What are ghost notes?

What Are Ghost Notes?

What Are Ghost Notes? – Believe it or not, drumming is not all about hitting the things as hard as you can. In fact, subtle nuances often play a pivotal role in shaping the character and feel of different patterns. One such element is the ghost note.  These are very soft strokes used to enhance the texture and feel of a pattern. This blog explores the role of ghost notes in creating groove and enhancing fills.

Defining Ghost Notes

When explaining ghost notes to those I teach, I always characterise them as sounding very faint. They have a ‘transparent’ quality, a bit likes actual ghosts, if such things exist. Beginners often find ghost notes difficult to perform, largely because they lack the required stick control.  From a technical perspective, they are executed by dropping the drumstick from about 1cm-3cm above the drum. The low stick height explains why the sound produced is so soft. 

Dynamics are largely controlled by stick height:

  • Soft dynamics = low stick height 
  •  Loud dynamics = high stick height.

Sticks dropped from a high stick height are travelling at a greater velocity when they strike the drum.  This creates a harder impact on the drumhead and therefore a louder sound. The opposite is true for softer dynamics and ghost notes. When a stick is dropped from a low stick height it has less time to pick up velocity, and so the resulting sound is soft. .

To play rapid consecutive ghost notes, the technique is similar to playing a double or triple stroke roll.  The drummer utilises a bounce stroke, so that two or three hits  are achieved from one down stroke.

The Groove Foundation

While ghost notes may be difficult to detect on their own, their cumulative effect in drum pattern is undeniable. They help to establish the character of a groove, contributing to the sense of pulse and movement. 

funk beat with ghost notes

Drummers often perform them on the snare drum, along with accented notes, to add intricacy to rhythmic patterns and propel the music forward. The subtle interplay of accented beats and ghost notes creates a dynamic tension that is very appealing in all kinds of music, but especially in funk and jazz.

Dynamic Fills and Transitions

Ghost notes are often integrated into fills to create a sense of fluidity and finesse. The contrast between the louder, more pronounced strokes and the subtle ghost notes contributes to the overall impact of the fill, elevating it from a mere rhythmic transition to a musical statement.

More information is available on the Leicester Drum School YouTube channel.

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