How do you go about learning songs?

(Future)DWdrummer

Senior Member
I'm talking about when you have to learn a song for an audition or a gig- not just for your enjoyment's sake haha....

How would you go about learning a song for an audition or gig?

I usually listen to it(them) obsessively for a few days before I need to perform it, take a few notes on key parts, and play along to the track in my practice room..

What do you guys do?

Jacob G.
 

RickP

Gold Member
I used to transcribe these long drum charts and it was time consuming and took hours. I recently discovered Liz Ficalora's excellent book on developing quick easy drum charts .
http://www.easydrumchart.com

This is a great resource and really speeds up the transcription time considerably. I have no connection with this publication other than being a fan.
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
It depends on how long I have the songs for in advance.
I have had everything from 2 hours notice to 2 months...

If I have a reasonable amount of time, on a reasonable amount of songs.
Lets say no more than 6 tunes in a 7 day week...here is what I'll do.

Day 1
1. Listen through all the songs once before sitting down behind the kit.

2. Play though the songs once, lightly just getting a feel for some of the grooves and changes.

3. Play though the songs three times each, start to end.

4. Play though any parts that may be difficult to nail by the 3rd time you played it.
(Intro fills, a rough change or fill)

Day 2-5
Play though every song once.
Again going over any rough parts and getting them all down by the end of the week.
Listen to songs while driving in the car.

Day 6
Chart day!
Chart song openings (who starts, is there a fill you open up with, or another instrument?)
Ex: "4x Guitar" To me, this means I count in the band with 4 clicks and the guitarist starts the song...

Note any changes, fills or grooves that may have been difficult during the week.

Get metronome temps

Day 7
ROCK!
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I usually listen to it(them) obsessively for a few days before I need to perform it, take a few notes on key parts, and play along to the track in my practice room..
Immersing yourself is the best method I've found, and making a simple chart can help confidence for the first few times you play with the group.

But if you're truly obsessive, you should be doing more than taking "a few notes on key parts". If you're not going to be completely thorough about the parts, then don't try to work so hard. A few listens should give you enough to get the arrangement and flavor of a song.

Bermuda
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Immersing yourself is the best method I've found, and making a simple chart can help confidence for the first few times you play with the group.

But if you're truly obsessive, you should be doing more than taking "a few notes on key parts". If you're not going to be completely thorough about the parts, then don't try to work so hard. A few listens should give you enough to get the arrangement and flavor of a song.

Bermuda
Respectfully disagree. This might be good advice for someone who is only interested in playing the drums as a hobby, but someone going by "(Future)DWdrummer" has ambitions beyond that, right? Would you give that sort of advice to someone who was filling in for your gig on short notice? If a fill-in only had 24 hours to learn an entire concert's worth of material, how would you do it?

To the OP: learn from many sources how to chart songs. Find out if a local teacher has a good method, and, if so, study with him/her. Spend $10 and download the PDF from easydrumchart.com. And, if you want my help, we can set up a Skype lesson. Put all of that together, and find the approach that works best for you. But don't skimp on doing the research, or assume that listening a few times and taking a few notes will serve your needs in all circumstances.

The dirty truth is that, sometimes, you'll have more than enough time to learn some songs, and listening will be enough. But many times, opportunities arise where you won't have nearly enough time to go about it this way, and for that, you'll need to learn to write good charts quickly, with an appropriate amount of detail. Imagine showing up to an audition or gig, with only 24 hours to prep, playing all the songs correctly and confidently from beginning to end, with no mistakes in song structure, or having to rely on visual cues from the other players. Wouldn't a band find that to be a desirable trait in a drummer? Consider this a skill that is as valuable as a single stroke roll.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Respectfully disagree. This might be good advice for someone who is only interested in playing the drums as a hobby, but someone going by "(Future)DWdrummer" has ambitions beyond that, right? Would you give that sort of advice to someone who was filling in for your gig on short notice? If a fill-in only had 24 hours to learn an entire concert's worth of material, how would you do it?
I was simply addressing the OP's comment that he listens for a few days, and makes "a few notes on key parts". If a "few notes" is the result of a few days' work, I say don't work so hard. A few notes can be made in a few listens.

Indeed, a few listens isn't normally enough to really learn a song, and that's the point I was trying to make. I wasn't suggesting anyone attempt to learn songs like that.

In 2005, I was given 2 days' notice to learn 36 songs to sub on a gig. Lots of originals, varied arrangements, crucial pushes and breaks, interesting intros and endings, and the songs came to me on cassettes, so my initial listening opportunity was dumpimng the songs to digital (in real time of course.) With repeat listens I made simple but effective charts, brought them to the gig 2 nights later, and apparently did well - I've been with the band ever since.

It's all about how hard one wants/needs to work. I always assume parts should be correct, whatever that may mean to the band. I don't recall anyone ever asking me to simply get the flavor of a song, and that's not how I approach playing.

Bermuda
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
I've had a few recording sessions that I was given less than 24 hours with the materiel or in some cases showing up to the studio having never heard what I'm about to track.

A few years ago I was asked to track drums on a few songs for this bands album.
I had about 7 or 8 of this groups songs already from some previous work, but I never got demos of the new stuff for the session. It was the afternoon before the session that they told me what songs I was going to track. I think I did 4 of them, 3 were from the previous batch, so I was familiar with those, but one of them I never heard. They sent me a demo late that evening, so the only thing I could do was listen to the song in the car on the way to the studio the next morning...

It happened again in 2 months ago, I showed up to a session expecting to track drums on two songs, that I had demos of for weeks, and found out they wanted me to track 4 songs. I had to learn the two new ones on the spot.

And even Friday (2 days ago) I got emailed about doing a session two hours before they wanted me there. A You Tube video was linked in the email for me to learn the song... :/
I ended up not doing that one, not because of the 2 hours notice, but because they tried to get me into a bidding war with two other sessions guys for the lowest price... F that!

Recording sessions are a lot different than a live gig though, in the studio you are expected to perform but have the benefit of do-overs.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I don't play it on the drums, I just listen to it and chart it out and go in. On the chart, I write what kind of beat, the arrangement, and any other info I need about the song.
 

EarthRocker

Senior Member
Learning to play someone else's music is a long process for me. Luckily, I haven't had to do it in a long time. Up until recently, I was fortunate enough to be with a band that wants to write their own stuff, rather than cover everyone else' music.

My music reading level is very basic. I can make sense of something if I have a long time to look at it. But it's easier for me to understand by listening to the song several times. It may take a lot of listening before I warm up to a song and start to like it. I start with the very basics, like groove, and then I gradually build, trying to memorize and add fills each time. There are very few songs I think I've ever 'perfected', but I think I do well at capturing the spirit of each song I learn.

As for "writing" music, my approach is much more simple. I like to get the band together, or maybe just have a recording of the new material. And I'll record myself doing a lot of different things. I'll cannibalize grooves and fills, and figure out what feels good and what doesn't. A lot of times, we'll record a song, and after listening to it on the master a few times, I'll think of something different, and then live I'll start playing something totally different.

I'm never satisfied with what I know on the drums. As soon as I learn something new and get comfortable with it, I want to learn something else immediately. And that comes out a lot in the bands I play with. Sorry this post was so long.
 

(Future)DWdrummer

Senior Member
Respectfully disagree. This might be good advice for someone who is only interested in playing the drums as a hobby, but someone going by "(Future)DWdrummer" has ambitions beyond that, right?.
Most definitely. Hahaha :D

I may have over exaggerated the extent to which I prepare... Yeah I listen to the songs a ton... But it's usually just when I have the chance, in between class, driving home, ect... This along with a few notes is enough for me- at least it has worked so far..
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Most definitely. Hahaha :D

I may have over exaggerated the extent to which I prepare... Yeah I listen to the songs a ton... But it's usually just when I have the chance, in between class, driving home, ect... This along with a few notes is enough for me- at least it has worked so far..
Yeah, but there will very, very likely come a time when this approach will not cut it. Do you want to find out the hard way? Who knows what great gig opportunity will pass you by? The smart man learns from his mistakes; the wise man learns from others'.
 

CalebL721

Member
I listen to the song and play what I hear. That's it really. If I can't get it that way, I watch live videos of the song being played and watch the drummer.
 

bud7h4

Silver Member
I listen to the song and play what I hear. That's it really. If I can't get it that way, I watch live videos of the song being played and watch the drummer.
This is what I do as well. Hopefully it's a song I actually like. I'll listen to it until I "know" it. Hopefully then watch it played on video. By the time I sit down to play it I know the song, the feel, and it's just a matter of making sure there are no technical weak points.

For example I already knew most of the drum parts on Dream Theater's Images and Words CD before ever playing them on drums, because for years I played them on guitar.
All I had to do was get my limbs to do what my brain was telling them to, lol.
 

picodon

Silver Member
Well you can probably play one or two songs until you "know" them and do it all off the top of your head, but is that enough? I think it's very useful to make a chart. I think it's just indispensible.

For a beginner like yours truly, transcribing the drums parts note for note made me listen much more carefully and while doing so I discovered subtleties I had not noticed after a few times of listening and playing along at the same time.

A pro drummer, like every other professional (photographer, carpenter, what have you), HAS to optimise his workflow, so he/she will definitely make charts (impossible to remember every detail of a dozen songs learnt in a couple days) that highlight the beginning, ending, fills, etc. because it's the most efficient and reliable way to do the job.

Apart from the arguments from both extremes of the experience spectrum, I think in all cases you will want to have some kind of support in front of you to know where you are, how many verses are there, how many measures is the solo… If you play along with your ipod, you may know your favorite song so well that you pick up the tiniest cue that tells you there is a fill coming. When you are playing with your band and the singer misses the beginning of the second verse or whatever other hickups may occur, you will get lost if all you are doing is keeping time, just playing according to the "flavor" of the song in your head. "Sorry guys, my only job is to go boom pang boom boom pang", that may not be enough to get to a proper end of the song. My 0.02$.
 

MJD

Silver Member
In the best case scenario paino/vocal sheet music and a drum chart. If not a chord chart and a recording. I tend to learn the songs as if i were going to play them on a pitched instrument and/or sing them. Alot of times i'll run through them on piano or guitar before I start practicing the drum parts. I do a roman numeral analysis on them if there is time. By the time i get to the rehearsal or audition i know the songs well enough to adapt to the changes in arrangement necessary for the ensemble assembled. Of course if they are nice enough to provide a drum part i can also sightread pretty well which can cut down rehearsal time considerably. Depends on the situation. Most of the more improv or rock oriented projects i've worked with would expect me to come up with drum parts. More classical projects just required reading a chart which is a bit easier a lot of the time.
 

arthurk1

Senior Member
For pop music I just listen over and over and play in on my legs or table with no drums usually and perhaps once behind a kit before I play it live.
 

shemp

Silver Member
I suspect we all respond to different methods and fnd some more immediately comfortable. For me, I can not respond to a chart unless it is strictly arrangement and even then I don't like it.....so, with that in mind

I'm learning 45 songs for a few sit in gigs next weekend...and I don't find the process easy. I put them in an iPod and pipe that into the edrum brain and go through them until they are second nature and I am on autopilot....I like to feel it. If there are songs with foundational grooves then I will have to work in those if they are challenging....other songs that have basic grooves, I just play the time and use random fills unless there is something of educational value in learning the recorded parts.

For me it's a long arduous process....complicated by the fact that I'm always running into parts that I cannot immediately play and that have to be practiced on their own.
 
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