How to write drum “cheat sheets”

Simon DringBlog

How to write drum cheat sheets

This post is about how I write my drum “cheat sheets”, or “road map” charts for songs I play with various bands. If the song is very complicated, I will occasionally notate the whole song note for note, but if it’s simpler, or I already know roughly how it goes, I write these guides to help me remember what happens in the song, and when.

I use these not so much for WHAT to play in a song; rather, I use them to jog my memory for structures of songs (ie how many verses, when the guitar solo happens, how it ends, and any stops/rests).

STAGE 1: Structure

I listen to the song and work out the order of the sections. I have chosen “Mustang Sally” by The Commitments as an example. I worked out that the song structure was as follows:

Introduction, Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Chorus, Outro

I then listen again and count how many bars are in each section. I write it out like this:

How to write drum cheat sheets

STAGE 2: Counting

Next, I listen again note when the drums STOP in each section (marked with which bars they stop on):

How to write drum cheat sheets

STAGE 3: Bits and Bobs

Finally, I add any extra bits I need to know, such as the main groove, and the switch to the ride in the Outro:

How to write drum cheat sheets

Simple as that! Sometimes I will write more than one bar of groove, or perhaps a different drum beat for each section, or maybe notes for each part of the song such as lyrics. Also, a rough description of the STYLE of the song can come in useful, especially if I do not know the song very well, or get it confused with another.

This system has worked for me for many years, and enables me to learn the structure of songs quickly, and I can see at a glance what happens next in the song.