How To Play Ghost Notes on Drums

Posted by Ben Heckler

One of the most difficult executions in drumming is the reliable usage of ghost notes.

The result of ghost notes boosting grooves is indisputable. Just like keeping time on the hi-hat, ghost notes fill in the space in between the upbeats and downbeats and provide taste to the phrasing.

This drum lesson provides a total summary of ghost notes. In it, you’ll discover how to determine and play these subtle notes within dynamic drum beats. You’ll likewise have the opportunity to see the distinction in between ghosted and non-ghosted notes within a looped beat.

Here, you’ll be able to see the significant distinction ghost notes can make within your preferred drum grooves.

Where to use ghost notes?

Ghost notes are snare drum notes that are much lower in volume than your either your “backbeat” (” 2″ & “4”) drum stroke or whatever notes you want to accent.

These quieter notes are difficult to learn. They require a lot of control muscle memory. However, this will get easier. And dynamics, that is, the ability to play soft and loud are (in my opinion) one of the most important things to get under your hands.

Ghost notes permit you to add a lot of range to your grooves.

This idea is quite basic, however, it is very underrated and many students see accents as tedious. They think that if they can play certain exercises, the dynamics are secondary.

On the contrary! Dynamics are really the key to stop sounding like a beginning drummer!

How to play ghost notes

Let’s get into SPECIFICS. I want to give you specific exercises to play, but first one piece of advice that is VERY important.


Normally, beginning drummers play ghost notes too loud. No matter how soft you think you are playing ghost notes, play them softer!

Here are some tips.

Low stick height = low volume

High stick height = high volume.

That’s it. It seems obvious but SO MANY STUDENTS miss this concept. Every time you play a ghost note you should have your stick height very low. On the flip side every time you play an accent you should wield your stick way up high.

I would even exaggerate these motions in the beginning.

Exercise 1 –

Let’s take a basic backbeat. We’ve got eighth notes on the hi-hat, accented snare drum on 2 and 4, and a very simple bass drum pattern.

Play this beat and make sure you are comfortable with it. Make sure that your accented notes really are accented. Lift your drumstick high above the snare drum (you may need to lift up your right hand so that your left hand can come through).

Now let’s practice adding two ghost notes. One right before and one right after the kick drum on beat 3.

Now by default, I have set this beat to play at 80 BPM. But I would recommend you to slow it down to about 50 BPM. 

Ghost notes are not easy to play correctly. The differences between accented notes and ghost notes should be completely under your control—and that is difficult to learn at a fast tempo.

So slow this down and really get your muscle memory to learn this technique. 

Exercise 2

So now that we’ve learned one pattern, let’s add a couple more ghost notes to a phrase.

We are going to continue with the same pattern above but add two more ghost notes to the groove.

This one may seem more difficult to get a handle on. The groove is more complicated and thus more difficult to memorize and get smooth.

Again, what we need to do is slow this way down and take it step by step.

Whenever you find an exercise that is really difficult there is something you can do that will save you a lot of time—BREAK IT INTO PARTS.

Breaking exercises into parts

Normally we just put our head to the wall and go for it. When we fail we start back at the beginning. This is not helpful because you usually aren’t actually practicing the part that you are messing up!

Let’s break this into parts then.

First part of Exercise 2

Practice this part. Make it sound good and comfortable.

Second part of Exercise 2

We now see that the second part of exercise two is basically like the first part, it just has an extra bass drum note!

Now try putting them together again.

Exercise 3

Before we get even more complicated with our groove let’s go back to basics.

Most of what we are doing with ghost notes are linear patterns. 

A linear pattern is when the right and left-hand alternate—they don’t play at the same time.

Let’s look at a really basic pattern of accented and unaccented notes. Play this pattern on the snare drum.

Try to really develop the volume difference between those two hands. You can also do it the inverse, starting with the left hand and making the right hand be the ghost note.

If we put this same pattern back on the drum kit and add the bass drum we can already start to have a groove form. Check it out.

All I have done is put my right hand on the hi-hat and added a bass drum every four notes—and it sounds awesome. Seriously, raise the tempo on this a bit and feel how groovy it gets.

Exercise 4

So with the fundamentals there, let’s turn this exercise into a beat.

We are going to have the same sticking as before, we just want to put our right hand on the snare drum to give it a two and four back beat.

Notice that when the right-hand hits the snare drum there is no hi-hat playing. We’ve simply moved the right-hand to the snare drum.

Although this is just the same exercise (right, left, right, left), it may feel complicated if you are not used to moving your hands around the kit.

Exercise 5

Let’s continue with that same pattern but move the bass drum around a bit.

Still the same alternating pattern we are just experimenting with putting the bass drum in different places.

Remember these are exercises for developing ghost notes so don’t forget that distinguishing between accents and unaccented notes is very important.

Ghost notes will eventually become muscle memory, but until then it is necessary to practice them correctly. Don’t cheat, really make the two notes sound different!

Good luck with practicing these exercises and remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast!

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