NEED TIPS: Learning Drums By Ear

I've found reading sheet music to be quite easy for me.
However, learning songs by ear is extremely challenging.

Any tips for learning by ear?? I feel like I NEED the notation and sheet music.
..............and reading sheet music is not very metal...... lol
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
I'm the total opposite, I learn well by ear but not so great with sheet music.

Practice playing along to songs and familiarize yourself with the melody so you remember the structure. That's how I do it. Beatles are a good starting point.
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
For any musician who does more than their own band, knowing how to write fast, clear and usable charts is a necessity. It doesn't take much. It has to be clear and be written ina style that readable even if one's handwriting sucks.

Now, when it come to transcribing, it depends.

If think getting a good idea of the tune and sections first is a good idea. Then you also see why things are played and why they are played in the way they are.

Understand that playing all the choppy things that appear in someone's drumming, while cool, are usually not essential to the song and in many styles putting your own stamp on it is ok or even expected.

Song structure and appropriate buildup is the thing and it's very likely that your circumstances, numbers of musicians, instruments, level of the musicians and just other artistic inclinations might require you to adapt. It doesn't take much in terms of tempo and timbre for a new groove and different types of fills and dynamics to be needed.

For specific parts. Isolate the section, find the groove first and then figure out the rest over time. Be patient. You will get better by just doing it. If it's all you do for hours every day, you'll get better fast. If you haveto, there are tools like the Amazing Slowdowner and others that can slow down music and also have a few filters that might help picking out certain things.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
If you want to learn by ear without notational aids, try air drumming. I know it sounds silly, and you might want to lock yourself away where no one can see you, but it's helped me enormously.

If we're only talking about learning parts, as opposed to stick control or other technique issues, then going through the motions while seeing in your mind's eye how the part goes is a valuable exercise. Plus, you can actually hear the part without it getting buried under your attempt to play it. Listening is the key to learning by ear.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Try listening exercises;

Listen to a song, and try and identify every instrument in the mix.

Try selective listening, meaning try and pick out just the bass line, just the rhythm guitar, just the piano....Oh yeah and just the drums. Try and pick out the bass drum by itself. Then the hi hat or ride. Then the snare. You get the idea.

Try and pick out the background stuff, not the out front stuff. The out front stuff is easy usually.

Try and understand what part of the song you're listening to. You should always know this, you're the navigator of the song. Are you listening to a verse, chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, into, outtro, breakdown, ornament (a one time thing) solo, or whatever.

Once you break songs up into verses, choruses bridges et al, it makes it easier to understand. One whole song is made of a few different parts, in a certain chronological order, which I call the arrangement. Like when I make my own little charts, I write down intro/ verse/verse/chrous/solo/bridge/verse/chorus/ending. Except I abbreviate it. Sometimes I notate the bars of each part if I'm not familiar with the song. I also write what the bass drum pattern is, 1/4's 1/8's or 1/16th on the ride or hi hat, what time sig, where the back beat is, and anything else that will jog my memory about the beat. I don't write tempo down, I remember the feel, but that's helpful too.

Listen with a purpose. Decode the song, divide and conquer.
 

tcspears

Gold Member
If you want to learn by ear without notational aids, try air drumming. I know it sounds silly, and you might want to lock yourself away where no one can see you, but it's helped me enormously.
This is exactly what I was going to say! Try air drumming, tapping along, or playing with stick on a quiet pad or pillow. Focus on what the drums are doing in the song and play along.

Eventually you'll realize that every genre (and sub genre) will usually have a few main grooves, and each song is just a variation.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
This is exactly what I was going to say! Try air drumming, tapping along, or playing with stick on a quiet pad or pillow. Focus on what the drums are doing in the song and play along.

Eventually you'll realize that every genre (and sub genre) will usually have a few main grooves, and each song is just a variation.
At the risk of disagreeing with some fine minds...I'm not sure I can get on board with the air drumming thing for ear development and here's why...

A person can't listen 100% when they are trying to move their arms. I contend that complete and total listening immersion is required to develop one's ear. Moving arms would subtract brain power and focus from total listening. The goal here is to work out the ear and brain, not the arms (JMO)

If a person's ear/brain is musically developed in this area, that person should be able to listen to a song, (however much listening is required to get it ingrained in their brain) never practice it, and be able to play it at a gig cold. Assuming it's not wildly complex, and assuming the physical ability to play the part is there. (I couldn't apply what I'm preaching to a song with double bass because I can't play double bass)

It all happens in the brain first. One must break the drum part down to it's constituent parts. Once you know exactly what the bass drum, snare and hi hat or ride is doing, that should be enough info to play the beat. With me, once the drum part and the arrangement are in my brain, I don't need to physically practice it to play it. I know what I am going to do.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
Can't disagree with your reasoning, Larry, because from a strictly listening POV, some brain power is getting diverted to the physical.

My drumming started several years before I got my first kit, so air drumming was all I had. It was a lot of fun flailing in the air to Keith Moon mayhem, and waving my arm *over there* to catch the big crash I knew was coming. It was the beginnings of heading down this path. Ditto for Van Halen, The Police, Led Zeppelin and everything else that was on the radio back in the late '70s.

I got my first kit the same year Moving Pictures came out in '81 and like most kids my age, Neil Peart was it. Air drumming along to that was the only way I knew to get a handle on not just the beats and fills he was doing, but it was how I came to understand how he organized his parts. And it gave me more than enough material to figure out and hammer into place when I did get on my drums.

I did a lot of straight listening too, of course, but drumming is a lot like dancing in that you can't learn just by watching (or listening, in this case); you have to actually get up and start moving to it. At some point, you have to connect what you're hearing to the corresponding physicality of it. Plus, it's a good callus builder!

YMMV

Oh, and I still air drum to just about everything. Only difference is now I'm old enough to not care who sees how ridiculous I look!
 
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Woolwich

Silver Member
I listen to the song (usually in the car) to get an idea of it, then if needs be I'll print the lyrics out and make a few little notes on them (nothing complicated, just notes to self like "switch to ride" or "the awkward bit") and take them to rehearsal. Once there I usually don't end up using them as the act of writing the notes out in the first place has cemented stuff in my brain.
 

Macarina

Silver Member
Completely agree with the listening process. I fail to do this soooo much. I don't know how many times I've sit down to play with a song and I just jump in and start playing. If I'm sitting at my kit, it's incredibly hard to restrain from playing.

As far as Air Drumming, might I suggest an alternative...

Tapping. Sitting normal, hands on laps (or table). Just using a finger from each hand to tap out the core beat.

Tapping would be minimal movement and giving you the opportunity to really concentrate on the song, unlike, as others have mentioned, flailing will distract the brain and take away from the concentration on the key strokes.

I'll do the tapping thing in the car, but I'm not advocating it. I just notice it's something I do when I'm listening to the songs I need to learn.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
After many years of playing the drums and playing in bands, I am thoroughly convinced that the ability to play a musical instrument is directly proportional to the way one listens to music. If you can listen to music and hear the individual parts being played by each instrument and voice, then you can learn to play those parts yourself.


.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
Okay, let me put it another way.

Air drumming: check

Tapping on legs, steering wheel, table, etc: check

Following along with sticks on a pillow or practice pad: check

Beat-boxing with your mouth: check

Listening ad nausium while you go about you day: check

Playing your favorite songs on infinite repeat while you sleep at night: check

I don't think I've ever given any of this much thought until now, but any and all methods that get the drumming info into your brain helps. I find it a little surprising that there's any controversy here at all. Like I said, I've never given much thought to any of this stuff, so to think there's a single best method - or certain methods to avoid - seems completely ludicrous to me.

If you're a fan of music and a fan of drumming, you're listening and drumming along all the time anyway just as part of your day - and as part of your life. Not even sure where the question comes from, tbh.

Like man, you guys are way overthinking this one.
 

Zickosdrummer

Senior Member
I agree with writing down the lyrics to get the gist of the song. I am a reader and not a metal drummer but this is how I learned my first metal song (which I had never heard before) in less than an hour.

Now playing by ear rather than learning by ear is another matter. First, it can be very painful to the side of the head. I recommend using sticks rather than ears. It is much more effective. :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Like man, you guys are way overthinking this one.
Like this is the first time that happened lol. That's what we do here!

I think it's a fairly important discussion. I've always had the ability to learn by ear. I never had to develop it. I can't even imagine how music would affect me if I couldn't mentally pick the song apart. I imagine it would be a little overwhelming.

Doesn't everyone have the ability to mentally deconstruct songs lol?
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Listen to the music, not just the drums. Its the overall sound that makes the song. Learn the lyrics and If you can sing, sing the song. Get to the point where you can visualise the song in your head and sing it to yourself. Play along to the song and get to the stage where you can drum the song without the music, and sing it while you play. That way you know exactly where you are in the song at any time.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
Like this is the first time that happened lol. That's what we do here!

I think it's a fairly important discussion. I've always had the ability to learn by ear. I never had to develop it. I can't even imagine how music would affect me if I couldn't mentally pick the song apart. I imagine it would be a little overwhelming.

Doesn't everyone have the ability to mentally deconstruct songs lol?
True enough, it's what we do - haha!

It is an important point, especially since the question came up, which indicates that it doesn't come as easy to some as it does to others.

Learning by ear has always been my default, too, so I guess I was caught off guard that anyone could think there's any mystery to it. I only have my frame of reference, and learning by way of written notation was never very high on my list of ways to take in music, though I have experienced its usefulness as another tool to use. I much prefer my ears, though. There's just so much more information available with ears.

Whatever works, I guess. There are lots of tools, tricks, and approaches that can get you where you want to be, so why not use all of them?
 
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