If you’ve just purchased your first drum set, the chances are you are itching to get playing along with some real songs. While it is a lot of fun to just play around on the drums it’s also cool when you can impress your friends and family with a few well known tunes. The songs we will discuss in this article are all well-known hits and feature iconic drum parts. The level of difficulty increases are we go through each of the five songs, but you can be sure that you’ll be able to master at least one of them. Let’s get into it.
Drum and percussion music is written in the same way as pitched instruments on a stage.
1. We Will Rock You - Queen
This is a classic rock anthem by the English rock band “Queen”. Initially this song was composed as an up-tempo rock track. Only later did the band decide to play around with a slower rhythm.
The rhythm of this song is extremely simple. You can play it on any drum set, acoustic or electronic, no matter how basic. All that you need is a bass drum, a snare drum, and a pair of sticks.
It’s also worth mentioning that it helps to have access to a metronome. Metronomes can show us the tempo of any song we need. You can download plenty of free metronome apps for your smartphone online.
There are three main beats to this song. Two of the beats can be played on the bass drum and the other beat on the snare drum. Getting the count is important. For this we will use a standard “4” count. Count out loud: “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”. Next play the bass drum on both beats “1” and “2”. Keep counting. The final task is to play the snare on beat 3 with both sticks at the same time. There is no need to play any drum on count “4”.
If you have done this correctly you will have something like this:
This is a great beat to introduce new drummers to the concept of rhythmic counting. To practice, play along with the original song. If you are not at your drum kit you can simply tap out the rhythm using your hands and feet to get used to the rhythm.
2. Paradise City - Guns ‘n’ Roses
The intro to this song is a similar concept to the previous song, “We Will Rock You”. It is played only between the bass drum and the snare drum but has a more advanced rhythm to master. The rhythm of “Paradise City” can be counted in groups of 8 as opposed to 4.
Practice counting from 1 to 8 steadily. Next play the bass drum on the first count. Be sure to play as close to the timing of the count as you can. Also maintaining a steady count is important. You may want to consider getting a metronome for this.
Once you have mastered step one, then you can introduce the snare drum. Like with “We Will Rock You” play the snare here with both hands at the same time. The snare is played twice in this pattern – on count “3” and count “7”. If you are doing this correctly you will be playing a bass drum on count “1” and the snare on count “3” and “7”.
The final step is to introduce the final bass drum stroke. This stroke lands directly on count “6”. This placement is what gives this beat it’s signature feel. Here’s how the beat looks in musical notation
Drums and cymbals are often notated differently so that they can easily be read
3. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
“Billie Jean” is one of the most famous Michael Jackson tunes. It features an extremely funky beat as performed by Leon “Ndugu” Chancler. This beat is one of the most sampled beats in modern music. The good news is that it is quite easy to perform a basic version of this beat.
The drum pattern is a typical 4/4 back beat. This means that it has a “back beat” on counts “2” and “4”. This back beat is typically played on the snare drum. While the bass drum and snare patterns are quite simple with this beat, it does also contain the hi-hat. This means that the Billie Jean pattern is a three way coordination.
If you’re unfamiliar with such beats then the advice is to take it slowly. It’s more important to be accurate than to play fast. Playing the hi-hat is usually done primarily with your leading or “strong” hand. If you have a preferred hand, then use that one. For most people, this is usually the right hand. With others, it’s the left hand.
Count out loud and steadily: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”
This is the count that we will play the hi-hat along to. In total there are 8 notes and this is part of the reason that you will often hear the term “8th notes” with regards to drumming. Play the hi-hat along with each count.
Next we will add the bass drum. The bass drum is to be played on counts “1” and “3”. Make sure to play the bass drum at the same time as the hi-hat, all the while keeping a steady metronomic count.
Finally we will add in the snare, or the “back beat”. We will play the snare with the opposite hand to the one we are using for the hi-hat. Find a position that suits you. You will notice that a lot of drummers prefer to play cross handed between the hi-hat and snare drum. This beat should land on both count “2” and count “4”. As with the bass drum, aim to play the snare at the same time as the hi-hat stroke on counts “2” and “4”. Here is the notation for the Billie Jean beat:
4. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars - Uptown Funk
This is beat is similar to the Billie Jean beat but with one crucial difference. The bass drum is to be played on all four beats. Set your metronome to around 116bpm and count “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”. Once you are counting steadily, you can introduce the bass drum. The bass drum should land exactly on each metronome pulse.
The next step is to add in the hi-hat pattern. This pattern is the same as the Billie Jean beat. There are 8 notes in total to be played, so that’s two per count. Once you have the bass drum and the hi-hat parts down steady then we can move on to the snare strokes.
The snare lands on the back beat on counts “2” and “4”. This is a very common beat in pop music and has been for a long time. Gradually you can learn to use the bass drum stroke as the main time keeper on the kit when playing this beat. It’s easier to play the hand patterns over a solid bass drum pulse so make that the foundation of this beat.
Like guitar, drums can also be notated in a tablature form for convenience
5. White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
This is a popular song and can be heard at sporting events all over the world. To play this song you can really get away with just three drums and one cymbal. They are: the bass drum, the snare, the crash cymbal, and the floor tom.
The verse of this song is mainly made up of a bass drum stroke on beats “1”, “2”, “3”, and “4”. Then the snare is introduced on beats “2” and “4”.
When it comes to the chorus you can play a simple beat like this:
Notice how both the bass drum and the snare are each accompanied by a crash cymbal stroke.
There is one part of the chorus where the beat varies slightly. Instead of playing:
“bass drum – snare – bass drum – snare”
We add in one extra note. This changes the beat to:
“bass drum – bass drum – snare”
Make sure to keep a crash cymbal hit on each drum stroke.
Learning drums can be challenging but ultimately it is great fun. Spend a little time increasing your knowledge of famous drum beats and it will greatly improve your skills and musicality on the instrument. Take it slow to begin with and get a good grasp of counting in time and how the beat relates to the count.
Every song you will learn on the drums can be related to a pulse or a count. Becoming familiar with this pulse is the key to understanding complex rhythms and patterns. There are many metronome apps on the market for both android and iOS. Having a metronome is a great tool that you can use to tap and play along to with a steady rhythm. Once you have the basics, then you can increase your understanding of subdivisions and different time signatures.
It’s also best to practice with a set of headphones, especially when you’re playing on an electronic set. You’ll just hear things a lot more clear and really be able to focus. The same goes for having the right drum throne and a solid pair of drumsticks.
If you would like to know more about learning to read drum notation, check out our guide HERE. It’s packed with information that will make learning to read drum music way easier, especially for beginners to the drum set.
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