Ted Reed’s Syncopation: Afro-Cuban 6/8 Counter-Rhythms

Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation is a great resource to study different aspects of drums: stickings, linear phrasing, coordination, independence, and music styles. There are many interpretations and the possibilities are endless. Playing Afro-Cuban 6/8 moving the left hand around the drums to create syncopated rhythms is very interesting to develop your coordination and independence.

Before you begin working on this application, it is assumed that you have had at least some basic exposure to Afro-Cuban 6/8. I recommend the book Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drumset by Frank Malabe and Bob Weiner.


Here’s the basic pattern. We play the Afro-Cuban 6/8 pattern with the right hand (on the cowbell or on the ride bell), along with the dotted 8th-note pattern with the bass drum, and the left foot hi-hat in 8th notes.

afro-cuban 6/8 bell pattern

The counter-rhythm will be played with the left hand on the cross stick or on the snare. Don’t forget to use the metronome setting the click on the dotted 8th note (80 to 126 bpm). Here’s a preliminary exercise.

Afro-Cuban 6/8 on drums exercise


Now go to the middle of the book (exercise one, p. 38), here the keyword is Interpretation. Considering that every beat/quarter note of the first staff is equivalent to 3/16, you can easily understand how the two parts fit together. The image below shows the first four bars of the exercise.

afro-cuban 6/8 drumset application

Another variation is to play the 8th notes on the snare or cross stick and the quarter notes on toms. Don’t forget to apply the exercises in a musical context, close the book and start improvising creating your counter-rhythms.

In addition to the basic pattern, you can play different hi-hat variations.

afro cuban 6/8 hi hat variation

Here’s the PDF of the exercise, keep on drumming!



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