Learning Songs as the New Drummer

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
I do agree that style has something to do with it. And also if the band already has professional recordings out or just some demo's.

The hard part is knowing what the band/artist wants. Some bands want a note-for-note replication, and other bands are looking for someone to change stuff up.

And the worst part is when the band doesn't know which way they want to go.
I once auditioned for a band that wanted someone to exactly replicate what the last drummer played without rehearsal, but then also complained they didn't like the way the last guy played. So it was a lose-lose situation.

There are all sorts of stories about when Journey auditioned drummers to replace Steve Smith in 1986, and they went through every big-name drummer at the time, but couldn't make up their minds because they didn't know what they were looking for. Rod Morgenstein said in an interview he showed up having learned every little nuisance of Steve Smith's parts, only to have the band tell him during the audition to not to play Smith's parts. Again, it was a lose-lose situation.

And there was Guns and Roses when Josh Freese left during the recording of Chinese Democracy, and Alx wanted Brain to re-record every thing Josh had done note for note, and when that was done, Alex asked him to then recut everything but not play what Josh had played. And the final album apparently had a cut and paste job of all 3 versions.
A well-rounded stance. Every opportunity is different. Sometimes you're provided instructions in advance. Other times you aren't. And in some cases, bands themselves don't even know what they're looking for. Flexibility is the name of the game.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
A counterpoint would be this: Spectacular is a rare quality. Lots of drummers are very, very good. Few are spectacular. Attempting to step into the exact shoes of a spectacular drummer could prove problematic even for another spectacular drummer, as no two can be exactly alike. Establishing your distinctive approach toward fills and so on could be the better plan, depending upon other factors, of course. Again, each situation should be analyzed independently.
Agreed, but with my caveat "unless instructed otherwise." If nothing is said, the assumption is to play the parts that they have apparently agreed-upon as a band. If they instruct me to feel free to give something a fresh approach, that's my cue to stray a little... if I want. But until told otherwise, I won't. The fact is, that's actually the harder route. 'Making it my own' is the easy way out, but learning specific parts to an existing song takes some work. Trust me, this is what I do for a living.

Bermuda
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
Agreed, but with my caveat "unless instructed otherwise." If nothing is said, the assumption is to play the parts that they have apparently agreed-upon as a band. If they instruct me to feel free to give something a fresh approach, that's my cue to stray a little... if I want. But until told otherwise, I won't. The fact is, that's actually the harder route. 'Making it my own' is the easy way out, but learning specific parts to an existing song takes some work. Trust me, this is what I do for a living.

Bermuda
No question. I'd never walk into a setting, pound my chest, and bellow, "We're doing it my way, fellas!" I'm thinking more along the lines of having the option to play something note for note versus leaving room for deviation. Obviously, if instructed to stick to the original script, that's what should be done without protest. Or, as you suggest, when unsure, follow the parts in place pretty closely to show both a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to learn as needed. But there are certainly times when a band might be looking for a new percussive path, as in the Journey example DrumEatDrum illustrates above, and the courage to be a little creative could provide quite a payoff. As I mentioned before, every situation is different. It's always good to be armed with as much information as possible.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
No question. I'd never walk into a setting, pound my chest, and bellow, "We're doing it my way, fellas!" I'm thinking more along the lines of having the option to play something note for note versus leaving room for deviation. Obviously, if instructed to stick to the original script, that's what should be done without protest. Or, as you suggest, when unsure, follow the parts in place pretty closely to show both a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to learn as needed. But there are certainly times when a band might be looking for a new percussive path, as in the Journey example DrumEatDrum illustrates above, and the courage to be a little creative could provide quite a payoff. As I mentioned before, every situation is different. It's always good to be armed with as much information as possible.
On the one hand, I get this. On the other hand, I often wonder, "How hard is this to figure out?" In all cases, the first words out of my mouth would be, "what do you want?", and we'd be having this discussion on the phone or, preferably, over a lunch or dinner. It's just people skills to discuss what's needed. I'm not on Omar Hakim's level, so I'm not assuming I'm going to be told anything close to letting me wing it. In a cover band situation (probably 99% of what I do), my job is to be the engine for the human juke box/radio band. Sometimes I think musos think they exist outside normal societal norms and alot of stuff goes uncommunicated, and in any money-making venture, this just isn't true. However you have to do it, either know your role, or find out ASAP and get it done.

It's funny, when I was in college, everything was so serious, and somewhere along the line people get cool and break down what they do to the essentials (maybe having kids does that, or going through several bad break-ups), and now in my 50s you just know how to take care of business while at the same time debating how you're gonna pay for that new fridgerator you bought because the old one died. Life happens. As much as I say "your mileage may vary", there are just things you don't have to travel for anymore - and finding out what your job in the band is should be one of those. Bands don't stay together because they're the perfect musicians we like to think we are, they stay together because they can have other conversations outside of the nuts and bolts of the job.

If the band wants it straight, or wants to find a new path for their project, they should be able to communicate that. If they can't, then maybe I don't need to be their drummer, either. I'll be honest and say that if I got to meet some bands and band leaders again, I wouldn't.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
On the one hand, I get this. On the other hand, I often wonder, "How hard is this to figure out?" In all cases, the first words out of my mouth would be, "what do you want?", and we'd be having this discussion on the phone or, preferably, over a lunch or dinner. It's just people skills to discuss what's needed. I'm not on Omar Hakim's level, so I'm not assuming I'm going to be told anything close to letting me wing it. In a cover band situation (probably 99% of what I do), my job is to be the engine for the human juke box/radio band. Sometimes I think musos think they exist outside normal societal norms and alot of stuff goes uncommunicated, and in any money-making venture, this just isn't true. However you have to do it, either know your role, or find out ASAP and get it done.

It's funny, when I was in college, everything was so serious, and somewhere along the line people get cool and break down what they do to the essentials (maybe having kids does that, or going through several bad break-ups), and now in my 50s you just know how to take care of business while at the same time debating how you're gonna pay for that new fridgerator you bought because the old one died. Life happens. As much as I say "your mileage may vary", there are just things you don't have to travel for anymore - and finding out what your job in the band is should be one of those. Bands don't stay together because they're the perfect musicians we like to think we are, they stay together because they can have other conversations outside of the nuts and bolts of the job.

If the band wants it straight, or wants to find a new path for their project, they should be able to communicate that. If they can't, then maybe I don't need to be their drummer, either. I'll be honest and say that if I got to meet some bands and band leaders again, I wouldn't.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to clarifying "What do you want?" is the response "We don't know." I've encountered musicians -- very good ones, in fact -- who are at a loss when it comes to drumming. It's just not an instrument they understand. They know they need drum parts but have no concrete expectations to communicate. That can be an advantage to us drummers, so long as we aren't seeking detailed instruction. I think the comfort or discomfort level in this sense comes down to personality.

"If the band wants it straight, or wants to find a new path for their project, they should be able to communicate that. If they can't, then maybe I don't need to be their drummer, either. I'll be honest and say that if I got to meet some bands and band leaders again, I
wouldn't."

That's an important point. An audition is really an interview, and it goes both ways. Just because a drummer can get the job done doesn't mean he should take the job. As with anything agreement, being the right fit goes beyond technical skills. Not every opportunity is worth pursuing.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Perhaps the biggest impediment to clarifying "What do you want?" is the response "We don't know." I've encountered musicians -- very good ones, in fact -- who are at a loss when it comes to drumming. It's just not an instrument they understand. They know they need drum parts but have no concrete expectations to communicate. That can be an advantage to us drummers, so long as we aren't seeking detailed instruction. I think the comfort or discomfort level in this sense comes down to personality.
This.

The context isn't cover bands, but an original band. And it can get weird in original bands.

I've met some brilliant songwriters who didn't know the difference between a whole note and an eight note. Heck, some famous songwriters really don't know much about music, but they can hear stuff in their head and get it out.

The other aspect is how established is this original band an what do they have to offer?
If we're talking a band with an album out, and a fan base, then yes, you're going to need to at least learn those songs pretty close to original and probably be spot on. But you also have a good opportunity to gig and such.

But it the band isn't established, and they just have some demos, and there is no pay, and no shows, nothing going on but potential, you're coming in at the bottom but with the promise of being a fully equal member of the band, do you really want to be treated as an employee and have to learn the last guy's parts that no one's actually even heard yet? Or do you want to be treated like a band member since it's your life too?
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
This.

The context isn't cover bands, but an original band. And it can get weird in original bands.

I've met some brilliant songwriters who didn't know the difference between a whole note and an eight note. Heck, some famous songwriters really don't know much about music, but they can hear stuff in their head and get it out.

The other aspect is how established is this original band an what do they have to offer?
If we're talking a band with an album out, and a fan base, then yes, you're going to need to at least learn those songs pretty close to original and probably be spot on. But you also have a good opportunity to gig and such.

But it the band isn't established, and they just have some demos, and there is no pay, and no shows, nothing going on but potential, you're coming in at the bottom but with the promise of being a fully equal member of the band, do you really want to be treated as an employee and have to learn the last guy's parts that no one's actually even heard yet? Or do you want to be treated like a band member since it's your life too?
Good points all around. The equation is rarely straightforward. A drummer's work is never done.
 

adamosmianski

Senior Member
I would start by listening to their stuff A LOT, and very closely. Knowing the arrangements is probably the most important thing. Being able to play the tunes note for note would probably be a good idea in case they say, "Jason always did the BAP DUGGA DUGGA DOOM thing. Can you you do that?" I'd likely put a little of myself in it where I can while still respecting the arrangements. We're not drum machines after all.
 

NouveauCliche

Senior Member
I just ran into this - I do that online music series and we had a UK Rockstar guy that came in and didn't have a band but wanted a full band for his episode so he asked if we could do it last minute - which is the first one of those "need to learn some songs quickly then turn around do a whole show with maybe 2 runs through each song before" kinda deals I've had in years.

What I found was obviously nailing the feel the of the song - but there are certain parts or hits that more important than others to reproduce the tone of the song. So I listened to each song and made notes for the parts that felt important....big tom build into a chorus - or signature hat/snare pattern at the beginning of the song. Then there's fills and stuff that you could tell were off the cuff and just weren't as important to the song but more important to know there was SOME kind of fill there, etc.

So for me - unless I'm specifically asked to nail XY part - then I do a lot of my own judgement as to what is and isn't important to a song that someone else has played first.

I find replicating parts incredibly tedious and I've never, EVER played in a cover band for that reason....even with Jazz I've always tried avoid standards and played with people creating original music.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
But there are certainly times when a band might be looking for a new percussive path, as in the Journey example DrumEatDrum illustrates above, and the courage to be a little creative could provide quite a payoff.
In those scenarios, the band will tell you that's what they want. Until you hear that from them, it's smart to play it by the book. Don't disrupt their vibe and feel with new parts, at least not right at the start. Over time - and I mean months, not days or weeks - you might ask to try a different fill or groove. But that's a big might. You have to tread carefully about changing things when you're a hired gun.

Until told otherwise, it's not your job to make the parts your own... it's your job to make the parts theirs.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
In those scenarios, the band will tell you that's what they want. Until you hear that from them, it's smart to play it by the book. Don't disrupt their vibe and feel with new parts, at least not right at the start. Over time - and I mean months, not days or weeks - you might ask to try a different fill or groove. But that's a big might. You have to tread carefully about changing things when you're a hired gun.

Until told otherwise, it's not your job to make the parts your own... it's your job to make the parts theirs.
Yeah, I'm not disputing any of that, nor am I recommending that parts be changed unilaterally. The key comes down to communication, knowing what's expected before you go in. If a band gives me a ten-song recording with a previous drummer and asks me to learn the parts as is, that's what I'm doing. If they give me the same recording but instruct me to preserve the grooves while devising my own the fills, that's what I'm doing instead. It's like any other job. Unless you're the boss, you do what's asked of you.

But take the following scenario: I'm auditioning with a band who had a previous drummer. The band tells me, quite clearly, that I'm free to play the drum parts exactly as the previous drummer did or to make minor changes so long as the structure and feel of the song remain intact. Chances are high I'm going with the second option. If they're giving me that freedom, I intend to exercise it. I see no need to adhere to another drummer's precise template when I'm told I don't have to. It comes down to a judgment call, and we call go about that differently.
 

TK-421

Senior Member
My 2 cents.

Musicians aren’t Xerox machines. No two musicians will play anything exactly alike. Your drums and cymbals will sound different. The way you hold your sticks and hit the drums will be different. Your internal meter will be different. So even if you tried a note-for-note duplication, it will not sound the same. Therefore I generally don‘t go down this route.

In fact, I‘ve replaced many drummers in many bands, and I always approach it the same way. I learn the arrangements and the spirit of each song and then play what comes naturally. In many cases, because I’ve listened to the original version many times while learning it, what comes naturally is close to the original (but it always has some of “me” in it). Other times, I hear the song differently and end up coming up with my own part. When that happens, my part stays true to the arrangement and spirit of the song, but if I feel that I can evolve that spirit in a good way, then I‘ll try to do that.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I see no need to adhere to another drummer's precise template when I'm told I don't have to.
What do you do with parts that they played that make musical sense, and that you like? Do you change those just because you can?

Let's put it this way, nobody will chastise you for playing the parts (unless they specifically asked you not to.) You cannot go wrong with that approach. It's not your job to show them what you think they need, or what you want. Playing the parts is the way to impress them. Nothing brings a song to a halt faster than a drummer interjecting new stuff that wasn't asked for.

Maybe that's playing it safe, but there are certain rules, concepts, protocols when playing with others, especially someone new. I try to follow those basics, and have done well (by all accounts) on various levels. Of course some people say I'm stuck in a box, to which I reply "yes, and there's a bunch of money is there with me!" I'm not suggesting I play only to make money... I play because I like playing. But I'm also pleased that I've been able to make a nice living doing it. :)

Bermuda
 
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Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
... I'll be honest and say that if I got to meet some bands and band leaders again, I wouldn't....
That applies to any area of life i can think of. Certainly there’s been co-workers and bosses that I would be happy to go back in time and avoid working with. Not a lot, but a couple definitely spring to mind.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
You have to tread carefully about changing things when you're a hired gun.

Until told otherwise, it's not your job to make the parts your own... it's your job to make the parts theirs.
Yeah, but the OP's question is not about being a hired a gun. It's about joining an original band
as a band member.

Being a hired gun is being an employee. Of course, you do what you're told cause you're getting a regular paycheck for it.
Being a band member is being a partner, and you may or may not ever get paid for your efforts, depending on how well the band does or doesn't do.
 

moxman

Silver Member
I'd learn the other guy's parts first - for continuity and also if we was 'spectacular'.. there's probably a lot of thought that went into crafting the drum parts.. as time goes on if you get better ideas either for parts, groove, sound etc. go for it!
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
What do you do with parts that they played that make musical sense, and that you like? Do you change those just because you can?
I'd probably keep almost all the drum parts as is, to whatever extent that's possible. Change for the mere sake of change would make no sense at all. In fact, it could be a tremendous waste of time.

I get everything you're saying, and it makes perfect sense. I'm not trying to discredit your methods or recommendations; I'm just exchanging ideas. For me, the slight risk in attempting to reproduce precisely what another drummer has done is that any minor departure from it ( e.g., a tom fill instead of a snare fill) could be deemed an error. On the contrary, if it's understood from the outset that I can employ a "reasonable" range of creative license, I can grant myself a bit more leeway in terms of subtlety. Again, I don't think there's a right or wrong outlook here. Every strategy has risks, which is why auditions are a roll of the dice. I'm all for doing what the moment demands. It's more about taking a situational approach than it is about enforcing a universal law.
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Yeah, but the OP's question is not about being a hired a gun. It's about joining an original band
as a band member.

Being a hired gun is being an employee. Of course, you do what you're told cause you're getting a regular paycheck for it.
Being a band member is being a partner, and you may or may not ever get paid for your efforts, depending on how well the band does or doesn't do.
Ah, you're right. In that case, same approach - the new drummer would be expected to create parts for future songs, but not to re-write existing material (unless specifically asked to do so.)
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
Unless instructed otherwise, I would make it as close to note-for-note as possible.

If the last drummer was spectacular, it must have been for the parts he played. Is there any reason to change that?
ALWAYS start with getting it as close as you can. Your natural "you" playing will bleed into that, more and more as you become comfortable with the material.
 

jansara

Junior Member
You have just joined a new (to you) band. Their last drummer was spectacular. He went on vacation and never came back. The band only plays originals, and is a pretty big deal.

Do you:

A. Learn the songs note for note
B. Make it close enough

This is not a cover band. This band tours and has the potential for being big. So what's it gonna be and why?
They hired you because they like how you play.

Learn the songs and play you, being careful not to kill the band's feel.

If they expect a carbon copy of the other drummer's feel and chops, re-think the deal.
 
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