top of page

Another example is Steve Gadd’s iconic drum groove on Paul Simon’s hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.  When you first hear this classic marching-style snare drum groove in the initial verse, you might be unsure of where to count the quarter notes. However, proper counting method is revealed when the snare drum backbeat comes in during the first chorus.

The pulse is the foundation of your tune, and it’s important to make sure you are counting the beat correctly before you begin working on other aspects of the song, like constructing your Road Map.  Hearing where to count the quarter note can be a trickier proposition in songs without a clear backbeat.  In particular, Jazz and odd-time signature material can require a different learning process.  But once you find the pulse of the song, you’ll be on your way to step 2…



2) Road Map! 

Learning a tune from a recording is like getting driving directions to somewhere you’ve never been.  You might be vaguely familiar with the neighborhood, but it always helps to look at a map and discover some landmarks.  How long do you need to stay on each road and when do you turn?   Listen for the different sections of tune and assign them names like, Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Bridge, Interlude, Solo, Outro (your street names).   Count along with the music to determine how many measures are in each section (the mileage you’ll spend on each street).   Notice how the first chorus of “Make it Better” is 8 bars long, but the second, third and fourth choruses contain an extra bar, plus a 2-bar tag for a total of 11 measures.


Start/stop rewind as many times as necessary; it might take a while, but your attention to detail will be worth it!  Your Road Map doesn’t have to be perfect; it should just contain the information you need (the examples used for this article are purposely quite thorough).  You don’t necessarily have to look at your Road Map while you’re playing; memorization is always the best way to truly learn a tune, but organizing and writing things down ahead of time speeds up that process.  Here’s the Road Map for “Make it Better”.


3) Get Your Groove On! 

Once you’ve sketched the basic framework of the tune on your Road Map, you’re ready get behind the kit and start working on the specific grooves in the each section.  Your grooves don’t have to be a perfect match for what the drummer on the recording plays, but try to listen for the bass drum and snare, as they are the foundation of your drum part.  You should already have a good idea of the different grooves in each section after listening though the tune multiple times to construct your Road Map.  In “Make it Better””, the verse groove is a medium funky backbeat with open High Hats on the “and” of 1, while the chorus is a 2-Beat double- time feel with loose open High Hats (these grooves vary slightly as the tune progresses, but their basic foundation remains the same throughout).  Adding groove descriptions and even sketching basic rhythmic figures on your Road Map will remind you what to play in each section and help you gain an even deeper understanding of the song structure.

4) It’s All in the Details! 

Once you’ve found the pulse, mapped out your sections and learned the grooves, you can augment your Road Map with even more specifics. While you don’t need to know the exact chords the other instruments are playing, you can listen for clues to tell you when new sections are happening (the more harmonic knowledge you have, the better). Can you hear a change from a major to minor key?  Does the drummer play a fill to signify a transition?  Do the vocals drop out to indicate an instrumental section or solo? Do the drums drop out partially for a section and then come back in with the full pattern? In the classic punk tune “Big Take Over” by the Bad Brains, listen for the 2-bar sections right after each chorus where the Snare briefly drops out and the open High Hat/Bass Drum plays behind the guitar riff (1:10). 


This might appear to be minor detail, but it’s one of many critically important landmarks that will give your Road Map shape and structure and help you play the tune to the best of your abilities.  Here’s the Road Map for “Big Take Over”.  This map is simpler than the map for “Make it Better”, yet it still contains all the information you’ll need.  While creating a Road Map is not intended as a substitute for writing a proper chart on music staff paper, it serves as a useful alternative approach to streamline the information you’ll need to learn and play new songs quickly.  So map it out, grab your sticks and hit the road!

"MAPPING OUT DRUM PARTS" originally featured on 

Whether you’re practicing tunes for the next gig, or just want to tap along with your favorite hits in the basement after school or work, learning songs on the Drums can feel overwhelming at first.  Here are a few tips and tricks that will help demystify the process, including how to find the pulse of a tune, how to write a shorthand chart or “Road Map” which lays out the song’s sections, how to learn the grooves for each section, and how to add details to refine and enhance your performance.


1) Find the Snare! 

In many pop, rock, soul, R&B, gospel, and punk songs, (but not all), you can find the snare drum on beats 2 and 4.  Sometimes it can be confusing when you hear a tune for the first time- do you count in half-time or double-time?  Line your counting up with the snare. In singer-songwriter Jann Klose’s tune “Make it Better”, the groove switches from a normal feel in the verses to a double-time feel in the choruses, but the pulse and counting remain the same throughout.   Listen for these groove changes at 0:40, 1:00, 1:30, 1:58, 2:18 and 3:13.  

bottom of page