How do you personally learn a song?


Silver Member
Thanks for all of the responses guys, there are some great ideas here and i'm sure they won't only benefit me but beginners and people who struggle with this sort of thing too. Tonight is the night of truth to see if this stuff is going to pay off!


Senior 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!

when learning something new i listen to the song and count bars and right out a chart that would just look like a bunch of number in a row. but i go no higher than 8 in terms of each number reference. rather than writing 32 i'd right 8 8 8 8 - because for me its easier to read and feel .

i also group the number of bars by phrasing. so if its a 16 bar verse but then has an extra two bars before the next section i'd write 8 8 2. if a group of 8 bars has for example the first 4 without drums and the second with drums, i'd change using 8, to 4 4.

second time listening through i'd name the sections above each grouping of bars and line them off so it may look like / 4 / 8 8 / 4 8 / ect. with "intro" "verse" "chorus" on top.

after that, third time listening i'd make any notations if there are figures or hits or even a fill if its of importance to the tune. and little word notes about the feel of each section underneath the numbers. like "backbeat". " tom thing" ect.

after the third listen I usually have a decent idea of the feel and form of the tune. i try to lock in with core grooves for each of the sections of the song.

depending on how easy or complex the piece is i might need a lot more listens.

if im hearing tracks without drums, then after doing above im ready to play along with the track or with the band. and through that you can iron out the kinks and throw around ideas to find what works for the final product.

if the track already has drums then, probably still more listening and then start playing along to get the specific parts down.

hope it helps or gives you some ideas to create a system that works for you.


Senior Member
Normally I'll listen to the song I'm learning a couple times, and do my best to remember the song. If I can't do a part, I'll listen to it a couple times and play it until I get it right, or at least close enough. If I need to write something down, I will.

But recently I've taken it upon myself to write out Bill Bruford's part in the Yes song Heart of the Sunrise, which has a good few subtleties and an arrangement that I just won't be able to remember otherwise.


I'll listen to it alot and then start playing it. When I find out what parts of the song are hard to play I keep playing them over and over and then move on to the next thing.


Senior Member
Hi Guys and Gals,

Great question JT1! It's very interesting to hear everyone's different approach.

Here's mine; most of the time when I have to learn a song there is not so much time, so as I listen to it the first time, I try to make a rough chart, writing the bar lines as the bars go by. I stop the player as little as possible while trying to get the form written down. (in fact, this is kind of a reading exercise, since I don't read so much on the job.) Sometimes repeat signs and first and second endings can help in this process.

So, after a couple of listens, there is a chart that shows where the verses, choruses, and bridge or middle 8, are.This also has the basic beat for each of these parts.

Then I listen to any fills that are a part of the song and write them out if they need to be reproduced.

After this is done, I take any fill or part that I can not play comfortably and loop it.
A fun thing to do is to play the loop of a fill from a song in many different ways, and starting on different parts of the beat. That way you can use your own version of this in another time and place.

Another great thing about this is that if you keep the chart handy, even a year later you can play the song well using the chart to remind you whats going on.

Thanks for reading and happy drumming!

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
Most of the time I just listen to the song over and over again. I keep a CD in my car and just play it non-stop. I try not to drill myself on it behind the kit, because then when it comes time to audition or play it with a band I get too worried about what part of the song is next and tend not to listen to the other guys playing.

I do my best when I am listening to the other musicians and playing off them. If I just listen to the song over and over I will remember how it goes once I hear the band playing it.


Platinum Member
I listen to the song on repeat for sometimes hours. Then i tap out the beat and fills. After i feel comfortable doing that i move behind the kit and start working on the main groove and slowly work in the fills.


Senior Member
i only play covers, so the first thing I do is try to find drum score or if that fails drum tab on the net. These are usually not that accurate, but the structure is normally ok.
Then bassed on what I have found i write one sheet with a basic road map (Intro 8 bars, verse 7 bars fill, chorus 14 bars stop etc) and listen to the tune to make sure the structure is ok, this first basic sheet is a good quick aid memoir if you come back to the song later to remember how it goes. Then I write out a score based on the best internet version. I check that against the track and make adjustments on the bits where i hear it differently.

Once I know how it was played originally I work out what I can achieve with practice or what is going to be beyond me in the near future . Like lots of others,, i start off section by section on the tricky stuff and build up temp till it is 10 bpm faster than the track, if I can play it faster by myself it gives me confidence about playing it at the right speed with the band.

This is how I learn the different fills, feels and techniques.Next is to practice swapping between them. (3bars of chorus, fill, 3 bars of verse, odd crash break etc) round and round till they are smooth.

I make sure I am as good as i possibly can be on the intro to give me confidence when we start playing it at the first practice, but I dont bother learning the structure. I take the sheets along, stick them to the kit with magnets and read them. By the time the band is ready to gig it has been absorbed by some sort of osmosis.


I put it on a c.d. and listen to it over and over again. By the time I have it down cold, I'm sick and tired of hearing it.


Silver Member
I'm really liking these suggestions of writing things down as in the order and where fills come in etc. It seems that it has been really beneficial to most people here. I have started improving learning songs now as i have started to concentrate more on execution and as a result i have had more confidence as i know how to execute well before it even happens. I think i will start using these charts that people are on about it sounds like one of the best ideas to me. Cheers for all the responses guys and gals.


Silver Member
I've only signed up to the forums today and this is my very 1st post ever in here.
Reading this thread though has made me feel a whole lot better about my learning ability, a friend who plays in a band, their drummer was hospitalised and they asked me to stand in for 35 numbers with 10 days notice and 2 practices and I really struggled to get up to speed. Some the songs I know as I'd done them in my band but some I'd never heard, think one of the most useful things I did was as others have suggested was burn them onto a CD and play it constantly in the car etc to at least "familiarise" myself with the shape especially the ones I didn't know. Lot of other useful tips in here though such as slowing down the songs and just writting parts out which I'll try in the future and I didn't realise how much effort / attention people put in.
As the original poster said some very useful information for him but also other people as well, thanks to all for the input !!!