What’s up plebs? Whether you are a guitarist looking to build up your drum skills, or a complete newcomer to the skins who wants to get involved in heavy music, we’ve compiled a list of ten quintessential drum beats that will help up your stick game. If you can master the techniques used in these songs, then you will be well on your way to mastering the fundamentals of hard rock and metal drumming.
1. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”
AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd is infamous for never, ever playing a drum fill (I challenge you to find one that isn’t technically an “accent”), which is partly what makes him a great drummer for newbies to study. He’s also a great model to aspire to because his simple grooves really made AC/DC’s classic albums cook.
“You Shook Me All Night Long” is a great song to learn because although the drum beat itself is simple, it has one tricky, but fundamental aspect to it: the kick drums land on the 1 and the “and” offbeat of 3. If you can master this bit of coordination, you’re well on your way to improving your understanding of rhythm.
2. Nirvana – “Heart Shaped Box”
Dave Grohl is one of the great drummers of the last few decades, and a pretty important drummer to study. Everywhere in his catalogue that you look – whether its his work with Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age, Scream, the drumming on the early Foo Fighters albums, or with Nirvana – there is a creatively refreshing and energetic take on classic drum tropes.
“Heart Shaped Box” is one of my favorite Grohl performances, and it’s also one of his simplest. This is a great song not only to practice little technical things – like rim clicks and hitting cymbals in tandem with the guitar – but also to work out your dynamics. Pay attention in particular to the ways that Grohl moves from the quiet verse sections to the heavy choruses and bridge. All of those dynamics are achieved the way classic jazz drummers achieved their dynamics – not by punching in or recording sections separately, but by Grohl’s control of his own dynamics.
3. Iron Maiden – “Hallowed Be Thy Name”
Many of Iron Maiden’s songs can be tricky (particularly on the Nicko McBrain records), but this song is one of their simplest – and best. It’s a great song to learn for so many reasons, as it will help you practice hitting fills on accents with guitar riffs, it will teach you endurance (it’s nearly 8 minutes long!), and it will also help you escape from playing the hi-hat with just your right hand (the beat is based around a two-handed hi-hat groove).
4. Metallica – “Sad but True”
I know Lars Ulrich isn’t exactly the poster-boy for modern metal drumming, but his playing on the first five Metallica albums are pretty important for beginners who are just beginning how to compose and groove on heavy metal songs.
“Sad but True” is a pretty simple song on the surface, but what makes it a perfect song to learn is that it’s deceptively tricky, namely in its dragging groove, it’s off-beat fills, and it’s mixture of straight rolls with triplets. Lars is also a case study in cymbal accent placement; in fact, he is one of the great accent-drummers in metal history. Few drummers of Metallica’s peak era knew how to play to a song (and make a song better) than Lars.
5. Guns N’ Roses – “Paradise City”
This song, one of GNR’s greatest, also features one of the most iconic drum openings of all time. Steven Adler’s kick-snare beat is a call to arms, building the tension up before sounding the alarm (whistle) and dropping the beat on one of the sickest riffs off Appetite for Destruction.
There’s little flash in this song – the focus of the drums is entirely on playing to the riffs.
6. Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker”
Beginner drummers should basically consider John Bonham to be the bible of rock drumming. Every single Zeppelin song is worth studying for his performances alone, and on “Heartbreaker,” he laid down one of the simplest, most effective drum beats he ever played (which is echoed later in “Kashmir” – another great song to study).
Pay particular attention to Bonham’s hi-hat and kick drum feel on this song, as well as the way he transitions between sections of the song, and how he accents the downbeat each time the main riff is presented.
7. Motorhead – “The Ace of Spades”
Motorhead, along with Discharge (and, some people will argue, the Buzzcocks – I’d argue it actually goes further back to various eras of jazz) were pioneers of the “d-beat,” a swinging drum beat that has become one of the fundamental techniques in hardcore, thrash, and basically every kind of hard drumming in bands that play really fast songs.
This is a tough beat to master, but practice slowly, and pay particular attention to drummer Phil Taylor’s bass drum. The d-beat is all about the off-beat placement of the kick drum on the “and” of the third beat of each measure. When you slow it down, it should sound straighter than it does on this recording. The slower you practice this technique, the more feel that you will be able to achieve when you begin to speed it up.
8. Manowar – “Warriors of the World”
Not only does it not get any easier than this, it also might not get any more troo. Kick and hi-hat together on one, snare and hi-hat together on three – for the whole song. There are some crash cymbals and little things here and there, but the hardest part is going to be just keeping in time with the massive space between each hit. Who says metal has to be fast and insane?
9. Judas Priest – “Breaking the Law”
I realize it may seem like a bit of a cop-out since we also had this song on our 25 Greatest Metal Riffs for Beginners list, but it would be criminal to leave this one off the drum list as well. It’s just the perfect speed for learning, the drum parts are all very clearly heard, and it’s just more complicated enough than a typical rock song that it should be the perfect one to learn as a gateway. It’ll get your hi-hat arm in good shape for all the harder stuff you’ll eventually graduate to (blast beats, D-beats, skank beats, etc.).
10. Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath”
One of the most iconic songs in metal as far as I’m concerned, Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” from the album Black Sabbath inspired generations of doom heads to overuse the tritone interval and slow tempos for sure. This song is great for drums, because of both its creeping slowness and awesome room for loads of improvised fills.
There’s also a big tempo change towards the end, with a triplet ride part that will have you feeling the burn in your forearms like none other.