Aronoff & Pelton Share Tips For Learning Songs

So you’ve cribbed your notes, saved the day, and the session or gig is over. Now toss the notes. Or not? These cats save their notes. Says Pelton, “From doing so many sessions and not being in one working band, my memorization is not so … well, it’s different. Here in New York, a freelancer might be in 15 different bands, and a band might do a showcase and then not play again for three or four months, then do another showcase. So I definitely keep my notes. I have all these folders of stuff I’ve done, so when it’s time to play with that band again I can get my notes and check it out.”

Aronoff also keeps files. “I don’t know why I did it, but I’m glad I did it,” he says. “From the late ’80s all the way through now, I’ve got charts from every session. I’ve got every tour: Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, three Melissa Etheridges, The Bodeans, Michelle Branch. On the chart I write down what drums, what cymbals, what drumheads I used. One time I did a song that went to number one, ’I’ll Do Anything for Love, But I Won’t Do That,’ for Meat Loaf. We recorded ten minutes of music for that song. It was ridiculous! How’s that ever going to make it on the radio? [laughs]. So they call me months later and say, ’Hey, we want you to add more to that track. Do you know what you played?’ I went to the file cabinet: pulled out the chart with what I played, everything down to the beater on the bass drum pedal; it was really helpful.”

Aronoff’s Chart

Aronoff’s shorthand method is very cool. He has minimized the size of the chart without losing any important info. Steal this method.

At the top of Alanis Morissette’s “Eight Easy Steps” from the CD “So-Called Chaos,” we see four, then eight, then seven bars of rest, so we know the drums are out for a while. But with the chart, we know exactly where we are. Then the big fill and into the chorus beat. Aronoff numbered the verses and the choruses, and put a “B” for bridge. Since many bars in a song repeat, he writes the beat or rest and then, under the bar, he writes out the number of times to repeat it. This is an abbreviation of writing out, say, a one-bar beat four times, and it’s also shorter than the common method of writing repeat marks for four bars. On this chart he doesn’t write out the hi-hat patterns, just the kick and snare. Fills, like he said, are marked with an arrow or written out according to need.

Aronoff uses some traditional notation methods in addition to writing the rhythms. He’s written, for example, fp for forte piano (start the phrase hard and immediately go soft). But he also uses plain English (crash/ride) and mnemonic devices (Keith Moon). Also note the “tenudo” markings over the last two eighth-notes of line one, a bit of notation more often seen in a classical music setting. Aronoff is deeply trained and sometimes his huge knowledge peeks out from behind his rock-and-roll demeanor. The bottom line is, he can write it formally or informally, and he’s developed a tremendously compact method by melding all different schools. It’s all here, ready to play, each beat and each fill. Just add taste, muscle, and finesse. He makes it sound so easy!

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