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5 Latin Grooves Every Drummer Should Know

Juan Mendoza  /  UPDATED Aug 20, 2022

Are you a working drummer who doesn’t often play latin but wants to make sure you can get through the gig if you get the call? Juan Mendoza is here to save the day with five cool latin grooves every drummer should know – even if the style isn’t your bread and butter.

1. Cha-cha

Don’t have a cowbell? You can play the 8th notes on the hi-hat, but make sure you keep it “delicate”, especially in the song’s verses! Add the bass drum on the 2+ and the 4+.

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One variation is to sub the 1 and 3 with a long quarter note buzz (to emulate the sound of a güiro).

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2. Mambo

Your left hand moves from a cross-stick on the snare to the high tom, then back again. Your right hand plays a ride pattern over top. Add the bass drum on 2+ and add your left foot on the hi-hat on 2 and 4. (Juan moves the hi hat to the 1 & 3 to make it easier to hear the downbeat when breaking down the rhythms.)
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3. Nanigo

In this 6/8 groove, notice where the right hand accents are. Fill in with ghost notes on your left hand. You’re essentially playing a double paradiddle with a variation at the end. The pattern is RLRLRR LRLRLR RLRLRR LRLRLR. No cowbell? Put your right hand on the ride cymbal.

Add a kick on the downbeat and again on the last note of the second bar as a pick-up. Your left foot keeps time on the hi-hat.

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4. Mozambique

Your right hand keeps the pattern going on the cowbell (or ride), with your left hand moving from the snare to the toms. The key to the Mozambique is the funky bass groove. And always keep your left foot going on the hi-hat.
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5. Songo

With your right hand playing the pattern on the cowbell or ride, make sure you’re getting two distinct sounds: the accent from the mouth of the cowbell (or bell of the ride) and the other notes from the top of the cowbell (or bow of the ride). Your left hand alternates between ghost notes and accents while a few bass drum punches anchor the groove. Keep your left foot going on the hi-hat, or add a clave for an additional challenge!

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While there are many other important latin grooves you should learn, these five will give you a good foundation as a working drummer. You can build from there!

Juan Mendoza is a classically trained musician with a BA and an MA in Music Education who has studied with Pat Petrillo, Nicholas Cerrato, Greg Giannascoli, and Brazilian master Guilherme Franco. In 2002, he won the Drum Corps Association Championship with the Syracuse Brigadiers and the Drum Corps Association Snare Drum Championship. Since then he has traveled the world for numerous clinics, performances and recordings, and won the 2012 Guitar Center Drum Off. He released his first educational book in 2017: Rudiment Creativity Vol. 1.

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