Whats the bEst way to learn a complicated pattern?


whats the best way to learn a complicated pattern involving both hands and feet

do you go along the tabs step by step using both hands and feet

or do you learn the hands first and add the kick (i think sometimes this doesn't help at all, as its like learning a new pattern all over again)

in any way whats your method of doing it?



Active member
I find when learning patterns it is most helpful to think "horizontally" than "vertically" if that makes sense. Instead of learning the part of each limb and layering in, start at the beginning of the phrase and play all limbs together, going as slowly as you need to to coordinate your limbs to the proper rhythm. Don't think of each limb as playing separate rhythms but as one coordinated mass-rhythm that each limbs is a portion of (NOTE: this will probably mean you have to go much slower to start out than if you were to learn it by learning each limb individually).


Platinum Member
I highly recommend Uncle_MC's approach. I said this on another post recently-- figure out the rhythm of all the parts put together, then figure out the four-way sticking for it-- including unisons between 2+ limbs. EG, left foot + both hands = one note.

I'll only learn/teach the parts separately if, say, the hands are very complex, and the feet are very simple-- and not real integrated. Some latin rhythms are that way. You figure out strategies as you do it. You can't fail by just patiently going very slow, though-- slow enough that you can play every note exactly right.


Senior Member
Last year I had to learn a complicated rhythm as part of a breakdown section of a song in my progressive rock band. This part of the song is in 6/8, yet there's a predominant "4 over 6" feel to it.

I came up with this part where I start out playing 4 over 6 on the bass drum for two measures, then adding a left foot hi hat on every down beat for the next two measures, followed by a snare side stick that mirrors the "4 over 6" bass drum, but with two beats instead of one. Then the hardest part, adding a ride bell with my right hand that plays groups of 3 over the whole thing.

My description probably doesn't make much sense, so I gridded it out.

Screen Shot 2020-12-21 at 12.16.59 PM.png

Doing the kick and hi hat together is really easy, then working in the side stick on the snare wasn't too difficult. But once I started playing the ride bell on top of all that, it started falling apart! So I broke it out and worked on every 3-limb combo simultaneously (i.e. kick, hi hat + ride; or hi hat, snare + ride, etc.), before gradually adding that 4th limb.

It took some practice, but it was starting to come together before I finally decided to abandon adding that 4th limb for a slightly different approach, as building up that 4-limb pattern took too long and the song felt like it was stalling out in that spot. So now after adding the 3rd limb, we go right into a heavier part of the song where I play a groove with lots of fills. But it was fun working this up!
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Senior Member
With complex patterns, saying/singing the rhythm is a must for me. Once I do that, the limb orchestration usually comes easy.

Like Todd, unless the part calls for some major limb orchestration, I work the full pattern - all limbs - together. If you can say it, you can play it.


Platinum Member
I’ll work on it in pieces till I get it down. Complex cowbell or ride pattern, then add kick till it’s solid, then snare till it’s burned in, then left foot, whatever it may be, usually hat chicks. It’s not necessarily in that order, but in the order my brain can handle the specific pattern. Usually one complex and one repeating pattern on whichever limb, then add as I go.


Well-known member
I do a mix of the one limb at a time and the slowing it down method....

but I ALWAYS establish the pulse feel with a met going first

then I layer in each limb, usually starting with the limb responsible for the steady subdivision <--usually the right hand on a cymbal
next I do the limb responsible for the back beat
next I do the bass foot pattern

I do this starting around 80bpm on the met...anything slower, and it feels too "compartmentalized"

I do this al; by counting though, b/c it is how I first learned to do it as a kid. Because of that, I am able to visualize what it would look like written out as music, and that helps a lot in the coordination


Platinum Member
Sometimes I will break the whole thing into sections and learn it that way. Still using all the limbs, just pieces of the pattern. Once I get it, I'll learn the next section and add it to the first, so on and so forth until I've done the whole thing.

If it's a complicated foot pattern, I'll keep time on a ride or the hats and work out the pattern until I've got it. The snare gets added last.

And of course, like others have said, going really slow works good too.


Gold Member
I've done pretty much everything.

Playing at a slower tempo, playing the main ostinato and slowly adding each beat with the other limbs, playing one limb at a time...


Senior Member
Divide the pattern along the sagittal plane.
Substitute RH for RF and determine what stickings are familiar.
Substitute LH for LF and determine what stickings are familiar.
Shift the stickings left or right a smidgen (1 smidgen = 1 sixteenth note or whatever the minimum pattern resolution is) and see if things make sense.
In general, reshape the pattern into the closest thing that makes sense to you and start from there.

Some are ambidextrous for which coordination across the sagittal plane doesn't apply. Perhaps substitute transverse plane in the above process. This is the plane magicians use to saw a person's body in half and then put it back together as if nothing ever happened.


Senior Member
Apply the limb-fill method. After substituting RH for RF and LH for LF, take one limb away and see if it looks familiar. If so, attempt to re-execute the pattern with the away-limb rejoined as a fill-in, meaning your primary focus is the main limb.

Here's a pattern Steve Smith presented to a class I was in at Drum Fantasy Camp 2019:

|  R      R      | T1
|             R  | FT

Moving all the playing surfaces to just one:

Then removing the weak limb (the one falling on the odd 16ths), you can start to see a familiar rhythm:
|R R R  R R R R  | SD

Then apply the above across the tom surfaces and you can see a melodic pattern develop:
|  R      R      | T1
|R   R  R   R    | SD
|             R  | FT

Use the limb-fill technique on the SD to complete the original pattern.

Stick your foot (either one) somewhere and see what happens.
Good advice here, and the approach does depend on the drummer and the pattern as "complicated" is a relative term. I've never really had to use the 'vertical' approach on patterns that fell under 1/8th note or 1/16 note rock or funk paradigms or for most styles and their subsets . Counting, playing very slow, and deliberate have done the trick when learning all four limbs at once. Taken to the extreme, you could even set a timer to countdown and go off say every 5 seconds and successively play the 16ths notes when it does (effectively 3 bpm - ). This gives you plenty of time to coordinate what limbs (or rests) will be playing at the next 16th note checkpoint and gives you a chance of possibly playing any beat through the very first time, but then of course you gradually have to build it way up.

I've just used the 'vertical' approach for a few limb entanglement puzzles over my life, but I have to emphasize its value and approach for the times I think it might be needed. There will always be some complicated 4 limb patterns that require coordination that no two of your limbs have even played before. That'll make it really hard to try to approach all four together at once even if attempted extremely slow. Furthermore, you might have important accents required on two, three, or all four of the limbs. On top of that, your limbs may be required to orchestrate on more than one sound source per bar. The process and tools at your disposal, should you need them all, are:

  • Play each limb's pattern by itself
  • Play every combination of two limbs (6 combinations)
  • Play every combination of three limbs (4 combinations)
  • Play the pattern with all four limbs
Go slow, count, and really pay attention at each stage and combination to what it feels like to have the limbs playing their respective rhythms.
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Jenns Hannemann covers this in his “Complicated Drumming Techniques” dvd too 😉

I should add that in addition to horizontal and vertical approaches, you should also use the modern diagonal and the classic 27.5 degree off-center approaches. Then just for fun attach a drum stick to a headband and play a nice little 7/8 Davul rhythm on a drum mounted above you, accenting every thirteenth pulse, or every fifth pulse if you’re just starting out.

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
It really depends on what it is and I practice the way that will help me learn it in the most useful way. I probably do them all depending.

One method that I don't see mentioned yet is to just playing time and adding in the parts of the beat piece by piece as you fel comfortable. 1 then 1 & then 1 & 2 etc...

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
There's one pragmatic option not highlighted here: turning a complex pattern (permanently) into a simple one. No, I'm not being flippant or undercutting the thread. If you're attempting to learn something intricate for the sake of the challenge, so be it. But in many musical contexts, abstruse note combinations that require acrobatic four-way independence are often of ornamental rather than essential significance. They can sometimes be streamlined without deducting from the music's integrity.


Silver Member
First, do all the above. Pick it apart, make sure you can do each limb's parts so you know you have the chops to build the thing. Then play it so......F-ing.......slow.....that.....you .....make.....no.......mistakes. Play it ultra slow without mistakes, and your brain will feel it done right. And every repetition tells your brain that this is a thing we're doing now, so better burn some fresh wrinkles in the brain to accommodate the task. Keep it up daily, next thing that complicated unplayable thing comes out of your hands like Bozzio playing the Black Page.
IMHO, that's what good practice is: burning the desired patterns into your nervous system through high quality repetition. Go slow enough to do it right, even if it's a snail's pace. Doing it faster with mistakes makes you good at making mistakes.


Senior Member
Play each part one at a time. Then add the next note, etc. Get muscle memory working and the hearing of the pattern down piece by piece.


Gold Member
whats the best way to learn a complicated pattern involving both hands and feet

Besides the obvious "slow it down," I recommend the bite size chunks approach. Play only from beat 1 to beat 2. One quarter note's worth of music should be doable. When you get it, do it 20 more times without speeding it up. (Your mind will have already gotten it & will be bored, but it's the muscle memory that needs the reps.) Then play beats 1 to 3 & repeat the process. Then to 4 etc...