How many drummers can say they’ve been in a band for 50 years? For U2’s Larry Mullen Jr., it’s been almost that long. Nearly 200 million album sales later – plus pop culture immortality with features on The Simpsons and Friends – this drummer has seen successes the rest of us can only dream about.
Why is Larry Mullen Jr. so great? Not only was he making decisions on the drums in the 70s and 80s that were surprising for the era, but he’s always made decisions that make musical sense. You might even say he…elevated the band.
In this 10 minute video, we break down some of the U2 drummer’s most famous parts – some of which you won’t find anywhere else on the internet.
It’s one of the most famous U2 songs, one of the most recognizable drum beats of all time, and Larry Mullen Jr.’s most well known groove.
After the 16th note pickup, the entire groove is based on alternating single strokes on the hands and a quarter note kick keeping the pulse.
The Joshua Tree was the album that catapulted U2 to massive commercial success. Mullen says it was tough to get the drums sitting right in the studio, and that it became a truly great part only by playing it live.
In this song, Mullen uses a side snare with the snares off. And in following a common trend with his drumming, you’ll again find alternating single strokes on the hands – fitting for a former marching drummer.
Here’s something you don’t see very often: a right-handed drummer playing a groove on a left side floor tom and not filling in with the left hand when the right moves over to the snare. Mullen only added in the left hand during 16th note rhythms. If you want to play this authentically, make sure you’re doing most of the work with that right hand.
After Mullen recorded this track in the studio, producers set up a PA in a warehouse, played the drum recording through it, and captured a boomy track that could rival John Bonham‘s sound. It sounds different from anything else on the record, and it’s a cool pattern that combines an 8th note pattern on the hi-hats (with open hats here and there) and rim shots on the snare drum.
There isn’t much out there on how to play “A Sort Of Homecoming” on drums, so we had to include this one! Mullen used timbales and a side snare on his kit in the early 80s, so to do this part justice you should try to emulate his kit setup. You’ll notice Mullen playing that alternating single stroke pattern through the groove again as he moves from rack tom to timbale and includes some crossovers between his side snare and main snare.
Bring your right hand down on the snare drum to play the back beat, and use your left hand on the left side floor tom so you don’t have to cross over. This groove has some unexpected hi-hat offbeats and tasty hi-hat openings.
This is the chorus of one of U2’s biggest hits of the early 2000s. It’s a simple snare-bass pattern with a washy crash that locks in perfectly with the other instruments, which helps to make this groove musical.
That’s it: 7 awesome U2 grooves. If you want to take these patterns a step further and play just like Larry Mullen Jr., set up an extra snare and floor tom on your left side, add some timbales to the kit, perfect your alternating single strokes, keep your right hand busy, and have your drum parts complement the other instruments perfectly.
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