GPdrums || Marathon Drummer

Learning New Tunes

Posted in Drumming by gpdrums on September 2, 2007

I’m really looking forward to an upcoming worship set and the introduction of a new song. We bring in new songs all the time, but there’s something about this particular new song that excites me. Here’s my favorite line from the song, and if you know the song and artist, make sure to respond to this post with the answer:

I’m finding everything I’ll ever need by giving up gaining everything

Now then, it’s time to rewind the CD to the 15 second mark. I have lost count of how many times I have listened to the same 7 second, 4 bar phrase, but I really want to nail this intro. I hope the artist’s original intro doesn’t get cut in favor of a less difficult intro that all the musicians will be able to easily handle. When a song is this good, artistic integrity is important. However, this is for worship, and I will happily submit to the headship of the worship leader.


I’ve listened to the song at least 50 times in the past few days. I have yet to sit down behind the kit and work out any parts. I’m not really interested in that right now. I just want to absorb as much of the song into my soul as possible. The nice thing is that I have plenty of time to learn the song—a rare luxury indeed. I have a good handle on the structure. I’m starting to instinctively bang-out the kick and snare pattern on the steering wheel. Some of the finer rhythmic nuances are starting to seem less intricate. I can’t stress the importance of just listening to the song, especially for the drummer.


Back to the intro: Sometimes the simplest things can be the most daunting. The pattern that is challenging me is a simple eighth note hi-hat pattern with a few open hat accents and an interestingly placed seven stroke role. The problem is the guitar work is obstructing my ability to easily here where the role starts. The key thing is to keep listening to the track until the finer details become natural.

I would never want to force playing a part. Keep in mind, a song always feels better if the drummer plays a basic groove. However, extreme measures are sometimes necessary. I remember a couple of years ago when we would regularly play Battle Cry. Let me clarify: I’m not that type of drummer—I don’t do tricks. I love listening to that song and attempting to play it, but I just don’t do it justice.

The worship leader, knowing my limits, only brought that song out for special occasions involving one of our intermittent drummers (fine with me). But, one time at band camp I was required to play that song. I even asked the worship leader if he made a mistake on the set list. Determined to do the song justice, I went home and dumped it into Sound Forge, time-stretched (slowed down without changing the pitch) the insane drum fill intro and drum solo, and listened over and over and over and over and over. Did it help? It helped a little but not much. Like I said, I’m not that type of drummer.

Fast-forward to today. I’m not really concerned with learning this particular new song. After listening to it a number of times I will most likely transcribe the lyrics and chart out the structure (i.e. intro, verse, chorus, etc.). I’ll use a tap metronome to determine the tempo. I’ll write the time signature. I’ll write some of the groove elements alongside the structure key similar to the following:

  • Intro-hats
  • Repeat – all in 4floor
  • Verse – hats only / kick second half
  • Chorus – 2/4 quarter hats
  • Intro
  • Verse 2 – 4floor
  • Chorus – 2x
  • Bridge – ride
  • solo
  • Chorus – 2x

All that’s left now is to practice with the band. If everyone did their homework we will run through it once to solidify the structure and work out the parts. We’ll hit it a second time to work out the feel. We’ll hit it a third time for fun. That’s it. We will run through the entire set including video, lighting, and announcements about one and one half hours before the service then its time.

Here is a recap:

1) Find out if the leader wants you to learn the song as it is played on the CD.

2) Listen to the song about 20 times.

3) Get the lyrics and map the structure

4) Determine the tempo and time signature

5) Jot the important elements of the groove alongside the structure map.

The only other tip I have is to listen to the song two more times. The first time, pay attention to how the drum parts color the lyrics. For example, if the lyric is “take my feet”, you might notice a 32nd note, one-footed kick drum roll a slight variation in the kick drum pattern. The second listen is to discover minor details in the drum part. I use this time to circle words on the lyric sheet that correspond with cymbal crashes. It’s those little details that make the song sound like the CD.

Finally, remember why we’re going to all this trouble. The last thing I want is to be a distraction to the congregation. It is just as much my job as the worship leader’s job to lead people in worship, and preparation is the key. The better I know the song, the less I’m nervous and/or distracted. The less I’m distracted, the more I can worship. The more I worship and freely play my instrument, the more likely, in my opinion, my sisters and brothers will freely worship God.



One Response

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  1. alex mclean said, on September 2, 2007 at 5:56 am

    amazing insight and practical advice – thank you!

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