Ghost Notes

One of the most challenging expressions in drumming is the effective use of ghost notes. I still struggle with them from time to time but the effect of ghost notes enhancing grooves is undeniable. Much like keeping time on the hi-hat, ghost notes fill in the space between the upbeats and downbeats and add flavor to the phrasing. According to the definition:

In drumming, a ghost note is played at very low volume, and typically on a snare drum. In musical notation, ghost notes are indicated in parenthesis surrounding the note. According to The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, the purpose of a ghost note is to “…be heard under the main sound of the groove. This produces a subtle 16th-note feel around a strong back beat or certain accents.” The term ghost note, then, can have various meanings. The term anti-accent is more specific. Moreover, there exists a set of anti-accent marks to show gradation more specifically. Percussion music in particular makes use of anti-accent marks, as follows:

  • slightly softer than surrounding notes: u (breve)
  • significantly softer than surrounding notes: ( ) (note head in parentheses)
  • much softer than surrounding notes: [ ] (note head in brackets)


Listen Here:

Some recognizable examples of this technique are Clyde Stubblefield’s beat in “Cold Sweat” by James Brown and Jeff Porcaro playing the opening beat for the Toto hit “Rosanna.” Our pal Brandon Scott has posted a great video on developing ghost note chops:

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