10 Hardest Songs to Play on Drums (With Videos)

mike portnoy

If you’re looking for some truly difficult songs to play on drums then keep reading. Learning to play them will stretch your abilities while being a ton of fun in the process.

It’s great to listen to drumming in songs that have both a combination of tastefulness as well as great complexity. It’s even better to be able to play them.

This article explores some of the songs across various genres that are considered hard to play and difficult to excel at. However, if you put enough effort in, you may eventually be able to play them with relative ease.

Note: This article is NOT intended to be the definitive guide to the most difficult songs to play on drums. Of course, there are MANY other difficult songs to play on drums. Song difficulty is also very subjective for any musical instrument.

1. Dance of Eternity – Dream Theater

A sheer sonic marvel in the progressive metal genre is ‘Dance of Eternity’ by Dream Theater. The tricky part of the song is the use of numerous time signature variations since Mike Portnoy and co do not adhere to the 4/4-time signatures.

The track features many complex time signatures making it a daunting task to play for many drummers. Now, dance eternity is not composed of high speed, massive grooves and fills. But the complexity of the song is hidden in various time signatures and the fluid motion throughout the change without any noticeable repetition.

Here are two beneficial video links, one of which is a dance eternity drum cover and another one features Mike Portnoy giving a glimpse of counting the odd time signatures.

2. La Villa Strangiato – Rush

The rock genre’s quintessential track ‘La Villa Strangiato’ by Rush is a perfect love child of guitar extraordinaire, bass and pummeling drum brilliance.

The bass and guitar riff followed by the assault of powerful percussions under Neil Peart’s dexterous command is a true benchmark in rock history. The track is a spiraling journey of various odd meters, impressive speed, drop and beats.

The meticulous precision and controls along with technical details make the song a serious challenge. ‘La Villa Strangiato’ is the epitome of instrumental skill by Rush.

3. Moby Dick – Led Zeppelin

‘Moby Dick’ is the ultimate track that senselessly assaults and treats your ears while pulling you through the emotions of angst and pleasure.

Learning to play this song can leave you frustrated and pulling your hair out. However, what’s a challenge if it doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone. Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick’ only features the band members in the beginning and near end, whereas, the rest of the song is out and out drummer John Bonham’s god-like performance.

The solo drum part constitutes of some 15-minute-long showcase of precision drumming and complex groove pattern establishment at a stunning speed.

Brilliant and almost unreal foot and handwork by Bonham in this solo is something that should be a landmark for aspiring drummers to achieve.

The energy, the passion that this hard rock track exudes and such brilliant craftsmanship by Bonham including his two and half minutes long hand drumming is one of music’s best shining moments.

4. Ticks and Leeches – Tool

To put it simply the drum section of ‘Ticks and Leeches’ by Tool’s star drummer Danny Carrey is a technical extravaganza and extremely challenging.

The song is mostly in the 7/4 meter at high speed on 16th notes, making it quite a learning curve for aspiring drummers. The drum sections start slow and gradually builds up to lightning speed featuring polyrhythms and syncopated patterns between hand and footwork.

This one requires endurance and skills to harness the polyrhythmic patterns and play with finesse at odd meters.

5. Bleed – Meshuggah

The progressive metal offering by the Swedish band Meshuggah is the track ‘Bleed’ that treats its listeners with a mind-altering drum pattern.

Although, the song is played in 4/4. The double bass speed by Tom Haake is a completely euphoric experience.

The intricate polyrhythms, extremely demanding footwork and stamina to pull off this ultimate sonic insanity is every drummer’s dream.

Tom Haake is a beast on the drums because of his extreme limb control and insanely fast drumming speed on this track.

6. Goliath – The Mars Volta

Extremely loud and banging, Mars Volta’s rock-genre based track, ‘Goliath’ is a hammering rendition. The song is inclusive of heavy and hard-hitting drum patterns and almost violent double bass beats that keep you reeling in the aftereffects.

The blazing sounds and multiple grooves and fill with composite and varied time changes, the track is undoubtedly a learning experience.

7. Sedation Deprivation – Nerve

Whether it’s the technical grooves, fills; glaring speed; intense polyrhythms; epic dynamic controls or breakbeats, this song has all the elements that pass off any track as challenging and hard to play or practice. ‘Sedation Deprivation’ is a track, which at a first glance seems easy to tackle given its effortless fluidity.

However, the track is an amalgamation of intricately composed elements that makes it extremely challenging to master. It is a masterfully hypnotic and mesmerizing track, in which the bass and snare shine through with exuberance without an assault to your ears but has enough subtle kick to jolt your senses.

8. The Violation – Flesh God Apocalypse

A perfect ode to death metal genre with classic symphonic influences, ‘The Violation’ is a serious headbanger. The track features a powerful drum performance without devouring the essence of guitars and symphony beneath its roaring sensory assault.

The drummer, Franco Paoli’s epic drum sequence that blasts your senses with his double bass and relentless beats is fascinating since he knows exactly when to restraint his drums and when to let loose. The double bass drumming, orchestral elements and blast beats at super-speed makes this track extremely difficult.

9. A Night in Tunisia – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers

Pioneers of Hard Bop style in the Jazz genre, Art Blakey’s track ‘A Night in Tunisia’ is amongst the most refined and complex drum sections.

The quintessential track features a brilliantly constructed drum solo that swings and flows effortlessly through the track with fine precision and control. Art Blakey’s controlled yet ebullient and jovial drums are the true essence of Jazz music.

10. Sing, Sing, Sing – Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa single-handedly changed the face of drumming in the Jazz genre. More than a tempo keeping instruments, Krupa brought resplendence and extravagance in drums. ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ is the ultimate testament of Gene’s prowess over the drums with just a humble 4 drum kit. His strength at tom-toms, snare, and cymbals add a perfect verve to the track.

Additionally, Gene’s extended drum solo adds extremely powerful and peppy swing to the track. This song will serve as a great learning curve for aspiring drummers since Gene Krupa has a major influence artists from many genres, such as Keith Moon, John Bonham and Buddy Rich cite him as one of their inspirations.

What Makes a Song Hard to Play on Drums?

The factors that make any drum song hard is quite subjective since what constitutes difficult for one artist is a piece of cake for another given their skills.

However, there are few technicalities and criteria upon which the song would be considered hard to play.

The common time signatures are 4/4 but many hard songs include odd time signatures. Challenging songs can include multiple, changing time signatures.

Another dimension of difficult songs is polyrhythms, i.e. multiple rhythms are played on a similar tempo that can be hard to play together.

Some of the songs considered hard and legendary are the ones played on with unique fills and grooves along with speed and amazing chops.

Besides the technical factors, the most important determinant of songs considered hard is the precise controls and insane beat execution on the drummer’s part.

Conclusion

The tracks discussed above features some combination of fast drumming speed, polyrhythms and complex time signatures by these legendary drummers throughout various genres such as rock, progressive rock, heavy metal and jazz.

They might seem intimidating and frustrating at the time, but this selection of songs will push you to your limits of creativity and deep understanding of drums. Therefore, if you are willing to develop mastery over drumming then learning to play these complex tracks will certainly help.

Featured Image by: Rodrigo Della Fávera from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil / CC BY

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