The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I: The Essence of Rhythm Pattern Theory


When I was a music major in college, drummers had to take music theory. We had to learn about tonal relationships, chord patterns and progressions, harmony, etc. What we did not learn was that were a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all the larger, more complex patterns come from. In other words, there was no rhythm pattern theory. Just tonal. So, I created an approach to rhythm pattern theory to fill the void.

The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I presents and explores the basics of this theory to create the fundamental patterns. I am re-printing them here to let drummers (and all other musicians) see how it works.

I believe that if musicians study and master the patterns, they can greatly expand their rhythm capabilities. Once you see how the patterns evolve, you’ll recognize that there is a very systematic and fascinating structure that underlies notation. Here are a few excerpts that cover the fundamentals:





The tables that follow in Volume I re-create these patterns using several different beat note values, and all the patterns are written out in sheet music form to practice. For example, if you take a measure of 4/4 and lay out all the possible quarter note/eighth note possibilities, there are exactly 256 of them. One valuable application is in the area of jazz and big band reading. Same with small group Fake Book reading.



In the Introduction to Volume I, I related a story about seeing Peter Erskine play one night at a summer jazz band camp I was attending. He had to sight-read a fairly challenging chart, and the next day in class, he said he was glad to have seen some “familiar friends” on the sheet music pages. That phrase stuck with me for years, and when Terry Bozzio showed me a 2/4 group of patterns that he said were the essential basics, the phrase came back and really lit the fires.

Here are a few of the larger 2/4 patterns:



I’ll be putting up more samples shortly, but you’ll get the idea here pretty quickly. Just remember: there are a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all the larger combinations come from. Program yourself with the basics, and you are loading your performance computer with all the software it needs to make you a lean, mean, rhythm machine.

(excerpts reprinted from The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I, with permission, Rollinson Publishing Company, 2012. All rights reserved.)

One thought on “The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I: The Essence of Rhythm Pattern Theory

  1. Phillip Martin May 11, 2015 / 8:04 am

    Amazing stuff!
    I’ve only been learning the drums for a short while (about 16 months at the time of writing) and struggle with learning songs and feeling where beat 1 is. So I thought why not look for something that shows me how rhythm is constructed and learn how to recognise the building blocks used in creating rhythmic patterns so I can program my body to anticipate what comes next.
    I’ll get a lifetime of value from this book.

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