Drumming has the potential to get seriously complicated. When musicians become masters of their craft, they will start to structure complex drum parts to fit the bands they play with.
Most music out their is fairly straightforward. However, there are some bands that take musicianship to the next level with drummers that expertly fit in with them.
We’re going to look at some of the hardest songs to play on the drums and what makes them so tricky to learn.
Please note that this is by no means a ‘comprehensive’ or ‘definitive’ list of hardest drum songs, as difficulty is entirely subjective. With that out of the way, let’s begin!
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What About Me? – Snarky Puppy
Snarky Puppy is one of the leading jazz fusion bands in the world at the moment. The song ‘What About Me?’ is a favorite of many listeners. It has a straightforward 8th note feel. However, the drum parts are packed with ghost notes and little nuances that make playing them very difficult.
Larnell Lewis only had a short time to learn this song and he absolutely killed it on the recording, creating a drum part that will go down in history as one that is highly creative and complex.
Arithmophobia – Animals as Leaders
The intro of this track will make you think the song is in 4/4 time. However, when the drums and guitar come in, you’ll hear that the measures are shifting time signatures every bar. Matt Gartska is well known for playing grooves like this.
The shifting time signatures and the hundreds of subtle ghost notes between the main hits make this a heavy track to take on. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
Many intermediate drummers will struggle with the footwork. It’s really hard to consistently play doubles that quickly. My tip for making this a tad bit easier would be tuning your bass drum more tightly, since it’ll increase the beater response.
Pneuma – Tool
The only good word to describe this track would be ‘polyrhythms’. There are a lot of them here. Tool has been playing progressive rock for decades and they were one of the first bands to delve into the realm of changing time signatures and complex rhythms.
The drummer, Danny Carey, makes it look effortless when he plays this song. Just give it a go so you can realize how much effort it will actually take!
Bleed – Meshuggah
Speaking of polyrhythms, it wouldn’t be a complete list of hard songs without ‘Bleed’ by Meshuggah. Thomas Haake takes drumming to a new level in this track by playing hertas on his kick drum while carrying a groove with his hands. This goes on for the entire 7-minute duration of the song.
This track requires coordination and a serious amount of endurance. It’s fast and it’s not easy. If you want to learn a song that will challenge your double pedal playing, give this one a go.
Dance of Eternity – Dream Theater
Dream Theater was another band that was known for playing a lot of odd time signatures in the 20th century. Their most famous song is arguably ‘Dance of Eternity’. With 104 time signature changes in six minutes, it’s undoubtedly one of the hardest songs to play on the drums.
Their drummer at the time, Mike Portnoy, did such a great job in writing these drum parts that it has become a huge challenge for drummers to test themselves with this track.
Tom Sawyer – Rush
Here’s a track for all the classic rock lovers out there. Neil Peart is a favorite drummer of many, thanks to drum parts like this. Although this song isn’t too hectic, it has several grooves that will take some time to learn. The hard part is putting them all together.
Once you have everything down, this song is a lot of fun to play!
Caravan – Whiplash Version
The song ‘Caravan’ is a jazz standard that has been around for decades. However, it was made popular by the movie ‘Whiplash’. The song has two parts that are incredibly difficult to play on the drums.
The first part is a fast Latin groove that requires a fair amount of independence between your limbs. The second part is a fast double-time swing that’s played with the ride cymbal. Both parts will need some practice.
Rosanna – Toto
Moving onto another classic rock song, ‘Rosanna’ has Jeff Porcaro playing one of the most famous drum grooves of all time. The Rosanna Shuffle is a half time shuffle that will stretch your ability to play accurate ghost notes.
The groove is quick and it carries the whole song, so you’ll need to build up your endurance.
Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin
If you’re into hard rock, Led Zeppelin is one of the best bands to listen to. The drummer, John Bonham, is arguably one of the most famous rock drummers of all time. The song ‘Mody Dick’ features John Bonham playing a great solo that has a lot of triplets in it.
Learning to play this solo will challenge your skills as well as get you rocking. The intro and outro of the song are fairly straightforward. So, you’ll be jamming the intro, playing the complex drum solo, and then jamming the outro.
Hot for Teacher – Van Halen
Finishing off the list with an absolute classic on the drums. The track starts out with an intricate drum part that combines a double bass pattern with a floor tom pattern on the hands. Mixing these two parts together isn’t going to be easy for any drummer.
The rest of the track has a driving shuffle feel with a big emphasis on the kick drum. Once you get the parts down, you’re going to have a great time jamming along to some classic Van Halen.
If you can play every one of these songs, you can call yourself a master drummer. Typically, drummers will focus on specific genres and get good at playing those. So, don’t feel bad if you can play some of these songs but not others.
You won’t often see a jazz drummer playing some heavy double bass patterns. If you’re up for a challenge, pick one of these songs and start learning.