‘Study the Greats’ is a series of quick videos where host Austin Burcham walks you through beats by some of the world’s greatest drummers.
In this clip, you’ll learn three of Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett’s most memorable grooves. Not only was he Michael Jackson’s longtime drummer, he has also played with Madonna, George Michael, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and many more. It doesn’t get much more accomplished than Sugarfoot, whose playing style is unique due to precise funky grooves and impressive showmanship (watch him play “Smooth Criminal” to see his double cymbal grabs).
Here’s the breakdown of three key Michael Jackson beats. While they may seem like simple 4/4 pop grooves, Jonathan has his own way of playing that can be tough to recreate, especially at full speed:
This groove is based around alternating hand-to-hand 16th notes on the hi-hats. The right hand comes down to play the backbeat on the 2 and 4. He adds a couple of hi-hat openings on beat 2 and the ‘a’ of 3. It gets a bit tricky where he plays a double with his left hand as he goes into beat 2 to create that hi-hat opening with the backbeat. It’s something you don’t see very often, but totally works for this groove.
Combine this with a busy bass drum pattern, and you’ll be able to play the entire song – but not without some endurance and concentration. Definitely try it slowly first.
This groove has an interesting, choppy vibe. It starts on the upbeat 8th note of beat 1 (which can mess with your brain a little bit). On beat 2, he adds in some quick little hi-hat openings with double stroke embellishments to spice things up. The main structure is built around the driving straight 8th note feel on the hi-hat. But like in the first groove, he brings the right hand down to play the backbeats, and fills in the hi-hat with the left hand. This is a unique part of his style.
The challenge comes with the hi-hat openings and quick double stroke embellishments; it’s tough to execute them all cleanly while keeping the timing right with the choppy rests on the upbeats. This pattern shows how Jonathan can take a pretty straightforward groove structure and add little things to make it more interesting and entertaining.
Again, it’s the little embellishments that make this song deceptively difficult. We’re looking at a two-bar pattern that starts with two big crashes on beat 1. The rest of the groove is based around that driving straight 8th note feel. In both measures, Jonathan adds some hi-hat openings on the ‘a’ of 2. On the very last note of the second measure, he adds another hi-hat opening to lead back into the crashes on 1. “Jam” has a nice feel and it’s fun to play.
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