Playing styles

Country

Posted: 13 January 2023

Country music is regarded as one of the most popular genres. We look into the history and the tricks and techniques to get you on your way to perfecting your ‘Money Beats’.

Read time - 4 mins

History

Country originated in Southern America back in the 1920s and was influenced by blues and folk music. Drums didn’t always feature on country songs, they weren’t considered part of the sound until the mid-1930s and early 1940s – and even then, they often weren’t allowed on stage because they were too loud. It wasn’t until the 1960s that drummers were finally considered an important part of the country music sound.

Instrumentation

Country embodies characteristics of jazz, rock and blues drumming and is often upbeat and energetic. In fact, many of the grooves used in country music could be played in these other genres.

In modern country music, drummers generally use the same drum sets that are used in rock and pop music. They will consist of a bass drum (22”-24”), one or two rack toms (10”-13”), one or two floor toms (14”-16”), and a snare drum (14”). Country drummers will also often use deep snare drums that have a depth of 6”-8” and as they often use larger drum sizes, their drums are generally tuned low.

Technique

In country music, drummers are often heard playing “money beats”. They are called money beats because they are heard on countless recordings and quite simply, the drummers that can play these drum beats get paid! These consist of simple 4/4 hi-hat beats with bass and snare, similar to your standard rock/pop beats. These days, country drumming shares many similarities with pop and rock drumming.

One of the most frequently used “money beats” in country music is the train beat. Train beats can be heard on a lot of early Johnny Cash recordings and even on modern country recordings. This beat is meant to emulate the sound of a moving steam train just by using single strokes on the snare drum, bass drum and sometimes hi-hats. The key to creating the train beat feel is with the right hand hits, the first one with a bass drum hit accompanying it and the second with an accent. The bass drum comes on the 1st and 3rd count and once you’re feeling more comfortable, you can add the hi-hat in on the 2nd and 4th beat. Two of the most popular country songs to feature a train beat are Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. Play along with them if you’re feeling up to it!

Cross-sticking is another technique used in country, more often in ballads and in the verses of many country songs. Start by placing the tip of your drumstick against the drumhead on the side of the snare drum closest to the hi-hats. The tip of your drumstick should be a few inches away from the rim on the side of the drum. Then, lay the stick down so that the thicker end is resting on the rim of the snare drum on the other side. Keep the tip of the drumstick down against the drumhead as you lift up the thicker end of the stick, then hit the stick against the rim of the snare drum. This is often used in many different genres such as jazz, reggae or even rock and pop. An example of this being used in country music is in the verses of ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks.

Further Listening

We've created a playlist featuring a selection of musicians that have made country music what it is today. Since first emerging into popular consciousness in the thirties, country music has had to evolve in order to maintain popularity.

Listen to the evolution of the genre now with our specially curated playlist here or in the player below.