Some drummers make things look easy, and some make it sound difficult. But some songs – regardless of genre or era – are just hard to play!
Here are ten challenging tracks by ten great drummers.
This famous half-time shuffle has a lot of nuance. The busy right-hand pattern opens the hi-hats at the end of the first triplet, which can feel like it interrupts the flow when playing.
The ghost notes on the snare and the double on the kick going over the bar line add the inimitable Bonham flair, but it still sits beautifully behind the beat.
Zappa deliberately wrote this song to be complicated – “the black page” means the intimidating amount of notes on the music sheet. The piece has shifting time signatures and syncopated rhythms and fills with unconventional accents.
The nested tuplets at the end of the track give the drum part a phrasing that is incredibly specific and only subtly different from playing straight 32nd notes.
Here are the first few bars:
This 16th-note pattern is played between the left foot and hand on the hi-hat, with a light touch on the snare and repeating military-style snare rolls. Gadd plays it open-handed, but even if you master the sticking, you could spend a lifetime trying to get that feel right!
This track is famously tough on the feet, and metal drummers love to challenge each other to play it. The herta pattern on the double kick is set against the straight beat on the hands, which has a polyrhythmic feel as the bass drum notes move across the bar line. The track is relentless at over seven minutes long.
There are a few variations of the pattern within the song, which get progressively more challenging.
The double-time hits on the snare with voicing on the right hand between the cymbals around the 1:30 mark and again at the end of the track is exceptional coordination.
The sheer speed of the entire track makes it a great drum take. The snare has some exciting phrasing throughout, while the constant, unrelenting double kick work provides the foundation for the rest of the part.
And at 2:40, while playing a ridiculously intense blast beat, Kollias matches the guitar part on the cymbals. It’s a staggering display of coordination, technique, and creativity.
This 9-minute epic has many sections, with Peart easing between feels effortlessly. There are intricate 16th note hi-hat accents and a trademark paradiddle pattern on the ride.
Still, the varying styled single stroke fills around the six-minute mark are a masterful way to change sections, especially the last one going over the bar line to turn the beat around.
When recording this song, Ian Paice deliberately overplayed it because he was bored! Throughout the verses, he laid down a ferocious series of single stroke and rudimental fills.
The blistering speed, power, and variation make this extremely tough to get right. This was Paice playing freely and fooling around, and he produced that recording, which shows what a phenomenal player he is.
Simply playing a straight beat and keeping time would be impressive on this complicated track. But with over 100 time signature changes in a song that clocks in at just over six minutes, it’s the part as a whole that is remarkable.
The drumming is inventive with powerful fills, and the orchestration around the kit is entirely in sync with the rest of the band.
The hi-hats at the beginning of this song fill so much space; to create that much atmosphere using dynamics on one part of the kit is magnificent playing. Buddy then does it again on the snare around 4:40, accenting a constant roll with beautiful control.
Some typically intricate orchestrations, Buddy’s brilliant fills, and various beats make this a classic big-band drum track; it’s a fantastic combination of great feel and excellent technique.
It would be easy to overlook this track in a list with such technical songs, but the high volume, high energy 16th-note single stroke rolls that make up the drum solo sections are a benchmark for many drummers.
It’s also where many players let the timing slide, switching between the fills and beats. It may be a simple part, but it requires precision and endurance.
Did we miss any songs?
There you have it: ten of the best! What does your list of toughest drum songs look like?
These drummers have nailed something that many others would find impossible to play, but remember: they might find other songs on this list tough to get right.
Could George Kollias make it feel like Steve Gadd? Could John Bonham have played in Nile?
Even someone great might not be able to play the way you play. While all the tracks require outstanding skills attained through hard work and hours of practice, they all have a unique voice at their heart. Each song is hard for different reasons, be it feel, technique, or maybe the arrangement.
There’s always something we can be working on to improve. The next time you practice, what will you focus on?
Edited by Sam Landa, Content Marketing Manager at Drumeo
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