How To Play the Bo Diddley Beat


The Bo Diddley Beat came from the artist himself, blues legend Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel). A good number of his songs incorporated this jungle-like rhythm and helped distinguish his sound through the years. Numerous artists crossing many genres have since patterned their songs after this man and his beat. Though some credit Bo for originating the rhythm, it actually stems from early forms of latin and afro-cuban rhythms (clave) derived from their respective countries. It’s important to note that this rhythm was also used for years as the playful music knock, “Shave and a Haircut”,…”Two Bits”.


How to Play It

Play singles from hand to hand on the floor tom accentuating the clave (top line) below. Bass drum can match the clave or play “4 on the floor” (bottom line). Guitarist and/or bass player will play simultaneous lines so it is important to keep a steady tempo to be in sync with them. Use the afro-cuban son clave below as your foundation. For those that don’t read, it is: 1 (2) and (3) 4 – (1) 2 3 (4).  Remember, it’s important to make it swing. In other words, it must feel good!

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley 2/3 Clave Pattern

The 3/2 Son Clave

Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
She’s the One – Bruce Springsteen
Women are Smarter – Grateful Dead
Gotta Have Faith – George Michael
Willie & the Hand Jive – Johnny Otis Show Grease Soundtrack
Not Fade Away – Buddy Holly, Rolling Stones
I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow, Strangeloves


“I was just reading about your explanation of the Bo Diddley beat. To be more precise … it is one step past the “Shave and a haircut” beat. It is what we used to call a ‘drag’ in drum corps language. For example: The first measure would be a pure drag. The second measure is always on counts 2 and 3. Shave and a haircut is too square. It is the root beat of the Bo Diddley beat, however, it is not the true Bo Diddley beat. Once a drummer or percussionist perfects the single drag in the first measure … then the idea is to spread those drag attacks out as far as the music allows. Make them sound more “phat”! Four sixteenth notes prior to beats 2 and 3 being played in the 2nd measure will also set up those accented beats on beat 2 and 3 more so, also. I describe these notes as “lead-ins”. They are played only on beat 1 of the 2nd measure. Another possible flair is a fast 5 stroke roll lead into the first measure. It gives it more a of a ‘rumble’ beginning. And to enhance beats 2 and 3 of the 2nd measure just make those beats flams. Now you got something! – Mike Flack (40 years of playing “Shave and a haircut, two bits!”

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