The Punk Cheat Beat is An Art Form

Have you ever heard of the punk cheat beat? It’s essentially a variation of a generic drum beat that many punk bands use, but because it’s not the same, it’s referred to as cheating.

To avoid confusion, I’ll refer to the generic beat as the “correct” beat. So while a “correct” punk beat has hi-hat hits on all four beats, the cheat beat simplifies that by only playing the hi-hat on the first and third beats.

This makes it easier to play the beat faster because you don’t have to use your left hand as much or move your right hand as quickly. And that’s why it’s called the cheat beat.

But recently, a drummer I know posted a video talking about how there is only one “correct” punk beat and anything else is… well, cheating.

And he’s not the only one. Over the years, I’ve talked to tons of drummers who have this same mindset.

So why is it cheating? I don’t think there’s a real answer to that. There’s no music theory rule that states that there’s only one way to play a punk beat. It seems like it’s just a universally accepted idea. I think people like things to be black and white so they can know, and show others, that they’re doing it right. But this shouldn’t be a black and white issue; all music is different in its own way.

As a drummer who’s used the cheat beat — and as someone who used to fully embrace the punk rock culture — I find it ironic that someone talking to a bunch of punks would tell them that they have to follow the rules.

This has nothing to do with the guy who made the video — but it has everything to do with the basic tenets of punk. The punk mindset revolves around non-conformity, and the last thing a self-declared punk wants to do is be conventional. The way I see it, the nature of the cheat beat is itself punk because it goes against the norm.

This idea of labeling it as cheating not only goes against what punk stands for, it excludes those who can’t play fast or well, which I think speaks to another point about punk. Originally, punk was for anyone. It didn’t matter if you knew how to play your instrument, you’d just play it and have fun. So when you make rules like, “there is only one true punk beat,” it makes punk exclusive, and diminishes the inclusive nature of the culture.

When artists paint, sculpt or create an unconventional piece of art, no one calls the techniques they use cheating — they call it art form. And the same should go for music. Musicians should be free to use whatever techniques they want without others calling them out for doing something differently.

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