Introduction To Breakbeats

Easy Drumming That Sounds Hard

Breakbeats are drum patterns taken from sections of songs during which the melody “breaks” to allow the drummer or other musicians of the rhythm section to solo in a groove-based style. Breakbeats are characterized by the heavy use of syncopated figures and can be found in numerous styles of music nowadays, from which hip-hop and drum’n’bass stand out the most. The term breakbeat music can also be used to classify the styles of electronic music that feature this type of drum pattern. In this free live drum lesson, Chris Warunki takes you down breakbeat memory-lane to teach you some of the most popular and common breakbeats out there, as well as some of his personal variations on them.

Breakbeat music originated in the mid-1970s in the West Bronx, New York, United States by the hands of a Jamaican disk jokey (DJ) known as Kool Herc. During his early years of life in Jamaica, Kool Herc was heavily exposed to the sound systems (group of DJs playing ska, rocksteady or reggae music) of neighborhood parties.

Influenced by the sound systems, Kool Herc and his sister began hosting back-to-school parties in the recreation room of the building they lived at in the West Bronx, where, with two turntables, a guitar amplifier and PA speakers, he’d play records from rhythm and blues (R&B) artists like James Brown and Booker T & The MG’s. Seeing the song sections the dancers liked the most were instrumental breaks where the drums were king, Kool Herc began extending them with the help of his two turntables to let people dance longer. Breakbeat music was born and the foundation for the modern hip-hop music era was set.

The breakbeats Chris Warunki teaches in this free live drum lesson are mostly taken from R&B songs written between the 1960s and 1970s. The first breakbeat was taken from Marva Whitney’s “Unwind Yourself,” with Clyde Stubblefield on drums. The pattern played there has been sampled numerous times. You can find it on DJ Mark’s 1987 track “The 900 Number”, which was then sampled for DJ Chad Jackson’s “Hear the Drummer (Get Wicked)” (1990), DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” (1996), Sway’s “Mercedes Benz” (2009) and Mac Miller’s “Party On Fifth Ave” (2011).

The third breakbeat was originally played by Steve Ferrone for the Average White Band’s track “School Boy Crush,” a song from their 1975 album Cut The Cake. This breakbeat has been sampled for songs like “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” (1991) by TLC, “New Agenda” (1993) by Janet Jackson and “Halftime” (1992) by Nas. The fifth breakbeat was performed by Steve Gadd on Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” from the 1975 album Two. You can find samples of Steve Gadd’s breakbeat in Run-D.M.C.’s “Peter Piper” (1986), LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells” (1985), the Beastie Boys’ “Hold It Now, Hit it” (1986), Missy Elliott’s “Work It” (2002), Will.i.am’s “I Got It From My Mama” (2007) and Wu-Tang Clan’s “Take It Back” (2007).

The last two breakbeats are probably the most sampled out there. Exercise #10 is known as the Amen break. It was taken from The Winstons’ “Amen Brother” (1969) with Greg Coleman on drums. This breakbeak has been used in hip-hop songs like NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” (1981) and Lupe Fiasco’s “Streets On Fire” (2007), besides a multitude of drum’n’bass tracks. The last beat Chris Warunki teaches in the video is a Clyde Stubblefield special taken James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” (1970).

Although this free drum lesson focus on breakbeats, you can still get a lot from them even if you’re not especially interested in learning them. Breakbeats #7 and #8 are great for working on two of the most important and basic strokes: the control stroke and the pullout stroke, respectively. The use of syncopated bass drum and snare shots, as well as plenty of ghost notes will really have you working on your drum set independence and dynamics. If you’d like to expand on the knowledge taught here, check the free drum lesson “Intermediate Ghost Notes.”