Learning New Songs Through Notes

Over the last few days I’ve had my head down over my drum set, learning new song for Ken Stevens’ band. To expedite our timeline for being able to play out, we’re supplementing the originals with covers.  Part of the reason I’m so excited for this project is that it’s pushing my musical boundaries, but it also means learning some songs that I’m not familiar with.  To help, I’m mapping out each song into a 4×3 notebook.

While I could go out and either print out drum tabs or listen to the music or transcribe the songs into sheet music, but that would be a lot of work and could make me reliant on the sheets, especially when I’m playing in a genre that isn’t as accepting of music stands.  Instead, I’ve gone ahead and created a “cliff-notes” version of each song, writing some highlights.


Some things that I start off with some basic: What is the meter? 4/4, 6/8? What’s the tempo (In BPM, or may just a note a general feel)? Do I go with sticks or should I use brushes or the Rutes?

Next I move onto the structure of the song. What do the drums do during the intro (or is the intro drum-less)? How many repetitions are there in each part of the song? Is there a point where I drop out?  What are the dynamics? Is there anything else special to take note?

The intention is to be able to read through these notes right before I play this song, and in combination with concentration and muscle-memory, be able to work my way through the song.  Obviously with practice I should be able to commit these original and cover songs to memory, but this is a good way to cheat my way through an evening of music.

What other ways do you use to get through songs? For my friends who are not drummers, does a method like this work for you?  Do you have any other tips on how to learn new music in a relatively short period of time?