5 Essential Tips for Playing Drums in Hip Hop Music
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Play with the Beat, Not Against It
  2. Learn the Art of Ghost Notes
  3. Incorporate the Hi-Hat
  4. Use Syncopation
  5. Practice Dynamics

If you've ever found yourself tapping your feet to the rhythm of a catchy hip hop track and thought, "Hey, I'd love to play drums like that," then you're in the right place! This blog post will give you a clear, easy-to-follow guide on how to play drums for hip hop music. So let's dive in, shall we?

Play with the Beat, Not Against It

When it comes to hip hop, the beat is king. But what does it mean to 'play with the beat'? It's all about being in harmony with the rhythm and making it work for you, not against you. Let's break it down further.

Understanding the Beat

First things first, you need to understand what the beat is. In the context of how to play drums for hip hop, the beat is the consistent pulse that you hear throughout the song—it's the rhythm that you tap your feet to. Here are a few tips to help you understand the beat:

  • Listen to the music: Immerse yourself in hip hop music—listen to different artists and genres. This will help you understand the rhythm and flow of the music.
  • Practice with a metronome: This is a device that marks time at a selected rate by giving a regular tick. It's an excellent tool to help you maintain a steady beat.
  • Count the beats: Try to count the beats in a bar. Most hip hop music is in 4/4 time, meaning there are four beats in a bar.

Playing with the Beat

Now that you understand the beat, it's time to play with it. Playing with the beat means you're aligning your drumming with the rhythm of the song, but you're also adding your own flavor to it. Here's how you can do it:

  • Start simple: Start by playing a simple beat that matches the rhythm of the song. Once you're comfortable with that, you can start adding more elements.
  • Experiment: Don't be afraid to experiment with different rhythms and patterns. This will add a unique touch to your drumming.
  • Stay in the pocket: In the drumming world, 'staying in the pocket' means keeping a steady rhythm and not rushing or dragging the beat. It's about finding that sweet spot where you're in sync with the music.

Remember, playing with the beat is an essential part of learning how to play drums for hip hop. It's okay if you don't get it right away—practice makes perfect. So, grab those drumsticks and start grooving to the beat!

Learn the Art of Ghost Notes

Another important aspect of playing drums in hip-hop music is mastering ghost notes. But what exactly are ghost notes? Let's find out!

What are Ghost Notes?

Ghost notes are softer, subtle beats that are felt more than they are heard. They add a layer of complexity and richness to your drumming. Think of them as the secret ingredient that adds that special touch to your drumming recipe. Now, how can you incorporate them into your drumming style?

Playing Ghost Notes

Playing ghost notes can be a bit tricky at first, but with practice, you'll be able to add a new level of depth and groove to your drumming. Here are some tips on how to play ghost notes:

  • Control your stick: The key to playing ghost notes is controlling the height and speed of your drumstick. A lower height and slower speed will result in a softer sound.
  • Listen and learn: Listen to hip hop tracks and pay attention to the drummer. You'll start to notice the subtle ghost notes that add an extra flavor to the beat.
  • Practice: Like everything in music, practice is key. Start by playing a simple beat and adding ghost notes. Then, progress to more complex patterns as you get more comfortable.

Learning to play ghost notes can take your drumming to a new level. Not only will it improve your technical skills, but it will also help you better express the feel and groove of the music—making your drumming sound more authentic and true to the hip hop style.

Incorporate the Hi-Hat

Moving on, let's talk about the hi-hat. If you're wondering how to play drums for hip hop, then knowing your way around the hi-hat is a must. It's like the heartbeat of your drum kit—the consistent, driving force behind your beats. So, how can we make the most out of it?

Mastering the Hi-Hat

The hi-hat can add a lot of character to your drumming, and it's especially important in hip hop. Here's how you can become a hi-hat maestro:

  1. Experiment with Open and Closed Sounds: The hi-hat can produce a variety of sounds depending on whether it's open or closed. Experiment with these different sounds to add variety to your beats.
  2. Practice Different Patterns: Hip hop often uses intricate hi-hat patterns. Take time to practice different patterns, starting with simple ones and then moving on to more complex ones.

Adding the Hi-Hat to Your Beats

Once you've got a grip on the hi-hat, it's time to incorporate it into your beats. Here's how:

  • Start with the Basics: Start by adding the hi-hat to a basic beat. This will help you get a feel for how it can fit into your rhythm.
  • Try Different Styles: Don't be afraid to experiment with different styles and patterns. The more variety you can bring to your hi-hat playing, the more unique and interesting your beats will be.

Remember, the hi-hat can be your best friend when it comes to playing drums for hip hop. So don't be shy—get to know it well and let it shine in your beats!

Use Syncopation

Next on our journey on how to play drums for hip hop is to get comfortable with syncopation. Syncopation, in simple terms, is when you emphasize the beats that are usually not emphasized. It's like taking a walk and suddenly deciding to hop—it catches the ear and adds an interesting twist to your rhythms. So, how can we incorporate syncopation into our drumming?

Making Sense of Syncopation

Syncopation might seem like a fancy term, but it's pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. Here's how:

  1. Understand the Concept: Syncopation involves shifting the emphasis from the strong beats to the weak beats. It's about surprising the listener with unexpected rhythms.
  2. Listen to Examples: Many hip hop tracks make use of syncopation. Listen to these tracks and try to identify the syncopated beats. This will help you get a better understanding of how syncopation sounds.

Applying Syncopation in Your Drumming

Now that you've got a grip on what syncopation is, let's see how you can apply it to your drumming:

  • Start Small: Don't try to syncopate every beat right from the start. Begin by syncopating a single beat in your rhythm, and gradually increase the complexity as you get more comfortable.
  • Experiment: Syncopation is all about breaking the rules and surprising the listener. So don't be afraid to experiment and create your own unique syncopated rhythms.

In the realm of hip hop drumming, syncopation is a game-changer. It can transform a simple beat into a catchy rhythm that leaves a lasting impression. So go ahead and give it a shot—you might be surprised at what you can create!

Practice Dynamics

Finally, let's talk about dynamics—one of the most important aspects of learning how to play drums for hip hop music. In music, dynamics refers to how loud or soft you play a note. It might seem simple, but it can drastically change the feel and impact of your beats. So, how can we use dynamics in hip hop drumming?

Dynamics: More Than Just Loud and Soft

Dynamics isn't just about playing some notes louder and others softer. It's about creating a contrast that adds depth to your music. Here's how:

  1. Understand the Concept: Dynamics is like the volume control of your drumming. Yet, it's not just about volume—it's about the difference in volume between different parts of your beat.
  2. Listen to Examples: Many hip hop tracks use dynamics effectively. Listen to these tracks and try to identify the variations in volume. This will help you understand how dynamics can enhance your beats.

Practicing Dynamics in Your Drumming

Now that we've covered what dynamics is, let's dive into how you can practice it in your drumming:

  • Start with Basic Exercises: Simple exercises can help you get a feel for dynamics. Try playing a beat and gradually increasing and decreasing the volume.
  • Apply It to Your Beats: Once you're comfortable with the concept, start incorporating dynamics into your beats. Remember, it's all about the contrast—so don't be afraid to experiment with different volume levels.

Mastering dynamics can take your hip hop drumming to a whole new level. It adds depth, creates contrast, and makes your beats more interesting to listen to. But remember, as with everything else in music, practice is key. So keep at it, and soon you'll see just how much dynamics can add to your sound!

If you enjoyed learning about playing drums in hip hop music and want to enhance your music production skills further, check out the workshop 'Ableton Live Quick Tips To Make Your Music Better' by Tom Glendinning. This workshop will provide you with valuable tips and tricks to improve your music production, helping you create better beats and elevate your hip hop tracks.