Can you teach me to understand drum loops?

We all know that a bass player and a drummer should be best friends. That locking together is the best thing since … Joking, nothing is better. Trouble is, I am such a beginner that not only I don’t have a drummer to play with, but I would waste their time. So, while I slowly improve with a metronome, maybe I could use some drum loop. But how can I decode those? They have so many sounds in those kits, and I struggle to decode the beats from the fills (and there is no rule by which the rhythm of the loop should not use syncopated pulse or some other evil trick!)

Some apps allow to superimpose a click, and that is helpful but is also “cheating”.

I can ‘feel’ the rhythm of the loop, but I struggle to “rationalize it” and be actually able to play together.

So, how can I begin to learn this mysterious world of drums? Is there some pointer, some magical nugget of knowledge that can give me the basis?


Hi @f.guerrieri! I have found that this is a decent site with a free drum kit. They have some canned drumlines, and you can easily customize or change tempo


I think you should look into and play with @gcancella 's excellent grooveful applet:

It’ll allow you to start your own loops, super simple to start with, and then add complexity as you learn :smile:


My advice (regardless of source - VST, app, or loop sample) would be to start with a very simple drum line - alternating kick/snare or 4-on-the-floor are perfect. It’s also good to add something like closed hi-hat rim hits on the eighth notes. This gives you a lot to latch on to. Then work up from there to more complicated drum beats.


yep simple is best. before you even pick up a bass groove along to it. be able to tap your toe to it, 1 2 3 4.


Thanks everybody for the pointers. But I would like to discuss some further insights, that is "how do you ‘decode’ in your ears/mind a drum loop’?

Do you say “ok there is a snare on the and of 2, there is a syncopated hihat there, the kick drum is on the 3…” Or do you “simply feel it”? Sorry for the naivete of the question, tell me if it’s too basic!

I start with the basis, the root - the 1. Then I try and work out the beat after that. For highly syncopated beats this can be tricky but there’s usually something that leads you there even if the kick/snare is syncopated - ride cymbal, hi-hats, etc are often on the beats, and so on.

Also, disliking Jazz helps a lot :rofl:


I’m also struggling with hearing drums properly and am trying to learn. If you are more of a visual learner and have a subscription to Ultimate Guitar, you can display the drum tab, mute all the other instruments and just listen to the drum track while reading, counting and playing along. This is an example (U2 With or Without You):

Not sure if this was your question but I hope it helps anyway.


yes, i would agree with howard. you really don’t need to analyze drum tracks, unless you’re the drummer :rofl: you just need to be able to tap your foot along which will give you the basic count. the only thing that you need to be able to do is to find the one, which in most pop/rock songs is easy to do, it’s the strongest beat. stay away from odd time sigs/crazy rhythms to start, after you learn 4/4, then you can go on to 3/4 and beyond. there are a bunch of youtube vids that show how to count odd time sigs.


One thing I do with grooveful is trying to mimick what I’m hearing to “decode” the beat.

I do that by setting the correct time signature and starting with a simple beat and adjust it on the grid to match what I’m hearing.


This is a great suggestion! I want to try it!

1 Like

Nah… not helping at all :wink:

It’s a pattern that repeats! Humans are usually good in finding patterns (even where there are none; think recognizable shapes in cloud formations).
I would try to mimick what you hear with an onomatopoeic sound (boom-chaka-chaka-boom-boom or ring-dingadingdingding or whatever works) and not worry at all whether this bit is played by the kick drum, snare drum or other piece of percussion. Then latch on to that “nonsense” spoken rhythm and play along.

Maybe this all is more natural for me as I was a drummer in my previous musical life :smile:



You should try it! :rofl:

(That was meant to be a joke about Jazz drummers being fond of polyrythms and other complex syncopated beats :slight_smile: )


I know :grin:

Indeed, best to avoid these dudes… or, actually, even more so progressive metal drummers!

1 Like

Especially if the band has two of them. Chaos!

You know who else is also a prime offender here? Radiohead.


Or three… stay away from the current King Crimson line-up :joy:


I would start - in all honesty and complete seriousness - with movement or dance lessons.
I don’t think that learning rhythm through visuals, counting or symbols is as effective musically as learning rhythm through physical movement.

Once your body understands a pulse and you can keep your body moving to a pulse or a regular set of patterns while the music or drummer does different things (playing fills, different accents or polyrhythms) around that pulse… you’ll have your mainline connection to the groove firmly established in your body and guts.
Your brain is going to be real busy doing things like:
“what part of the song is this?”
“what fret am I on?”
“why is the guitar player turned up so dang loud?”
…things like that.
It’s nice to get rhythm understanding moved into a more physical and unconscious place.

But remember - the 4 stages of learning.

  1. Unconscious incompetence (not you)
  2. Conscious incompetence (sounds like you’re aware you need deeper drum understanding)
  3. Conscious competence (goal 1!)
  4. Unconscious competence (ultimate goal!!)

It can be brutal leveling up through this, but it is certainly possible!
Whatever approach you choose, make sure you try and dance/move to the rhythms a bit.
It’s where the groove lives.


I like this definition and it sums up a lot of my life (I am always too busy rationalising to have time for living…). I think I am actually at stage 2a, cripplingly conscious incompetence.

Trouble is, if I have to take additional dance / movement lessons… I am sure it would improve me and probably it’s precisely what I would need… But I will be able to do it in next life, for this one is too late.
I am beginning to think that this bass endeavour that I begun is destined to fail :frowning:

Why don’t you try a song that has a relatively easy drum and bass line like With or Without you by U2. The drums start with eighth note beat, and the bass joins with the same eighth note rhythm. Josh teaches this one in the B2B class and what he teaches is pretty much the whole song for the bass player. It is basic count of 1 an, 2 an, 3 an 4 an. You would tap your foot on the 1, 2, 3, 4. The challenge is keeping the tempo steady. Here is a link to the U2 video. U2 - With Or Without You (Official Music Video) - YouTube. The song is also in the 50 song challenge.

The way I practiced learning the beat was to listen to music I could stand and tapping my fingers on a table. Picking music with a dance beat will help the most at first since that type of music tends to pronounce the beat so you can dance to it easily.

If there’s no time for dance lessons, that’s fine. Don’t let that be the death knell for playing bass!

Foot tapping is fine. Swaying from side to side with your bass while you play - also legitimate dance moves.

The other suggestions people have here are all good, and worth investigating, trying and practicing.

If you want you can post a video of the problems you’re perceiving here. That way I can try and be more specific with my suggestions.

I don’t have time for dance lessons either.