How does one go about learning difficult songs

BassDriver

Silver Member
Okay, I have been stuck at the same part on the song Schism for ages, I have the sheet music (looks pretty accurate, I listen to the song and the notes are spot on) but I just have this problem with playing some parts.

It is the 2nd Bridge, and I just want to know how you go learning a phrase.

I was thinking that I should learn the patterns bar by bar, then practice them to a metronome to get them right, and then play along to the song to string the different parts together...what do you think?

...anyhow I don't see myself completing the song in this year, considering my double-kick speed isn't fast enough...

...so what do you do when you go a about learning a difficult song, whether it is complex, or just technically difficult?
 

jake_larson

Senior Member
This has worked for me, take it at like forty or slower if you have to and speed it up only when you can play it clean like 4 times in a row. Only speed it up 5 clicks.
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
Breaking it down has always worked well for me BD. I've never played overly complex music by any measure, but I feel the principle is the same regardless of musical style. Keep doing what you're doing and break it down and play it slowly until you get it.
 

toddy

Platinum Member
i learn't that some months back so i know your pain.
i would advise you to learn each part individually (all limbs). once you have them done then try putting them together one by one, and then finally you should find it gets quite cohesive and feels right to play. i realize this advice is pretty shit, but that's how i went about it.
what jake larson said is good too, playing it slower will really help you understand it.

edit: the impressive thing about danny carey is his hands and single pedal/hi-hat foot work, i really wouldn't worry too much about the double pedal at the moment.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
Okay, I'm going to try breaking it down and learning to play it really well...

...I notice that for many of the songs I listen to, the drumming is really high energy, it is fast and all over the place, hard to keep up with...that is a big difficulty for me as my technique isn't much good at a fast tempo...

...technique is something I'll have to work on on the side, there is no point going into a song if I don't have the technique already required for it...

edit: the impressive thing about danny carey is his hands and single pedal/hi-hat foot work, i really wouldn't worry too much about the double pedal at the moment.
What really gets me about Danny Carey's drumming is all that melodic tom work, it is impressive but I can't make heads or tails of it when trying to play it...like which drum is being hit and when...even if the melodic tom-tom drumming isn't fast the notes seem to blur into one another...how would you deal with that?
 
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MisterMixelpix

Silver Member
You pretty much nailed it. Bar by bar, slow as you can, and then slowly trudge your way through doing it with the music.

Years and years ago (as in, I was about eleven), I was learning Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" for the piano. It has four movements, so what I did was just worry about mastering one before I moved on to the next. As in, before I even STARTED practicing the second, I had the first one damn near memorized. That's what I suggest here. If you can't get all the way up to that tricky part without making a mistake, just work on that much. Then go from there.
 

dairyairman

Platinum Member
i use that free audio editing program "audacity" to slow the song down to a more manageable tempo that i can reasonably play along to. a lot of songs that are practically impossible at full tempo are pretty doable at half tempo. it's a lot easier to follow what's being played too.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
i use that free audio editing program "audacity" to slow the song down to a more manageable tempo that i can reasonably play along to. a lot of songs that are practically impossible at full tempo are pretty doable at half tempo. it's a lot easier to follow what's being played too.
+1. I was just gonna say that.
Once you can hear what he's doing, that's half the battle.
 

Fuo

Platinum Member
i use that free audio editing program "audacity" to slow the song down to a more manageable tempo that i can reasonably play along to. a lot of songs that are practically impossible at full tempo are pretty doable at half tempo. it's a lot easier to follow what's being played too.

Yea. Plus you can add labels (like bookmarks) to various sections of the song (intro, verse, chorus, etc), and use those labels as start-points so you can practice certain sections without having manually reposition the "cursor" everytime.

Great song. Wish I had the skill to even consider trying it.
 

toddy

Platinum Member
Okay, I'm going to try breaking it down and learning to play it really well...

...I notice that for many of the songs I listen to, the drumming is really high energy, it is fast and all over the place, hard to keep up with...that is a big difficulty for me as my technique isn't much good at a fast tempo...

...technique is something I'll have to work on on the side, there is no point going into a song if I don't have the technique already required for it...



What really gets me about Danny Carey's drumming is all that melodic tom work, it is impressive but I can't make heads or tails of it when trying to play it...like which drum is being hit and when...even if the melodic tom-tom drumming isn't fast the notes seem to blur into one another...how would you deal with that?
yeah, playing at fast tempos is difficult. but remember, you will only get there by perfecting your technique at slow tempos first. you need to learn the proper motion(s) first and memorize them. muscle memory. a teacher can help you with this to make sure you are doing the right things, and that you don't have any bad habits that have built up. i recently had some lessons with pat petrillo and re-worked my hand technique, well, it's now pretty damn easy to play fast stuff, my motion is so much more fluid than it was before. he's awesome btw.

technique aside, breaking things down is a very good idea. what the other guys said about audacity is definitely a very good idea (i do a similar thing but with pro tools).

in terms of learning his tom parts/hands and how his drums sound, you have to remember that the tuning of his drums is impeccable. i know exactly what you mean by 'blend together'. when i learn't various old tool songs i had to remember that my tuning was terrible compared to his, so i had to try to imagine what it would sound like if the patterns were played on my drums. remember that his drums will be different depths/wood than yours so you will be unable to get the same tone as he does (in a studio no less). basically, don't worry if it sounds terrible at the moment, if you are able to learn the patterns then that is good practice in itself. you can improve your tuning on the side.

if you halve the tempo of the original then you should be able to pick out what he's playing. you may then just be able to play it by ear (especially if you set sections up on loop and practice along to them). setting it up slower will also enable you to easily pick out the single tom hits.

if your transcribing/writing is ok then you should be able to write out most of what he is playing too. i'm not talking professional sheet music provider here, i mean writing out the parts that trouble you the most to the best of your ability so that you have a general guide.

if your sight reading/writing isn't too good then i would definitely recommend getting a good teacher (full stop) to help you with it. it will help you so much when it comes to learning more complicated songs/drum patterns.
i learn't all the old tool stuff by ear at full speed playing along, but let me tell you there were times when i was throwing sticks at the walls.
now that the technology is there you should use it to your advantage! you sound like you have a good attitude so you'll get there in the end, stick at it. :)
 

toddy

Platinum Member
about that song schism, there's a guy on youtube named mark matter who is the king of tool drum covers. here's a video of him playing schism that might help you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIjNqIOJ87U

he makes it look so easy it's disgusting!
schism is one of the easier songs though. that guy who can play right in two and has the mandala patterns down perfectly, now that guy is pretty good. tool are fun in general though, nice chill out practice :)

edit: matter's cover is good though, so no disrespect to him, haha.
 
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rootheart

Senior Member
I try to convince my fellow musicians that the audience doesn´t pay a dime to hear difficult songs, because they never can tell if a song is difficult or not... lots of musicians I played with, create the songlist by "difficult songs"...does not make much sense...the most successful songs ever are very easy to play...grin
 
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BassDriver

Silver Member
"it doesn’t really matter if something is hard to play or not. The thing is, what does it do to your mind when you listen to it? Where does it take you?" - Marten Hagstrom, Rhythm Guitarist of Meshuggah

The truth is that such difficulty is stimulating, musicians like a challenge. A lowsy 4-minute, 4 chord pop song is boring for them...

...unless your these guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpB_40hYjXU

now that the technology is there you should use it to your advantage! you sound like you have a good attitude so you'll get there in the end, stick at it. :)
I do have Audacity, slowing the tempo down without slowing the pitch can be done.


I see a few challenges in learning such songs:

Individual notes and movement - Matching the notes as close as possible to the parts of your kits is a challenge. Considering I have a smaller kit and different kit layout to Carey means that I will just have to make do; bell sounds will have to match with cymbal sounds and I might just have to leave out parts with electronic percussion. Slowing down the song makes this much easier.

Technique and Speed - Sometimes some songs push it physically, high energy, lots of movement, speed, and it can be easy to lose hold of the song.

Dynamics and volume - Ghost notes, accents, crescendo, decrescendo etc. not very much of a challenge, can be felt easily.

Time Signature and Phrasing - Theoretically you can put the song in any time signature you wish, notes will always add up rhythmically, but the right time signature means that you can keep track of repeating patterns and song structure. Sometimes the feel of the song has to be really be focused on, sometimes I try to hum the tune and then the tune will variate (in phrasing) when I least expect it...one has to have the focus to keep track of distant or long repeating cycles.

Try keeping track of just the phrasing of the tune of this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjzIBI3jkKY

Not only is the phrasing hard, but the way the drums are mixed means one can't make heads or tails of which one is hit.
 

toddy

Platinum Member
yes, meshuggah is very fun!
there are some meshuggah fan forums where a number of drummers hang out talking about various stuff (time signatures, polyrhythm, phrasing, etc). you probably already have the address, if not then i'll link you when i get home tonight as i don't have any bookmarks on this thing. it might have some info that you'll find interesting.

i personally can't agree that four minute pop songs are boring, because then i would be a hypocrite ;) it's just a different mindset. i have never liked music that was technical for technicalities sake, but technical music that has lovely structure/melody/harmony/rhythm is very interesting. not mean't as an insult btw, it's just my point of view. :)
some 'technical' music just really pisses me off, especially if it has lots of mediocre guitar shredding. however, that doesn't mean that i find all pop music interesting either, the same four chords can sound a bit samey after a while, as you've pointed out ;)

that said, i think your bold parts are pretty much bang on.
any time i learn a song i hum the melody to keep me on track. then after a while i find i don't need to hum the melody anymore to be able to recall the parts - this is when i know that i'm progressing.
in terms of longer time signatures/ostinatos, i break them down into smaller chunks to start with and learn each part at a time. small pieces of a puzzle to put back together into one longer section. obviously once i've got it memorized i don't need to worry so much about counting at all, and i can just 'feel' the changes.
i never second guess my memory/gut instinct, if i think that a pattern/section is about to change then it probably is, like you said, you just have to watch out for the tell tale signs (usually dynamic).

before i forget, i'm not sure if you have heard this before - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VixG3b-C7Fk - the youtube version does the album version no justice, but anyway.

the kick patterns aren't fast and are quite straightforward, so it's really just the hand patterns that take a bit of time to memorize/put together. the drummer used to play in a deathcore band called animosity, but this band is a bit more technical (and isn't 'heavy'), no screaming. it's possibly a bit too busy for some peoples tastes, personally i think it's very fun to play.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
before i forget, i'm not sure if you have heard this before - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VixG3b-C7Fk - the youtube version does the album version no justice, but anyway.
Actually I have heard of Animals as Leaders (it is a solo music project by Tosin Abasi), Bobby Jarzombek is the live session drummer but the recording is actually a very well programmed drum machine (even as a drummer I appreciate such work going into it)...

...I was wondering how I would go about learning a song like CAFO, seems that all the drum kit parts are can be heard distinctively (as it is a drum machine) and everything is mixed in such a way that you can focus on what you wish to hear without being distracted by a flood of sound. Transcribing - as well as learning the song - shouldn't be too hard for such complexity...

...something to move on once I'm done with Schism.
 

toddy

Platinum Member
ahh i see. that does make sense then if it's all drum machine (as there is obviously electronic drums on the album). yes, that is one of the reasons i like AAL, all the hits can be distinguished if you listen carefully enough. definitely transcribe parts of it.
now that i think about it, the tightness does remind me a little of a drum machine (especially on song of solomon), but in a good way (i love electronic music).
it would take quite a few hours to program those kind of songs, depending on how many samples/variations you use. although there are sections that you can just copy and paste ofcourse.

personally i think my favourite song on that album is the price of everything and the value of nothing. the drums never really struck me as being out of the ordinary, but the song just sounds amazing. the whole thing together. then again now that i know its programmed it almost makes it better tbh, the samples sounds awesome. (i record primarily with electronic drums - not programmed).

i love to loop the section from 2:47 - 3:03 and play along for ages.

here is the drummer from animosity playing with them, the guitarist has a few technical issues:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoLRz5fgeu0

i think learning schism will be awesome for you man. :)
 
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