Fellow drummers, we all know how important we are, but sometimes we need to remind our friends, band members and fans of this slightly boastful fact. We’re more than a glorified metronome and fortunately, there are and have been various drummers prepared to prove that to the world with some beautifully recognisable, iconic drum parts. In honour of them, Bax Music presents: 5 legendary drum parts!

Since you’ll be wanting to play some of these yourself, I’ve included the drum notation for each beat. If you want to learn more about this, check out our Drum Notation 101 blog.

5 Legendary Drum Parts

The ‘50s: Take Five – Dave Brubeck Quartet (Joe Morello)

5 Legendary Drum Parts - Take Five

Please note: Each snare drum seen in the notation is played as a ghost note.We’re starting off in the fifties, which were turbulent years for the United States but at the same time, plenty of musicians lifted spirits by writing and playing great music. One such musician was Dave Brubeck. Together with his Quartet, he wrote the song Take Five, which includes Joe Morello’s famous drum solo. Aside from the solo, the part itself is noteworthy too, and a typical case of ‘less is more’. By not overextending the presence of the drums, these and the piano fuse into one brilliantly smooth whole, giving Paul Desmond all the space he needs to put down his saxophone parts. While I’d love to talk about Take Five forever, we must move on. The sixties await!

The ‘60s: Come Together – The Beatles (Ringo Starr)

5 Legendary Drum Parts - Come Together

For some, Ringo will always be the best drummer ever, while others say he’s nothing but a ‘badum-tss’. Nevertheless, everyone agrees that Come Together, especially the first half, includes one of Ringo’s most illustrious parts. It’s a bit strange for a rock song and doesn’t even have a backbeat, but it works amazingly well. Normally, playing parts on the toms can be pretty overwhelming, but Ringo managed to turn this into the centre-piece of the song. What he does is only hits the kick on the first count and skips the snare drum altogether. Doing so, he leaves out any heavy accents and gives himself more room for the toms. He’s also playing rather softly and without any accents, making the tom roll sound more like background noise to fill the ‘space’ left by the rest of the band, and create a mysterious feel. To make sure the individual notes can still be heard clearly, he draped dish rags over the toms to make them less loud and provide less sustain. Fun fact: as a left-handed drummer on a right-handed kit, Ringo starts the tom roll and hi-hat pattern with his left hand so he’s able to move to the floor tom without having to cross his arms on the last sextuplet of the third count. Alright, get ready for the seventies!

The ‘70s: Funky Drummer – James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield)

5 Legendary Drum Parts - Funky Drummer

Please note: Each snare drum that doesn’t fall on the count is a ghost note.

“Ain’t it funky?” It’s already in the name and, like James himself said: Clyde Stubblefield has played one of his funkiest parts ever here. Needless to say, it’s been sampled many times over in the past. Public Enemy, Dr. Dre and NWA loved using this dance-inducing part in their tracks. The magic tricks here are the continuous sixteenths on the hi-hat, causing you to naturally start moving or tapping your feet, and the fact that the hi-hat is opened on the second sixteenth note of the second and fourth count. This shapes a light accent that basically makes you want to shake your body till your limbs fall off. All of this is enriched with snare drum ghost notes in the second part of the groove. Then again, are they even ghost notes? It seems like these sit between a ghost note and a regular note: loud enough to hear them clearly, soft enough to not overpower the rest. Superb drums for a great song and, like James says: “You don’t have to do no soloing brother, just keep what you got!”

80s: Rosanna – Toto (Jeff Porcaro)

5 Legendary Drum Parts - Rosanna

Please note: the last snare drum is a ghost note.

The Rosanna shuffle, who didn’t grow up with it?! Here, Jeff Porcaro proves that rock music can get along fine with a sweet groove. While the part sounds fairly simple, it’s only when you give it a try yourself that you’ll discover that it’s rather complex after all. The notation above shows the first two measures of the song. The only ghost note that’s played here is the second eighth triplet of the last count. This slowly progresses throughout the song until Porcaro finally plays the ghost with every count. He does so to give the intro part more breathing room, and says he’s based it on Bernard Purdie’s eponymous shuffle and the drum parts of Led Zeppelin’s Fool In The Rain as played by John Bonham; two songs that are also very much cut out for the list of classics you’re currently reading. Have a listen yourself, and don’t forget to check out the second video including only the drum-track so you can hear a lot more detail than you can find the album version. Also, you won’t be needing a drums-only track for the nineties-song up next: you can hear the pounding from miles away.

The ‘90s: Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (Dave Grohl)

5 Legendary Drum Parts - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Most classic drum parts tend to hold back and don’t push to the front too much, but in Smells Like Teen Spirit, Dave Grohl teaches us that a bit more power can also make for a timeless tune. You’ve probably heard and felt the energy of the intro fill before, where Grohl channels the band’s anger in a series of raw punches. His switching between the fat snare drum flams on every count and the open hi-hat on the second eighth adds mass while still keeping things nice and airy. If he’d played the floor tom instead of the hi-hat, now that would’ve been too much.

Phew, with so many memorable drum parts to choose from, this wasn’t an easy blog to write! I mean, ‘In The Air Tonight’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ haven’t even been included, let alone any metal. How’s my list and which songs do you think I should’ve included or booted? Let me know in the comments!

See Also

» Drum Notation 101: Tips and Tricks for Beginners
» How Do I Become a Drummer?
» Reggae Drumming: Rhythms, Sounds and Cues
» The Four Most Important Drum Rudiments
» 3 Tips on How To Make the Most Out of Your Drum Heads
» All Drums & Accessories

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