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How To Play “Chop Suey” (Beginner To Pro)

Dave Atkinson  /  UPDATED Aug 22, 2022

Most drummers have tried to play System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” at some point. While it has some tricky parts, any drummer can play the song – even a beginner! In this video, Dave will show you five levels of Chop Suey, starting from a simplified version and ending with how John Dolmayan actually plays it.

If you already know how to play the song, you’ll be able to find out which level you’re at!

(Click here to download the sheet music)

1. “Let me get through this song”

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If you’re a beginner and can play a basic beat to a metronome, you can still play along to this song! Focus on playing in time, hitting the transitions, and keeping a solid quarter note pulse happening. In the big intro tom section, you’ll simplify the parts and just play quarter notes on the toms. Make sure you don’t flam the notes. In the build just before the main riff, you’ll play 8th notes on the floor tom and end with the snare on the 4. The main riff is a basic rock beat! Play the bass drum on 1 and 3, the snare on the 2 and 4, and keep your hi-hats nice and washy.

2. The weekend warrior

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Maybe you jam with your friends every other weekend and you’ve decided to learn this song. You aren’t ready to do the full thing yet, but your buddies really want to do it. Add in 8th notes to approximate the descending tom pattern in the intro. The build is the same as level 1, but you’ll play the snare shot on the ‘and’ of 4. Give the main riff an 8th note hi-hat groove and add in some more bass drum.

3. “I’ve played this on Rock Band”

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Let’s say you know the song really well and can follow along pretty closely, but it’s still out of your comfort zone. Add in more 16th notes on the toms, and 8th notes on the bass drum to line up with the build. In the main riff, you can play the pickup after the backbeat on the snare now – not just on the 2 and 4.

4. “My cover band plays this”

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You’re in a band and actually play this song at your rehearsal space or shows. You’ve spent time trying to get the parts pretty close, with the only difference being that you’re anchoring yourself on the floor tom and not playing the extra 8th note. The build now has two toms – beefy. The main groove in level 4 is the part on the album.

5. John Dolmayan

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Now you’re playing what System of a Down’s drummer was playing, and you should be sounding close to the album. If you’re on a five piece kit, you’ll need one extra tom to play the intro just like Dolmayan. also an extra 8th note on the end of 4 to keep tom feel happening. You’ll play the build just like in level 4, but you’ll put a flam on the snare at the end. In the main riff, the 8th notes on the hi-hat are key, putting accents on the quarter note pulse.

Even if you can’t identify what level you’re at, hopefully this is encouraging if you’re a beginner. You can still have fun and get through the song at any level!

Dave Atkinson is passionate about inspiring positive change through music. With over 24 years of playing and studying music as a multi-instrumentalist, Dave has helped thousands of musicians reach their goals through developing Musora’s core curriculum and engaging content for the modern musician.

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