How To Drum To Songs

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To the people out there who don’t know how to drum to songs, and are not so interested in playing the drums. It may seem like a simple task to play along with their favorite songs. Press play and then hit the drums in time to the music as if they were dancing to it.

But, there is a lot more to it than that, depending on the drummer’s level of skill and ability to keep good time. As well as improvise. When you are playing drums to a song, you are creating the backbone of the track. Which makes it quite difficult to play creatively to the music. With the intention of benefitting and enhancing that music. Which of course is the ultimate goal of the drummer.

The drums provide the backend rhythm and pulse that drives the entire song forward. This means that it is important to have a solid understanding of how to play drums to quite an advanced level. Before you ever try to play along with a song.

How To Drum To Songs Background

Thankfully, it’s not always as serious as that. For instance, when I was starting out, I used to play along with music with a couple of goals in mind.

  1. Play the drums in time to the music. Which was in fact acting as a metronome for me. So I could have a play about and improvise to test things out – a dip in the water if you will.
  2. Learn the song over time and play what the currently recorded drummer was playing. Then…
  3. Play the song through with my own version of what I believed the song required to enhance the music.

The third step developed over months and even years. As I would return to music I had learned one or two years before in a process of development.

I remember one of my favorite albums at the time was a live video by Genesis with Phil Collins and Chester Thomson. And to be honest, my goal was never to play exactly what they played. I would use them as an advanced version of a metronome and play around them and try to enhance their playing.


As if I could enhance Phil Collins or Chester Thomson on drums. Yeah right!

But still, that was my intention.

As you might imagine, this made reading music quite difficult for me. Because, although the chart was provided for me to play a piece of music fast and in an exact manner. I had built an experimental approach to this for many years. So although I was reading the music, I was trying not to read it. Sounds like a non sequitur, and it is because at the same time I was trying to read the music exactly. And so you see the dilemma I found myself in many times. Because I had developed a bad habit over many years.

Drumming to Songs Basics

I hope that knowing my experience playing along to music, you are able to more easily press the play button. And get started playing your first or next song.

You see, in the beginning, it’s not so much about the song as it is about the drumming. And you could take that a step further by saying it’s not so much about the drumming, it’s more about the drummer. And both of those instances happen to be true.

So, it’s about playing from the beginning of a song through to the end. Then repeat it all over again to see what you learned the first time around. Then… do I need to say it? playing it again and again and again and repeat this process as you:

  • First focus on playing basic time from the beginning to the end of the song.
  • Followed by changing the beat for each section change (verse to chorus and vice versa) within the song.
  • Then the next time around, play the fills as close as you are able to the original drum fill. Learning them along the way of course.
  • Then experiment with the whole thing to see where you could take the music if you had been the original drummer.

As you can see, drumming is about interpretation. Interpreting the drum chart, or interpreting what you hear on the actual record, CD, or mp3.

3 Tips To Start Drumming To Songs

So far we have covered a sort of overview and long-range plan of “the why”  of how to drum to songs and the purpose of that. This, as suggested is to experiment as you develop your own style of interpreting a song. Or other pieces of music.

Now, let’s consider the start of the process of learning a song. With that in mind, here are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction:


  1. Listen to the song intentively one or more times and identify the main beat. This is the most important part of the song, and you need to be able to nail the basic beat of the song. Before you can start playing along. And once you do, there’s nothing stopping you from pressing the rewind button and pressing play again.
  2. Once you have the main beat down, start playing along to the song. And then, begin adding in other drum parts, fills, and phrases as you become more acquainted with the song. Pay attention to the other instruments and try to complement them. How they sound, the rhythms they use, and so on. Remember, drums are a rhythm instrument so complement the rhythms within the music. The rhythm of the bass guitar, the rhythm guitar, and even the lead vocals or other lead instruments. Don’t worry if you are unable to do this in the beginning. These are things that you develop over time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different sounds and techniques. This will develop as you begin to focus on what everyone else is playing. Drumming is all about interpretation and expression. So don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your playing. Change it up a little, or a lot.

Final Comments

Remember as you go through these processes that you will make mistakes in the beginning. So know that mistakes are only mistakes. Get back on track as soon as you are able. Forget the mistake and move towards getting it right rather than focusing on what you did wrong.

Lastly, make the timing your main priority for the first few run-throughs of a particular song. Timing is everything, and as you begin to get that right, the music will begin to open up for you. So you can then begin to focus on the other things mentioned in the previous processes.

I’m curious… what are your favorite songs to play along to? Which was the first song you ever played along to? Or which do you intend to try first? I would love to know. So if you have a few seconds, let us know in the comments.

Keep having fun.

the Drum Coach

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