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 there 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!
Table of Contents
- What About Me? – Snarky Puppy
- Arithmophobia – Animals as Leaders
- Pneuma – Tool
- Bleed – Meshuggah
- Dance of Eternity – Dream Theater
- Tom Sawyer – Rush
- Caravan – Whiplash Version
- Rosanna – Toto
- Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin
- Hot for Teacher – Van Halen
- How to Learn and Play Complex Songs on the Drums
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.
I personally think that this is the song that put Larnell Lewis on the map. He starts out playing it with such authority that it makes me want to practice as much as I can to get to that point.
My favorite part is when the drums are played by themselves just before the guitar solo starts. Larnell makes it sound so groovy and clean, especially with the addition of the fat snare drum.
Even though this song is in 4/4, there are a few sections that trip me up often as the drum and bass parts are phrased over bar line to make it sound like odd time.
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.
Personally, I think Matt Gartska is one of the best drummers to have ever played the instrument. There are so many things that he plays on the drums that just seem near impossible to me. So, attempting to play one of his songs is no easy task for anyone.
To be able to play any tune from Animals as Leaders, you need to be very comfortable with changing time signatures and busy drum parts. To me, ‘Arithmophobia’ is one of the hardest songs to get a good grip of.
Whenever I’ve tried to learn this song, I’ve found that I take weeks to nail 3 or 4 bars only. It feels like it will take years to learn the whole track.
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!
Similar to Matt Gartska, Danny Carey just doesn’t appear to be human. It seems like he’s either counting frantically in his head to nail the rhythm changes, or he’s just so in tune with the song that everything comes naturally to him.
It’s probably number 2 of those two options, and I’m very jealous. Anyway, this song is over 10 minutes long, meaning it’s not a song for the casual drummers out there.
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.
The herta double pedal pattern is so popular that a whole culture of memes has spawned from it. I love watching YouTube videos where they reference back to what Thomas Haake plays on the drums here. The reason the memes are so funny is because the drum part is hilariously difficult to play.
I tried to learn how to play this song a while ago. I managed to get the polyrhythm patterns down slowly. Speeding it up was a whole different story as my hands and feet began to fall apart. I’m still trying to practice it today. I know that one day I’ll be able to play the tune. I just can’t right at this moment!
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.
I remember watching videos of the auditions for a new drummer for Dream Theater. There were several top-quality drummers who could all comfortably be considered some of the best drummers in the world.
Many of them struggled with this song, making me realize just how hard it actually is to play. I’ve never personally tried to learn to play it. However, I think it would take me an unnatural amount of time to learn if I did. Good luck to anyone who takes the challenge on!
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!
I love how the song starts in common 4/4 time and then switches to 7/8 later on. I think the thing that makes this track so popular is that not many classic rock bands were tackling odd time tunes at the time when Rush was big.
Neil Peart shows exactly why he’s so popular here as the drum part is incredibly effective. I feel that learning to play this song will bring out your inner Rockstar.
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.
You should watch the movie Whiplash to fully understand the complexity of this tune. Latin drumming is never easy. I find playing Latin grooves particularly difficult because of the independence needed between all four limbs.
Playing a double-time swing isn’t easy either. I love playing medium tempo swing patterns but speeding those up to frantic tempos is enough to stress me out heavily.
I think this song is a great test to see where you’re at in your skill levels regarding Latin and jazz drumming.
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.
In terms of drumming, this is one of my favorite songs of all time. My life changed forever after I learned to play the Rosanna Shuffle. Everything became a bit easier to play on the drums afterward as this groove improved many aspects of my playing.
It leads you to play cracking rimshots and very delicate ghost notes. Half-time shuffles aren’t easy grooves to learn. They also take years to master. The fact that this song is pretty fast makes playing the Rosanna Shuffle even more difficult.
I have massive respect for Jeff Porcaro. You have to be an incredibly talented drummer to create a groove that would later become one of the most recognizable beats of all time.
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.
I remember seeing a live version of this song being played. My dad showed it to me and told me how this drummer was about to blow my mind. He was right. If you want to learn how to play the famous Bonham triplets, this is the best song to learn. I feel that this song perfectly represents just how good Bonham was.
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.
I first heard this song when I used to play Guitar Hero on PlayStation. I wasn’t as big of a drummer back then as I am now. However, I instantly recognized how complex the drum part was back then. It blew my mind, and it still blows my mind today. The intro drum part resembles a motorbike that has just started its engine.
How to Learn and Play Complex Songs on the Drums
Learning these hard songs is never going to be an easy process. However, there are a few things you can do to help you along the way that will make learning tricky parts a bit more digestible.
The biggest key to learning a song is to listen. You need to listen as much as you can so that you’re made aware of the song structure and how each part leads into the next. Since the drum parts are already there with established songs, you also need to listen very clearly to what the drummer is doing.
The more you listen, the easier it will be to play the song later on. Having a good ear is one of the biggest aspects of being a good musician, and it all starts in the practice room when you’re listening to songs that you want to learn.
Write It Out
If there’s a particular part of a song that you’re finding difficult, I’ve always found that it helps me tremendously to try and write the part out. Visualizing what the drummer is doing that and writing it out on paper makes it seem more attainable to me. It also allows me to practice the part slowly while reading it over and over.
If you can’t read and write music, I strongly encourage you to learn how to do it. It’s an invaluable skill to have, especially when you need to learn how to play complex drum parts.
If you can’t understand what’s going on in certain songs, you can always look online and see if anyone has a guide on how to play it. There have been so many times where I want to play a song, but I had no idea where to start in the learning process. A quick browse on YouTube helped me find videos where people were teaching exactly what to do. The information was golden. It was also free!
Following an online tutorial on how to play a song can be incredibly helpful. The people teaching those lessons have already done the hard yards by figuring out what to play. It will be easier for you to just jump onto what they’ve already figured out.
If you don’t find the tutorial for the song for free, you might still be able to find it inside any of the top online drum lesson platforms which have become hugely popular in recent years.
The last piece of advice I have is the most obvious. However, it’s something that we all need to be told and reminded of over and over. To get better at playing songs, you need to practice playing them all the time.
I like to think that a song will never be as difficult as it was when I first tried to learn it. You just need to revisit playing songs constantly and you’ll naturally get better at playing them. The only way to get better at playing them is to practice.
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.