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Improve Your Play With Drum Covers

Guest writer Omar Alvarado runs the drumming blog TheParadiddler.com, “THE blog for all things drumming”.

Cobus Potgieter

Budding drummers who are serious about improving their drumming may find it’s difficult to determine which aspect of their playing to focus on – such as rudiments, music theory, or reading music. Even then, there are alternatives to applying these such as using a practice pad, a snare drum, or a drum kit. Of course, your neighbors will appreciate you choosing the practice pad!

But I digress.

It doesn’t stop there, however. There are a multitude of options on how you choose to learn the drums. As in, who or what is going to teach you?

  • Private lessons in person
  • Books
  • DVD courses
  • Online instruction

You can combine the above in any combination to suit your taste, or your wallet (or your parents’ wallet) – so many choices!

You have likely already made some of the above choices. There’s no shortage of high-quality instruction here on Drumeo.com, which combines many of the different methods of teaching. But there may be one method that is often overlooked in drum instruction, that not only helps you improve your drumming considerably, but may even be the most fun: playing drum covers.

There are many benefits you can derive from playing drum covers, (which we’ll get into in a bit), but let’s consider one blaring example of someone who benefited greatly from playing them – Cobus Potgieter. Who can say that playing drum covers didn’t play a role in Cobus’ development as a drummer? In fact, that’s what made him most famous. It kind of happened backwards, actually. He wasn’t in it for the fame, but he played because he enjoyed it. As he got better and better at playing the songs, the fame came later. And instead of approaching the drums from a strictly academic standpoint, he chose drum covers as his educational outlet (at least it played a big role). Suffice it to say that he owes a lot to those covers.

Yet another example of someone who benefited greatly from playing drum covers is Meytal Cohen. Did she ever dream that playing drum covers would propel her career to where it is today, with over half a million YouTube subscribers, composing original music for public consumption, and her own instructional drum course? Probably not. Again, playing drum covers may not have been the only reason for her success, but it played a big role. (By the way, Cobus Potgieter also has his own drum course, The Cobus Method, and also has about half a million YouTube subscribers – sheesh).

So what’s the deal? Can drum covers make you play that good? Well, yes, they can, and should be part of your educational tool kit. Let’s go over some reasons why drum covers are such a great tool for improving your drumming.

1) You are forced to pay attention.
We’ve all seen them. Those drum covers on YouTube where you watch for about a minute and wonder, “Dang, did this guy even hear the song first?” If you want to look like it’s you playing the drums instead of the original drummer, then you’ll need to pay attention. That means developing a keen ear, and being an astute observer. We have the benefit of live (and sometimes studio) footage of the original drummers, plus you most likely are not the first person covering the song. Don’t feel guilty – use YouTube to see how other drummers have covered the song. Do this enough times and you’ll learn to ‘see’ what your ears ‘hear’ (or ‘hear’ what your eyes ‘see’ – works out the same). Now when you practice the song, you’ll have a good understanding of how to play it. If you set your standards high, and practice the song enough times, you’ll end up with a performance you’ll be proud of.

2) You are forced to be disciplined.
To get the song right, you may have to play it over, and over, and over again. This forces you to discipline yourself. Do this enough times and this learned discipline will spill over into other aspects of your drumming, be it practicing or performing. Good drumming has a lot to do with control, focus, and even restraint – if you’re just beating the drums haphazardly you may get tired of them quickly, since you’re not achieving tangible results. But playing a drum cover enough times until you get it right, well, that’s a tangible result – one that is measurable, and one that you can build on.

3) Drum covers are fun.
Let’s face it: in the end, it’s all about playing songs, right? Sure drum solos are cool, but not everyone can play them. But anyone can play at least one song they like (by ‘anyone’ I mean an aspiring drummer). Sure rudiments are important, and so is reading music. But you don’t necessarily need to know these to play the drums. If you learn to play drums by learning to play the songs you like, you’re learning some rudiments already without even knowing it. Afterwards, as you actually focus more on rudiments, for example, you will recognize rudiments you may have already been playing because you learned the song. This will reinforce what you already know and help solidify those skills.

Playing songs on a drum kit is almost always more fun than playing rudiments on a practice pad. Now don’t get me wrong – playing rudiments on a practice pad is essential to improving your fundamental drumming skills, and it is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. Again, I’m not advocating replacing practicing rudiments or improving your music reading skills with playing drum covers. I’m saying that adding drum covers to your tools for learning to play is also a worthwhile endeavor.

All of the above may be moot, however, if you don’t record everything (preferably video). Yes, get into the habit of recording as much of your practices, as much of your drum covers as possible. There’s nothing like having a documented timeline of your improvement. You’ll be shocked at how well you cover songs after a year of recording yourself. Seeing yourself play gives you immediate feedback. You can see and hear timing issues that need improvement, and you’ll be able to notice technique issues that need to be addressed that you won’t otherwise notice if you don’t see it.

In the beginning, when I started to record myself playing, during the performance I thought I was hitting the drums hard. But when I looked back at the video – wow, what a weakling! I didn’t realize how reserved I played. I was holding back the power that the songs required, and this in turn affected how I implemented dynamics in the songs. Watching these videos back helped me determine what was the fundamental cause of my ‘reserved’ playing (although lack of drumming experience certainly was part of it, for me the gist of my problem stemmed from what I dubbed the ‘neighbor syndrome’).

So the bottom line: record everything! Which brings us to a fourth reason why drum covers are a great tool…

4) Gaining exposure.
Remember Cobus and Meytal? They didn’t just play drum covers – they recorded them. They posted them to a public platform (YouTube). Lots of people saw them, and the rest is history. Did they do it for the fame? Probably not, but visibility would not be possible without the recorded drum cover. Getting our covers recorded and posted creates a portfolio, a showcase, of our talents and skills. If your goal is to play in a band, having some videos online will facilitate showing one’s wares to interested parties. You’ll be a step ahead of those who don’t regularly record and post their covers. Having a portfolio of drum covers on hand shows potential band mates at least three things:

  • that you can learn songs
  • that you can play songs
  • that you’re willing to work (you not only learned and played the songs, but you also went through the trouble of documenting your performances)

Many bands just play covers. If you have proof that you can learn and play songs, you’re in! So you can use your YouTube channel, full of your drum covers, to advertise yourself to bands looking for a drummer.

So, for a fully educational and enriching drumming experience, go ahead and incorporate as many of the different methods of instruction as possible. This will help you become a well-rounded drummer because you’ll be better able to address and focus on what you want (and need) to work on. But don’t forget to add to your educational tool kit what might be the most fun part of learning the drums – the drum cover!

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Guest writer Omar Alvarado runs the drumming blog TheParadiddler.com, “THE blog for all things drumming”.

Hi, I'm Omar Alvarado

Omar runs the drumming blog TheParadiddler.com, "THE blog for all things drumming".

  • Ben Norris

    This is valuable advice – but I think you’ve missed a key point (for me at least!). I found that when I practice drum covers, it highlights all the areas where I need to work on my playing. – For example, one of the songs I have on my drum-along playlist is ‘Easy’ by The Commodores. As I attempted to play it, I realised I needed to really improve on my bass drum technique. To pull off the groove successfully the 16th note shuffle played on the bass drum, has to be both precise and accurate. – This led me to work on some bass drum exercises to improve my speed and accuracy, so I had the necessary skills in my arsenal to pull off the groove. The more I worked on my bass drum technique, I found my ability to play the bass drum groove would improve. My motivation for doing the bass drum exercises was driven solely by my desire to successfully master a groove I wished to play. The rudiments/practice exercises are not and end in themselves – they are simply a means to an end. I had a desire to practice the exercises in order to reach my drumming goal, which was (and is) to master the song.

    • Great point by you Ben!

      There’s no question that playing drum covers can expose some of our weaknesses (which I believe is alluded to in the 3rd benefit above). Paying attention, being disciplined, and recording ourselves will accelerate our awareness of what we need to work on as well.

      And yes, it’s all about the song. 🙂

  • David Bustos

    I know I might be a little late to post this, but I just stumbled upon this article recently and it piqued my interest. I have been playing drums for about 23 years now and have been getting more interested in posting drum covers. I follow Meytal and Cobus on YouTube, and absolutely love their abilities. However, I am concerned with starting a page of my own. There are so many good songs out there to cover, but they are not my songs. I tried reaching out to them about licensing and copyright issues, but never received anything back from them about the topic. I’d hate to put forth the effort of recording audio/video for YouTube, only to have them issue me a takedown notice because of copyrights. I noticed on your website, Omar, that you have some covers of Rush’s songs posted. I’m curious as to how these videos are not taken down, as Rush is a very established band from years passed. I know that it is possible to get a sync license to cover songs, so long as certain criteria are met and the publishing company gives you the okay…but I’m sure that this wouldn’t be the case for many, many well known songs out there. So I guess my overall concern/question is: How does one properly go about covering songs and posting them to YouTube? Do we just throw caution to the wind and post the videos in hopes that YouTubes algorithm doesn’t detect copyrighted material? Or do we actually attempt to contact publishing companies as a non-profit who is just looking to cover a song? Any and all help/insight would be very, very appreciated! This is an endeavor that I have been wanting to get in to for years…I just don’t want to put in so much hard work of recording the media and performance, just to have it deleted.

    • Hi David.

      Copyright is a serious matter, but at the same time, I try not to complicate it. In my case, I do not bother with trying to obtain licenses to do the covers. The videos are not put up to make money off of them, and I try to educate the viewer as to the making of the video, and possibly give them ideas for their covers. I believe YouTube has made it easier as of late to post covers, since
      when they detect a similarity between a copyrighted song and your cover, they will notify you. However, you have the option of acknowledging that the material does belong to someone else, and when you accept, they video is not removed.

      I also would not worry so much about your video being deleted. Look at it from the perspective of having gained experience playing the cover, and that it is something to build on for the next cover, whether others see it or not. Your goals should be to have fun, and to get better every time. And if you want to
      play covers in a band eventually, this is a good tool to gain some experience.

      And another thing: If your cover sounds so much like the original that YouTube has to notify you, then take that as a badge of honor – you must be playing good enough to be noticed! I take it as a complement,
      actually.

      If others want to chime in on the issue of copyright as relates to YouTube, please do!