The basic swing beat is the foundational groove of the standard jazz repertoire. It serves as a starting point and a basis from which to work on further development. It can be played at a variety of tempos using sticks or brushes.
For drummers with little to no experience playing a basic swing beat, the groove can be built from the ground up, one part at a time.
Start with a quarter-note pulse on the ride symbol. This should line up with the quarter notes of the bass player’s walking bass line.
Once this is established, adding the high-hat pedal on counts 2 and 4 is the next step.
This groove is all you really need to play a basic swing pattern, even though it is a little bit basic and repetitive. One of the easiest and most straightforward ways to introduce variety to a swing groove is to add some 8th notes to the ride cymbal pattern. This is often referred to as the “Ting-Tinka-Ting” or “Spang-Spang-a-lang” pattern, which is a fundamental rhythm in swing drumming. The 8th notes should be swung, which gives the groove an underlying triplet feel.
If the groove is at a medium tempo and not too fast, it can be advantageous to add a “four-on-the-floor” pattern on the kick drum. The attack should be extremely light, almost inaudible, and should lock with the bass player’s walking line as well as the ride cymbal to propel the music forward—this is called “feathering” the bass drum. You can also try the “reverse feather” which can be a nice alternative if your bass drum is getting too loud.
The snare drum is often used for melodic accents which enhance the groove through interplay with the melody or other rhythm section players. There are lots of ways to use the snare, but one of the first, most common uses of the snare in a swing groove is to play a cross-stick on beat 4.
Once the basic beat is comfortable, variation on snare drum accents as well as fills should be added to create interplay with the ensemble.