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A Drummer’s Guide To Funk

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Feb 3, 2023

This is an excerpt from The Drummer’s Toolbox: The Ultimate Guide To Learning 101 Drumming Styles. The book goes into even more detail about funk drumming!

Funk: A brief introduction to the genre

Funk developed in the United States during the mid-1960s as a hybrid of soul, jazz, and blues music. It was one of the first styles of music to place more emphasis on rhythm than melody and harmony. The key innovator of funk music during the 1960s was James Brown, who began his career in the 1950s as a soul musician. Largely thanks to Brown’s innovations, funk music brought rhythm section players off of the sidelines and into the musical spotlight. This style is known for featuring “slap” bass, guitar effects like “wah-wah”, horn sections, and syncopated drum grooves.

Harmonically, funk music is more complex than soul music, and by the 1970s it had eclipsed soul as a major genre in the United States. Some of the most famous funk bands and artists of all time include The Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament, Funkadelic, and Tower of Power—and of course James Brown.

Funk drumming often features syncopation and rhythmic displacement, rudiment-based hand patterns, hi-hat openings, ghost notes, and linear patterns—when no two limbs play at the same time.

The Fundamentals

In funk music, the snare drum backbeats aren’t always played on beats two and four. Typically only one backbeat will fall on beat two or four in a funk groove. The other backbeat(s) will be played on less common eighth or sixteenth note placements.

Here are a few grooves that demonstrate some different backbeat placements.



Linear drumming is another essential part of playing funk. This concept applies to playing both funk grooves and fills. Here are some examples that apply the concept of linear drumming:





The hi-hats are one of the most important sound sources in funk drumming. Some of the most common uses for hi-hats are hi-hat openings and lead hand ostinatos.

Hi-hat openings are heard in some of the most famous funk grooves in history. Here are some examples.

The Meters – “Cissy Strut”
Drummer: Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste


James Brown – “Funky Drummer”
Drummer: Clyde Stubblefield


Watch this video to learn how to play the main groove from “Funky Drummer” by James Brown.

To take this concept further, you can also do a quick hi-hat opening to emphasize accents or shots with the band. This is called “barking”. Here’s a quick tutorial that will teach you how to do it.

Funk drummers are known for incorporating syncopated lead hand ostinatos that are quite different from the ostinatos used in pop and rock music. Here are a few funk grooves with those unique lead hand ostinatos!



The Equipment

Funk drummers are often seen using drum sets consisting of a bass drum (20”-22”), one or two rack toms (10”-13”), one or two floor toms (14”-16”), and a snare drum (13”-14”). Drums tend to be tuned higher for playing funk – specifically the snare drum and the bass drum – in comparison with other styles like pop and rock.

A standard cymbal setup for playing funk consists of a pair of hi-hats (13”-14”), a variety of crash cymbals (16”-18”), and a ride cymbal (20”-22”). It’s important to use a “crisp” sounding pair of hi-hats as well as a ride cymbal with a cutting bell.

Both coated and clear drumheads are used for playing funk. Depending on the specific sound a drummer is looking for, they’ll determine which option will work best for their particular situation.

  • DSC05740
    David Garibaldi's Yamaha kit

Snare Drums

61z9UwOl9lL. AC US160

Tama SLC Classic Maple


61X0H2ETdtL. AC US160

Ludwig Black Beauty


61TYq2y1j6L. AC US160

Gretsch Brooklyn Steel


Ride Cymbals

61LGqL74boL. AC US160

Sabian 21” HHX Groove Ride


413NfAm%2BC1L. AC US160

Zildjian 21” A Sweet Ride


A1XRAm8obrL. AC US160

Paiste 21” Dark Dry Ride



Meinl Byzance 22″ Vintage Pure Light Ride



71t1QoT%2BUJL. AC US160

Sabian Crescent 15″ Stanton Moore Fat Hats


61oCZhw9kjL. AC US160

Zildjian 15” K Light Hi-Hats


Istanbul Agop Traditional 13″ Funk Hi-Hats


91BRCqnmerL. AC US160

Meinl Byzance 15″ Traditional Medium Hi-Hats


Crash Cymbals

51L80rDBBNL. AC US160

Sabian 17” HHX X-Treme Crash


61gDiDQeUlL. AC US160

Zildjian 16″ K Custom Session Crash


81szdRbRbLL. AC US160

Paiste 18” Signature Full Crash


71YovPE8u%2BL. AC US160

Meinl 18″ Byzance Traditional Medium-Thin Crash



Bass drum


Evans EMAD2 Clear Bass Batter


51s9pSfNiWL. AC US160

Aquarian Super Kick II Clear


41nLLfwNTOL. AC US160

Remo Powerstroke P3 Clear


Snare drum
41pEJMsfspL. AC US160

Evans Genera HD Dry


71wqnknFcBL. AC US160

Remo Powerstroke 77 Coated


51y46m8ZXuL. AC US160

Aquarian New Orleans Special



51FG18iqfiL. AC US160

Evans G2 Clear


71kczMWzfpL. AC US160

Remo Ambassador Coated


51 8VkWVp1L. AC US160

Aquarian Classic Clear


The Greats

Here is a list of ten drummers that have had a significant impact on the development of funk music. Some of these drummers are innovators of the style from the 1960s and 1970s while others are contemporary funk drummers. You can click on each name to watch a performance by each drummer!

David Garibaldi

David Garibaldi

Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason

Greg Errico

Greg Errico

Joseph Ziggy Modeliste

Joseph ‘Ziggy’ Modeliste

Clyde Stubblefield

Clyde Stubblefield

John Jabo Starks

John ‘Jabo’ Starks

Stanley Randolph

Stanley Randolph

Stanton Moore

Stanton Moore

Melvin Parker

Melvin Parker

George Brown

George Brown

The Records

Here are fifteen essential funk albums that every drummer should check out. Some of the most iconic funk grooves of all time are heard on these albums!

The Meters - The Meters (1969)

The Meters
“The Meters” (1969)
Drummer: Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste

The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py (1969)

The Meters
“Look-Ka Py Py” (1969)
Drummer: Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste

James Brown - Sex Machine (1970)

James Brown
“Sex Machine” (1970)
Drummer: Melvin Parker, Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks

Sly & The Family Stone - There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

Sly & The Family Stone
“There’s a Riot Goin’ On” (1971)
Drummer: Greg Errico, Gerry Gibson, Sly Stone

Stevie Wonder - Talking Book (1972)

Stevie Wonder
“Talking Book” (1972)
Drummer: Stevie Wonder

Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters (1973)

Herbie Hancock
“Head Hunters” (1973)
Drummer: Harvey Mason

Kool & The Gang - Wild and Peaceful (1973)

Kool & The Gang
“Wild and Peaceful” (1973)
Drummer: George Brown

Tower of Power - Tower of Power (1973)

Tower of Power
“Tower of Power” (1973)
Drummer: David Garibaldi

Tower of Power - Back to Oakland (1974)

Tower of Power
“Back to Oakland” (1974)
Drummer: David Garibaldi

Parliament - Mothership Connection (1975)

“Mothership Connection” (1975)
Drummer: Jerome Brailey, Tiki Fulwood, Bootsy Collins, Gary Cooper

Earth, Wind & Fire - Spirit (1976)

Earth, Wind & Fire
“Spirit” (1976)
Drummer: Fred White, Ralph Johnson, Maurice White

Funkadelic - Uncle Jam Wants You (1979)

“Uncle Jam Wants You” (1979)
Drummer: Jerome Brailey, Tiki Fulwood, Bootsy Collins, Dennis Chambers

James Brown - In the Jungle Groove (1986)

James Brown
“In the Jungle Groove” (1986)
Drummer: Melvin Parker, Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks

Jamiroquai - Travelling Without Moving (1996)

“Travelling Without Moving” (1996)
Drummer: Derrick McKenzie

Stanton Moore - All Kooked Out! (1998)

Stanton Moore
“All Kooked Out!” (1998)
Drummer: Stanton Moore

Drumeo Live – Funk Lessons

Here are 4 incredible drummers teaching funk during their Drumeo Edge live events.

Harvey Mason Drum Lessons

Harvey Mason (Fourplay, Herbie Hancock)

David Garibaldi Drum Lessons

David Garibaldi (Tower of Power)

Stanley Randolph Drum Lessons

Stanley Randolph (Stevie Wonder, K’naan)

Stanton Moore Drum Lessons

Stanton Moore (Galactic, Stanton Moore Trio)

Funk Listening List

Here are some funky tracks we think you’ll like:

Wow! You made it to the end!

Even though it’s the end of the article, it’s not the end of the great content we have available. If you want to become the best drummer you can be, check out Drumeo.

We bring in the world’s best drummers to teach you how to play the drums.

  • 160+ step-by-step courses
  • 2000+ on-demand lessons
  • 230+ play-along songs
  • 90+ song breakdowns
  • 20 different genres of music
  • Live lessons every week
  • Student plans and reviews
  • Helpful community forums

Includes song breakdowns for:

  • Tower of Power – What Is Hip
  • Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music
  • Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity
  • Jean Knight – Mr. Big Stuff
  • Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk

Drumeo exclusive courses by:

  • David Garibaldi
  • Harvey Mason
  • Stanley Randolph
  • Stanton Moore
  • Jost Nickel
  • Taylor Gordon

Check out Drumeo »

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Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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