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How To Play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Beginner To Pro)

Dave Atkinson  /  UPDATED Aug 22, 2022

Even a complete beginner drummer can learn how to play one of the biggest songs of the ’90s: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. In this video, Dave Atkinson will take you through the basic skeleton of the song, then level it up until you’re eventually able to play it just like Grohl!

Rather than struggling to make it through the song before you’re ready, you can still do it solidly and confidently by stripping it down to the basics. All you need to know is how to play a simple beat. Whatever skill level you’re at, here are five versions of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”:

1. Beginner


If you can play a simple beat, you can play this song. The hardest part for the beginner is playing in time and remembering the structure and section transitions. The intro fill is the trickiest because it uses flams and lots of movement, so we’re going to simplify it for total beginners. Focus only on the snare and kick to pull off the fill, and then go into a simplified beat with quarter notes on the hi-hat.

Keep it simple – and even though you’re just getting the main skeleton of the song, you’ll still be playing it!

2. Weekend warrior


Ready to level up? Add the hi-hats to the snare and bass drum in the intro fill, and play 8th notes on the hi-hats in the main groove to keep you on track.

3. “I’ve taken lessons”


In the intro fill, add the flams and play the hi-hats on the ‘ands’ (it’s starting to sound more like the song now). You’ll also play a more complex bass drum part.

4. The cover band drummer


Now you’re adding extra 16th notes on the bass drum to the main groove and going back to 8th notes on the hi-hats. It can be more difficult to play a busy snare and bass drum pattern under quarter note hi-hats, which is why we recommended doing it with 8th notes in level 2.

5. Dave Grohl


Now we’re in Grohl territory! Add a double on the bass drum in the main groove (and make sure you’re still rocking the quarter notes on the hi-hats). This level is also different from level 4 because of how the song should sound.

You should be ‘mixing’ yourself behind the kit. Is your bass drum coming through? How’s your backbeat? And are you hitting the crash just after the beat like Dave Grohl to push the song? Create that space, pushing and pulling when you need to, and make sure it’s loud and in your face so it has the power it needs.

What level are you at? Where do you hope to take it?

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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