How to Play a John Bonham Drum Solo.
The secret of playing a John Bonham drum solo lies in playing triplets. Triplets are sets of three things, so you want to hit the drum kit three times, and then three times again, over and over. Think thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da, lasting forever. That is the John Bonham drum sound, the sound you want.
Begin by hitting the snare drum once with your right hand, then hit some other drum with your left hand, and finally step on the kick drum for the important third beat, the concluding beat of the triplet. Do this over and over again, until you get a steady thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da rhythm going and can play it while you drink coffee. Ten minutes practice a day for a month ought to do it. Now you’re playing drums like John Bonham. But you can do better. John Bonham didn’t stop there, and neither should you. Now that you have the basic pattern, you’ll want to work it up to something great, like John Bonham did.
The next important step is learning to start your triplets on any drum, even the kick drum, and with either hand, even the foot. Instead of starting with the right hand hitting the snare drum, start with the right hand hitting a tom-tom, or the closed high-hat, or with the left hand hitting it. Practice this until you can start your series of endless triplets effortlessly on any piece of the kit, even a cymbal or the kick drum. Again, ten minutes a day for a month or so will work wonders for your co-ordination and the smooth flow of your thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da, thump-pe-da, which you can now start up like a motor, with either hand or foot, and perform all over the drums, without throwing a stick or becoming entangled in your own limbs, except to be funny.
But even here John Bonham doesn’t stop. Even after he made the important discovery that all drumming is just triplets, or should be, Bonham didn’t stop experimenting and improving. The next step, he saw, was in speeding up the beat without losing the basic triplet pattern. Here is how you do it. Start with those basic triplets, those thump-pe-da’s. Play them for about ten minutes straight. Now make use of that tiny pause between the thump and the pe, that small gap between the pe and the da, and that little opening between the da and the thump again, where before you weren’t playing anything, here shown by dashes. Do this by flying around the kit with blinding speed, hitting every drum and cymbal in those negligible spaces. Sound impossible? Once again, ten minutes daily work over about a month will get you there. Never give up. If you are at a loss for inspiration on how to fill in those spaces, listen to John Bonham play with Led Zeppelin, or go on You Tube and type in “John Bonham style drums.” Incredible examples of what you can play abound, and will surely inspire you.
Now you are almost ready to play “Moby Dick,” but not quite. There’s one more step. This is the all-important tempo changeup. In the middle of flying around the kit with bewildering speed, keeping up the thump-pe-da’s while also jamming like hell inside those brief spaces, you suddenly stop moving, plunging the whole kit into dead silence, and after a suitable pause begin to tap out simple sixteenth-notes on the snare drum with your left hand, like a woodpecker in a still forest. Practice this ten minutes a day, so that you can play nothing but sixteenth notes on the snare with only your left hand and are otherwise silent, for thirty minutes without your hand falling off. Now with your free right hand, resume flying around the kit with blazing speed, hitting everything you were using two hands to hit before, while with your feet you recall the basic triplet on the high-hat and kick drum. Now you’re playing “Moby Dick," or you will be after additional practice. If you need more than a month to get to the place that John Bonham inhabits, take it. Note that the solo consists of playing nothing but triplets, simple sixteenth notes with the left hand, and flying around the kit with blazing speed with only the right hand, and simple foot-stomping. You might object that this is not exactly just triplets, and you’d be right. But it’s mainly triplets, and it sounds like triplets. That’s because John Bonham makes everything sound like triplets.
Finally, what should you do if after months and even years of practice you don’t sound like John Bonham, as let’s face it no one else does or ever will? How will you even come close? Do what Bonzo himself did, at those recording sessions and live concerts when he needed his arms and legs to twitch like a frog attached to electrodes: remove the seat from your drum throne and sit on the point.
SUGGESTED READSRock and Roll, Thesaurusized
by Christopher J. Falvey (5/12/2005)
John Moe’s Pop Song Correspondences: Letters to Fogerty
by John Moe (6/23/2004)
John Moe’s Pop Song Correspondences: Concerning, Jon Bon Jovi, Wanted Dead or Alive
by John Moe (6/10/2014)
RECENTLYMurder Beach is Open for Summer!
by Matt Bower (5/27/2016)
List: Ways in Which We Swipe Right After 34
by JoJo Franzen (5/27/2016)
Inside Witnesses: One Crime’s Many Narratives: Amy Makes it Home, Part 2
by Marti Jonjak (5/27/2016)
POPULARList: Things the World’s Most and Least Privileged People Say
by John-Clark Levin (5/19/2016)
I Would Rather Do Anything Else Than Grade Your Final Papers
by Robin Lee Mozer (5/2/2016)
List: Obituaries for Teenage Girls If They Actually Died When They Say They’re Dying
by Karen Chee (5/26/2016)