On Learning Someone Else’s Song

I finally own sheet music from a band I’m excited about — Led Zeppelin. “Whole Lotta Love” is one of my favorite songs, and even though there’s not that much drumming in there (the whole middle of the song is basically Bonham clicking the hi-hat and not much else), I’ve started learning it.

Bonham is really good. He keeps time with the hi-hat, and plays complex patterns on the snare and kick drums.

The trick that I realized will help me on this is to learn each pattern alongside the time-keeping, one at a time. So, I can play the hi-hat and kick easily, and the hi-hat and snare easily. Doing all three still leads me to throw notes in the wrong places.

I think that breaking a three-limb harmony into two separate two-limb harmonies will make it easier to memorize, and then I’ll be able to bring them back together.

On Drumming

I’ve been drumming more, and although I’m still nowhere near as good as I want to be, I’m seeing progress.

I had a bit of a breakthrough over the weekend that’s been building up for some time (both in skill improvement, as well as a better understanding of how to learn new things). I recently stopped working on “Can’t Stand Losing You” by the Police, and have gone back to working on some more fundamental skills, with the idea that when I come back to playing full songs, I’ll have leveled up enough that I can keep up (Stewart Copeland plays straightforward stuff, but plays it excellently — I can play the whole song at 75% speed, but cranking it up to 100% is impossible to follow for more than ~30 seconds).

I’ve been a fan of “Freaks & Geeks” by Childish Gambino for a while (sorry Nina). I think the video is really well done (I can’t tell if they are zooming with the lens, dolly, or steadycam, all of which have their own issues), the lyrics are tight, and the beat is really good.

The beat is the most interesting part here. The whole song alternates between the “epic sounding vocal stuff” and a snare drum. The basic snare pattern is:

1 e n a 2 e n a 3 e n a 4 e n a
x     x     x     x     x   x

It’s not cleanly divided like what most people consider a beat

1 e n a 2 e n a 3 e n a 4 e n a
x       x       x       x

To play both of these at the same time is called “polyrhythmic drumming” (let’s say the first pattern on the snare, second on the bass drum). Polyrhythms are challenging to learn, because your brain basically has to do the same thing (“hit the drums”) but it has to do two slightly different versions of “hit the drums” at the same time.

The trick (for me) that seems to work is to not think of the “complex” pattern in terms of counting a beat, but more in terms of dancing. There’s a rhythm to the in-out-up-down that makes it difficult to count using the normal “1ena2ena…” that drummers get taught. I found that using “1ena…” is good to get started and get the initial rhythm down, but to make it automatic and natural requires paying more attention to the physicality of it, and the coordination happens naturally.

Drumsticks for practice

A while ago, I made some practice sticks. They’re basically half-sticks that you can easily carry in a pocket, and use for practice whenever you’re not busy for a few minutes. Helps with practicing your handling, and reduces the amount of time you have to look like an idiot carrying a set of drumsticks through the grocery store.

This isn’t really a “how to make these” post, since they’re pretty simple. Just take a drumstick and saw it in half. Then, sand the ends so they’re smooth. Done.

Practicing drums, or “1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n”

I’ve been practicing the drums more, and I’m starting to have a few breakthroughs.

I’m noticing that a lot of it is about combining limb movements. I got a practice book that talked about “limb independence”, but I think it was leading me down the wrong path. Maybe at higher levels of drumming, I’ll be focusing more on independence, but since I’m still getting started, I think that “limb combination” is actually more important.

I used to look at music and say “okay, so here’s the pattern for the hi-hat, and then here’s the pattern for the snare, and here’s the pattern for the bass drum”. Then, I’d try and play each of them at the same time. This is a great way to drive yourself crazy.

Instead, I’m focusing on counting — the “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and” beat counting thing. It makes it easier because I know at “1” I have to hit the hi-hat and bass, at the “and” I hit bass only, “2” I hit hi-hat, “and” is nothing, “3” is hi-hat and snare, and so on. So, it’s really like playing a single pattern of combined movements, rather than each limb doing it’s own thing.

After I do this for about 15 minutes or so, just playing and counting a few measures, I start getting that independence developed, but the independence goes away after a while and it’s back to a single pattern of combined movements. Doing the counting really helps keep it on track. I can totally see how this is the basis for a good foundation, however. After a hundred or so hours of this type of practice, I can see how someone could be really solid at picking new stuff up quickly.

One other thing that’s really helping is a piece of software called Guitar Pro. It seems good for learning either guitars, bass, or drums. There are a bunch of sites with tabs to learn from, so it’s a great way to make practice much easier. You not only get what the notes are, but also the rhythm. (Edit: runs on Windows or OSX, thanks Jason)

Also, in searching for info on this, I came across this paper, “A Perceptually Driven Dynamical Model of Rhythmic Limb Movement and Bimanual Coordination“. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds fancy.

Drums!

I’ve been practicing my drums lately. I’m better now, more than before.

Before I start the links, here’s an article I found discussing how serious drummers can be more physically fit than top athletes. So um, I’m not making noise, I’m exercising! 😀

There’s some links that I wanted to have handy, and I figured I’d share them on here so that others could see them.

Dr Beat Metronome — I’ve heard that Dr Beat are the best. This one seems nicely priced, and has lots of good features. I’ll probably order it soon, since the metronome on my iPhone just isn’t good enough anymore.

Playing with a metronome

Drum Practice Cheat Sheet — lots of good info in here. If I ran throught his full practice schedule consistently, I’d be really good.

Drumming and the Bass Pedal

I’m slowly learning to play the drums. Right now I’m working on practicing syncopation, which is basically a technique of either playing a beat where there isn’t otherwise one, or not playing a beat where one should be. It seems to be what is used to mix up a beat somewhat so that it’s not so boring.

It’s a bit difficult to teach my feet to hit a beat that’s not there, so I was looking up some resources for bass pedal/foot positioning, to give myself the best chance possible. There is a good explanation and pictures on this generic-sounding domain. I believe that having the heel up is the way to go; I’ve seen it mentioned in a lot of places, and I can feel the difference.

I’m going to go and attempt to adjust the spring. I think it’s too loose.