On learning new songs

For drummers, it’s imperative to know the arrangement/structure of the song.

We are the conductors of the band, drive the beat and help create the sandbox that our band mates get to play in.

We use fill-ins and dynamics to set up the different sections of a song and help the other band members to play their parts with confidence.

So how do we learn new songs and familiarize ourselves with arrangements?

It goes without saying that the best way is to listen to the song you’re trying to learn, obsessively. 

Have it on repeat, and even if you’re not a singer, try to sing and hum along, as best as you can. 

In the beginning, don’t worry too much about specific fills or subtleties of the drum part. 

You have to get the big picture, first!

Sometimes, that’s all you need, especially if you choose to play a cover “your way” and give it your own interpretation.

In my experience, learning the song as a singer (if only in your head first) is the quickest way to familiarize yourself with new material; especially if you don’t use notes/sheet music on stage.

If you can use charts, or are a more visual learner, taking notes might be helpful.

Grab paper and a pen and start mapping out the tune, e.g., How many bars does the intro have? How long is the chorus? Is there a bridge/solo section?

Keep it simple and basic at first.

Let’s check out Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.”

  • Intro/Vers 1: 12 bars (no drums) + 2 bars drums
  • Vers 2: 8 bars
  • Chorus: 8 bars
  • Vers 3: 8 bars
  • Chorus: 8 bars
  • Interlude: 8 bars
  • Vers 4: 8 bars (different beat)
  • Chorus: 8 bars
  • Interlude 4 bars
  • Chorus: 4 -> vamp and fade

Next step is to identify the main drum beat of a song and the specific fills and rewrite your chart.

Here is an example of a quick chart that I use in my drum lessons.