12 of the Hardest Songs to Play on Drums (With Videos)

mike portnoy

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. Learning to play hard songs on the drums will stretch your abilities while having a ton of fun in the process.

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. The Dance of Eternity – Dream Theater

A sheer sonic marvel in the progressive metal genre is “The 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, “The Dance of 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.

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 make you want to pull 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 at the beginning and near the end, whereas the rest of the song is out and out drummer John Bonham’s god-like performance.

The solo drum part constitutes a 15-minute-long showcase of precision drumming and complex groove pattern establishment at a stunning speed. The 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 and passion that this hard rock track exudes, coupled with such brilliant craftsmanship by Bonham, including his two-and-a-half-minute long hand drumming, are 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 build 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” which 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 are 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 after-effects.

With the blazing sounds and multiple grooves filled 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 first glance, seems easy to tackle, given its effortless fluidity.

However, the track is an amalgamation of intricately composed elements that make 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 on your ears, but it has enough subtle kick to jolt your senses.

8. The Violation – Fleshgod Apocalypse

A perfect ode to the 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 restrain his drums and when to let loose. The double bass drumming, orchestral elements, and blast beats at a super-speed make this track extremely difficult.

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

Pioneers of the Hard Bop style in the Jazz genre, Art Blakey’s track “A Night in Tunisia” has 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 tempo-keeping instruments, Krupa brought resplendence and extravagance to drums. “Sing, Sing, Sing” is the ultimate testament to 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 an 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 on artists from many genres—Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Buddy Rich cite him as one of their inspirations.

11. 21st Century Schizoid Man – King Crimson

You’ve obviously heard of King Crimson, otherwise, you’ve been living under a rock. 21st Century Schizoid Man is a pioneering progressive rock song that combines a lot of jazz elements and requires insane precision and timing to get right.

What makes this song such a test for drummers is the ability to drive the drum fills during the solos, especially the ‘mirrors’ part which is, hands down, the most difficult part. Not only do you need energy and power, but you also need to be exceptionally precise and on time. Playing this perfectly is a worthy match.

12. Beast and the Harlot – Avenged Sevenfold

For you metal and double bass fans out there, Beast and the Harlot by Avenged Sevenfold should be top of your list of hardest songs to learn on the drums. First and foremost, the sheer speed of this song is mind-blowing. Now, imagine holding this tempo for 5 and a half minutes.

Employing a double bass kick at 155 BPM throughout, amazingly-fast drum solos, as well as the complex hand/foot pattern on the chorus is something no mere mortal drummer can do. While mastering the technique is one thing, you also need to have exceptional stamina to perform this piece from start to finish.

What Makes a Song Hard to Play on Drums?

The factors that make any drum song hard are quite subjective since what constitutes difficult for one artist is a piece of cake for another, given their skills. However, there are a 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 with unique fills and grooves along with speed and amazing chops. Besides the technical factors, the most important determinant of songs being considered hard is the precise control and ability on the drummer’s part.

Conclusion

The tracks discussed above feature 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

Mike O'Connor

I've been playing drums for over 18 years. I work as both a session drummer and a drum teacher, and I love to share my knowledge and tips on this site. You can also find me on the Electronic Drum Advisor YouTube channel.

1 thought on “12 of the Hardest Songs to Play on Drums (With Videos)”

  1. This may seem kinda dumb but I found a song unholy gavebirth (dumb name I know) but the drumming is almost impossibly fast

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