the excitement – merely underpinning it and reinforcing it.
First and Third
Using the kick drum on the first and third beats is a sparser variation of the four-on-the-floor approach. By playing the kick only on the first and third beat, a lot of room is left for the snare – either for a big second and fourth, or for a busier, funker snare pattern. This is useful if you are aiming for a more top-heavy drum kit rhythm, or if you want a sparser drum rhythm to leave room for additional percussion or other instruments like vocals or bass.
The drawback is that this sparser approach does not reinforce excitement as much as a busier four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern. It can still be effective, however, because it is just as stable and predictable. It can be a good alternative to four-on-the-floor if the song needs space to breathe or otherwise doesn’t need the relentless kick of more upbeat music.