Learn the Bo Diddley Beat

Posted by Andrew DuBrock
Excerpted from Acoustic Rock Essentials

The so-called Bo Diddley beat, shown in Example 5a may seem difficult at first, but if you break the beat down into a 16th-note subdivision, you’ll find a 3–3–2 pattern in the first half of the measure that may help you get a handle on it. Slow it down and count out every 16th note if you have to, then gradually speed it up until you can play it at the speed you want to. 

Diddley’s name graces this pattern since he popularized it in tunes like “Bo Diddley” and “Mona.” You can play the complete one-measure pattern over a single chord as shown in Example 5a, but you can also switch chords in the middle of the pattern (Example 5b). This example includes a few more strums than the rhythm pattern in Example 5a, for a pattern similar to the Rolling Stones’ cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Notice that the accents place the emphasis on the same beats as Example 5a. 

Buddy Holly’s original version of “Not Fade Away” used a less-syncopated pattern similar to Example 5c, which is virtually identical but accents the eighth-note upbeat on beat one, instead of the following 16th note. As these Diddley-type examples show, you can (and should!) come up with your own variations on any rhythm pattern you encounter.

Excerpted from Acoustic Rock Essentials