How do you personally learn a song?

JT1

Silver Member
Alright i had a bit of a shocking revelation when i played along to my mp3 player tonight (first time in over a year i would say). When i was playing to songs, things that i should be able to do i just couldn't. Listening to myself you would have thought i was a beginner. Honestly and i have been playing almost 7 years and i sound shocking when trying to play along to songs (mostly on fills). What the hell is wrong with me guys? It's so frustrating and i don't know how to sort this stuff out.

How do you learn parts of songs that you can't play? Where do you start? I would love to know all of your suggestions and that way i can try them all and find one that suits me best.

Thanks for the tips fellow drum maniacs!
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
How do you learn parts of songs that you can't play? Where do you start?
I start by listening carefully to figure out what's being played. Then if I think it's necessary, I might even jot down the part by hand, or in a notation program and print it off so I can have a visual reference.

Then, I take everything very, very slowly, one note at a time and get the basic idea happening. I'll do this without a click at first, just to get the movements in the right order. Then, I'll often use a click and work on getting them into time, but still at a very slow tempo. After I've become comfortable with the part, I'll try to push the tempo up a few notches, then a few more.

Once I get the part under reasonable control, then I work on inserting it into context. For instance, if it's a difficult fill, I'll mentally loop the bar before it, and the bar after it (or more) and work on moving in and out of the fill. I'll go over it until I can do that with some fluidity, then try to increase the tempo up to performance speed. That said, this later process can take days, even weeks if it's particularly demanding.

Also, if I realise that the problem I'm having is a particular kind of technical or coordination problem I'll begin work on exercises designed to work on that aspect of my playing so that similar figures won't give me trouble in the future.
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
The way I was taught (years ago) was to sloww the tempo way down. We had the"luxury" of a record player that could be lowered down to 16rpm wich was around half the tempo of a 33rpm record. This unfortunately also dropped the pitch to the point where it was sometimes difficult to hear exactly what was being played.

Now I use a program called "Audacity" that allows me to reach into the computer, pull out a file and drop the tempo without the pitch changing.
There maybe a hundred other programs that can do this easier, I just know this one because it was a free donload.

So that's what I do, start slowly, break down the instrumentation, transcribe the parts if you're able to do so. Play it a hundred times perfectly before increasing the tempo.
 

KnockOut86

Senior Member
First try to learn the main rhythm and beat for the different sections of the song. Intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, etc. Don't worry about nailing fills and all the little nuances, just get the main beat down and the timing and structure of the song. Once you are able to play the song all the way through like this you have a solid foundation built on which you can then piece by piece dissect the little fills and begin to practice them individually.

If you have the software (there are free apps on an ipod touch/iphone) select a phrase of the song that you want to practice, say one measure before a fill and after, an put it on repeat and also slow it down by a 1/4. Then practice putting together the different sections of the song with all of the fills and details. First start with the intro, once you have that nailed go to the first verse, once that is nailed try them both together. And on and on and on. Make sure once you have a certain section finished you go back and play the previous parts with it to get the flow and so you don't forget the parts you just learned.

Take notes that will help you remember certain things and write them in a way that you can easily remember and readily translate on the drums.

I am the drummer for a Def Leppard tribute band and have used this method to learn about twenty songs so far.

Good luck!!
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
How do you learn parts of songs that you can't play? Where do you start?
Yeah, I encountered the same problem from time to time. In cases like this, I'd just try to get as close as I could whilst remaining true to the original 'feel' or vibe of the music. I would try to recreate the sounds I was hearing as opposed to being perfectionist and trying to work out exactly what was being played.

I think as long as you stay true to the original 'vibe', then near enough can be good enough. If it was just too difficult and didn't capture the feeling of the song then I'd be trying to suggest an alternative.
 

JT1

Silver Member
I start by listening carefully to figure out what's being played. Then if I think it's necessary, I might even jot down the part by hand, or in a notation program and print it off so I can have a visual reference.

Then, I take everything very, very slowly, one note at a time and get the basic idea happening. I'll do this without a click at first, just to get the movements in the right order. Then, I'll often use a click and work on getting them into time, but still at a very slow tempo. After I've become comfortable with the part, I'll try to push the tempo up a few notches, then a few more.

Once I get the part under reasonable control, then I work on inserting it into context. For instance, if it's a difficult fill, I'll mentally loop the bar before it, and the bar after it (or more) and work on moving in and out of the fill. I'll go over it until I can do that with some fluidity, then try to increase the tempo up to performance speed. That said, this later process can take days, even weeks if it's particularly demanding.

Also, if I realise that the problem I'm having is a particular kind of technical or coordination problem I'll begin work on exercises designed to work on that aspect of my playing so that similar figures won't give me trouble in the future.
Thanks Boomka and to all the rest of you guys. Once again you have another brilliant answer. I tried this tonight by listening over and over again to a couple of fills and it took a while but i got a pattern down closest to what i thought was being played. Now i just need to apply it to the kit. I can't believe it can take weeks i'm so impatient it really is a bad thing. Well i just want to see if writing it down can help me first.

I'm going to try everything that people have suggested so far, please keep the answers coming, this really is a cry for help!
 

drummer70

Junior Member
The way I was taught (years ago) was to sloww the tempo way down. We had the"luxury" of a record player that could be lowered down to 16rpm wich was around half the tempo of a 33rpm record. This unfortunately also dropped the pitch to the point where it was sometimes difficult to hear exactly what was being played.

Now I use a program called "Audacity" that allows me to reach into the computer, pull out a file and drop the tempo without the pitch changing.
There maybe a hundred other programs that can do this easier, I just know this one because it was a free donload.

So that's what I do, start slowly, break down the instrumentation, transcribe the parts if you're able to do so. Play it a hundred times perfectly before increasing the tempo.
VERY cool!! That's a handy little tool!!! I think the biggest problem with learning something that's complex AND fast sometimes is just hearing what is actually being played. Not to mention that the easiest way to learn something is to slow it WAY down until you get the pattern down. I LOVE the idea of being able to slow something down and learn it while playing along to the headphones! Thanks for the tip and link!!!
 

Brundlefly

Senior Member
Here's my process:

  1. First I listen to the song
  2. Next I listen to the song again, focusing on the drum part. Sometimes I re-listen to specific parts until they are clear in my head
  3. Next, I play the song with no drums or sticks. Just my hands hitting the tops of my knees and my feet tapping on the floor. A nice quite way to work out all of the basics and get the feel for the song with out an entire drumset getting in the way.
  4. Finally, I hop on the kit and focus on the feel, cymbal choices and movement around the kit. If the song is particularly difficult or has a lot intricate parts to memorize, I might break the song into smaller MP3s so I can practice each section in isolation.

I find that working my way like this makes that first time playing the song behind the kit go much smoother and I have a better sense for the fine details in the song.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
The way I've always done it is pretty similar to Brundlefly's approach.

I am now trying to think a bit more about the mood of the piece - is it happy, sad, slinky, sexy, funny, etc. I want to see the lyrics and work out what the song is all about.

That way, if the song is about going back to living a simple life then I wouldn't want to play a Billy Cobham style fill. Actually I never play Billy Cobham fills, but if I could play them I wouldn't. I know that sounds slightly insane but you get my drift :)

Slowing down is the way to go IMO.
 

Thaard

Platinum Member
Varies from song to song. A straightforward tune: Listen to it a couple of times figuring where the changes and stops are. Then playing along to it, to get the general feel to it.

Difficult tunes: Like the first, but slowing down the tune and playing with the original drums. Try to figure out what the drummer is playing. Then you need practice every part slow until you feel comfortable enough to play it at normal speed.
 

JT1

Silver Member
The way I was taught (years ago) was to sloww the tempo way down. We had the"luxury" of a record player that could be lowered down to 16rpm wich was around half the tempo of a 33rpm record. This unfortunately also dropped the pitch to the point where it was sometimes difficult to hear exactly what was being played.

Now I use a program called "Audacity" that allows me to reach into the computer, pull out a file and drop the tempo without the pitch changing.
There maybe a hundred other programs that can do this easier, I just know this one because it was a free donload.

So that's what I do, start slowly, break down the instrumentation, transcribe the parts if you're able to do so. Play it a hundred times perfectly before increasing the tempo.
Thanks Jeremy, this is great i'm going to try this out as soon as i get a chance as some of the fills are too fast to work out what is going on. I know a lot of people use guitar pro too to slow things down however i find that the tabs aren't always accurate. But this is a fantastic alternative, many thanks for this!
 

Neil

Senior Member
I've had similar issues in the past, I play in a covers band and sometimes getting all those little bits in the right places can be a very time consuming.

I listen to the song, first and foremost. Note out the structure and then start to look at the fills and then write those out to, its the best way to learn something.
Worst case scenario when I haven't got time or am being inpatient is to jump on you tube and find a video of someone else playing the song. Then I can see what they're doing to get a better idea of the fills and where they fit in the songs.
 

DestinationDrumming

Senior Member
I've had similar issues in the past, I play in a covers band and sometimes getting all those little bits in the right places can be a very time consuming.

I listen to the song, first and foremost. Note out the structure and then start to look at the fills and then write those out to, its the best way to learn something.
Worst case scenario when I haven't got time or am being inpatient is to jump on you tube and find a video of someone else playing the song. Then I can see what they're doing to get a better idea of the fills and where they fit in the songs.
Me too! Then I download the video from Youtube and watch it over and over again eachtime adding a little more until I have it. Windows media player also has a slowdown function...very handy!
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
What is making me re-learn the way I learn songs is when I started to listen System of a Down and later again when I listened to Tool.

System was very straightforward and groove-oriented and so I learned a lot of the songs atleast reasonably well, and some I focused on and got down very well (Toxicity, Chop Suey, Soldier Side, unfortunately my lack of technical ability has shown with how fast the tempo is, blasting, double-kick work and such, not harsh music but still...). Mostly I learned by ear but if there was something that was confusing I would see tabs and that gave me a new idea, so I go back to learning the song.

After a while when all the songs by System that were left were too technical (like I said...my sticking speed is shocking, struggling at 170 bpm single stroke roll sixteenths).

...and they got boring, then my metalhead friend (yes, also a drummer and a guy that listens to Scandinavian Death Metal and Meshuggah, has much better speed but an alien to double-kick drumming) introduced me to Tool, prog rock/prog metal, got the songs and loved it, good drumming songs and "good challenges" I thought...

...and so I'm learning Schism, it is written in alternating odd-time and just very complex in general. There was no way I would of found out the verse was in 5/8 & 7/8 alternating and the chorus was in 6/8 & 7/8 alternating and with a bridge that was 6/4 x 3 & 11/8 without finding tabs. I found the most accurate tabs I could find and put it into TabTrax and printed it and I could learn it with the music infront of me...

Tab is the most common form of writing drumkit music on the net and TabTrax converts it into notation, makes things easier.

...but another obstacle...electronic drums interlude, I guess I would have to skip that since I don't have e-drums and the interlude is so damn complicated that the notation can't describe it well enough, hard to comprehend how that guy on youtube did a piano cover encompassing this e-drum interlude...

...and other obstacle...I can't finish learning the song because Danny Carey just happened to decide to put some double bass work on the last part of the song, unfortunately I don't see me developing that double-kick speed in the near future.

Okay summing it up: Sorry if I'm a bit off topic but that's the way I go about learning songs; if tabs are a resource out there, use them, using them as help doesn't make you any less of a drummer.
 

JT1

Silver Member
Okay summing it up: Sorry if I'm a bit off topic but that's the way I go about learning songs; if tabs are a resource out there, use them, using them as help doesn't make you any less of a drummer.
Yeah of course not i agree 100% however i feel that not being able to play a song when listening to it does =( it kinda gets me down you know.
 

mcbike

Silver Member
It depends how i'm trying to learn the song, sometimes I just listen to the song a few times and play my version of it. This is what I do if my band is doing a cover, or if somebody demoed a song first.

If I am trying to learn a song note for note, I usually start by transcribing it. I make a loose chart that basically shows the different beats in the songs and counts the bars or repeats, then I will do a full transcription of any measures with fills. Then I play along to the song a few times, and check my transcription and make corrections.

Then a few more times of playing it and it will be memorized.

I have a playlist on my ipod called drum covers and I usually put that playlist on random and play along to the songs that I have learned.
 

Concrete Pete

Senior Member
Hey Crew,

What Brundlefly said!

One thing that has helped me immensely is to download the songs on my MP3 player, and listen to them repeatedly while working, driving, shopping, etc.

I use LIMEWIRE for free MP3 downloads-- great asset.

Cheers,
C. P.
 

yesdog

Silver Member
Most rock songs are fairly predictable, I first get the tempo and feel, and find the key fills that make the song what it is. After that I figure out how many times the verses and choures repeat and when there are breaks in the song. For very challenging stuff like tears of joy for example, I would break the song down into little pieces like learning the first eight bars or the first four bars. when I get that down i go on to the next part , then play the first ywo parts together and move on to the next, until you get it nailed.
 

ChipJohns

Senior Member
If I have a recording I listen to it. If there are some parts hard to figure out, I'll write them out.

Learning the notes is usually pretty quick. Next is learning the blocking of the song.

Have a good friend (Keyboards) who went to Berkley. He played in an band I was in early on when he was still in 10th grade. He played with Scott Ambush when Scott was still in Frederick, MD, (my hometown,) right before he left for SG. After he was back from school we needed him to fill in on last minute notice. In between sets we were out in a car and he was listening to cassettes of our song lists. Then going in and playing them cold, and, we were playing some interesting stuff a the time... I was always jealous of that..!!
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
Most rock songs are fairly predictable, I first get the tempo and feel, and find the key fills that make the song what it is. After that I figure out how many times the verses and choures repeat and when there are breaks in the song. For very challenging stuff like tears of joy for example, I would break the song down into little pieces like learning the first eight bars or the first four bars. when I get that down i go on to the next part , then play the first ywo parts together and move on to the next, until you get it nailed.
Agreed. If one listens to songs that use odd-time signatures (Meshuggah, Tool, Dream Theater), one would also have to count in the bars to find the time signatures, you can't always assume that all music is in 4/4.
 
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