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. 

10 Fills Every Drummer Should Know

10 Fills every drummer should know. Inspired by Stephen Taylor. I added/modified some fills, and of course, it’s more than 10 because some have variations…. “17 drum fills every drummer should know” just doesn’t sound as good. 😉

  • Use a metronome for the exercises and notice the spots where you tend to speed up/or slow down – aim for cconsistency.
  • Practice the fills by themselves first, then add one measure of groove before the fill, then three.
  • Once you’re comfortable with the fills as written, try to come up with your own orchestrations, while adhering to the fill sticking/rhythm

Adding the Bass Drum – The Loop

Fellow drummers!
Here’s the last video of my short drum lesson on timing/coordination/subdivisons/rates.
My playing is not as clean as I want it to be, … I’m still working on these drills and ideas, but that’s what practice is all about.
I hope you find the information presented inspiring and useful.
– Beck

16th Note Hi-Hat Variations Loop

Here’s a cool exercise one of my teachers shared with me, a long time ago:

  • You play 14 different 16th note variations on the hi-hat, one per measure, while keeping a continually repeated pattern (ostinato) on the bass drum and snare.
  • The bass drum syncopation includes a note on the “a” and “&” of the beat one and two, which makes it more challenging, coordination wise.
  • If you struggle with the independence between bass drum and hi-hat, try to play the variations over a four on the floor beat (quarter notes on the bass drum) first, and work your way up from there.
  • Focus on clarity, consistency, and groove. Make sure all the notes land in the right place.
  • Practice to an 8th or 16th note metronome, to identify where there’s a tendency to push or drag.
  • Practice each measure individually before putting them all together in a loop.

For a lot of people this is a hard exercise — it definitely is for me.

Its benefits are many: improved timing, coordination, and being able to stay in the pocket while transitioning between different variations, are just a few that come to mind spontaneously.

Remember: Slow, steady, and relaxed wins the race!


16th Note HH Var Loop.jpg

KICK START – Get Ready To Play!

Aspiring drummers and drum set instructors!

I updated my instructional drumming PDF “Kick Start” (40 pages).

It covers basic reading skills and coordination exercises, and helps the beginning drummer to master her first beats, fills, and gain confidence on the drum kit.

I’ve used it successfully in my teaching practice for almost two years now.

You can work through the material by yourself, but I highly recommend getting a teacher, who can help you understand the basics and fill in the blanks.

You can download it for $9.99 when you click the link below.

Happy Holidays!

– beck