Difficulty LevelEver wondered how to play the main groove in Stairway to Heaven just after the drums kick in? Ever wondered how John Bonham plays that massive drum fill at 6:23 into the song? Well, I think you might like this blog entry then…

Lets just dive in shall we?! This groove occurs at 4:20 after the drum fill around the tom toms.


“Stairway To Heaven” Drum Beat & Groove (4:20)

Stairway To Heaven Drum Beat & Groove (John Bonham)

It’s a four bar phrase that gets repeated another three times during the song but generally stays the same each time, give or take a little improvisation. This shows exactly what John Bonham plays the first time though.

Notice how the bass drum follows the guitar and bass guitar perfectly. A real beautiful example showing bass drum placement and how the drums can support the melody perfectly.

All the snare drum notes in brackets are ghost notes and are meant to be played very quietly. The drum fill that occurs in bar 3 starts on the ‘e’ of beat 3 and continues into the ‘+’ of beat 4. The first note of this drum fill (played with the left hand) in a ghost note and should be played really quitely. You can always leave this note out if you’re finding the dynamics too hard to play.

The other times this groove gets played Bonham adds and removes extra ghost notes (played in between the Hi-Hat notes) as well as generally adding extra bass drum notes. The first time he plays the groove though (as shown above) could be considered to be the basic template for his improvisations. In other words, this is the minimum Bonham plays.

Now, lets take a look at “THAT” drum fill.


“Stairway To Heaven” Drum Fill & Lick (6:23)

Stairway To Heaven Drum Fill Lick (John Bonham)

This classic drum fill occurs at 6 minutes 23 seconds into the song. Bonham really created a bit of a head scratcher for this one!

The first thing to understand is that there is a repeated four note pattern that is squeezed into the space of three sixteenth notes. The three hand strokes (R L R) plus the bass drum make up the four note pattern that lasts for three sixteenth notes in duration. This four note pattern then gets repeated four times before the triplets are played at beat 4 of the bar.

The first two hand strokes of each four note pattern take up the space of one sixteenth note while the next two strokes (R hand and bass drum) take up a sixteenth note each. This means that the first two strokes are played twice as fast the last two strokes. The first two strokes are played smoothly into the floor tom note (third stroke) when a sixteenth note’s duration is counted before the bass drum stroke.

This sounds really complicated when trying to put the rhythm into words but it’s far simpler to listen and learn. Try getting a copy of the song and slow down the track speed (Windows Media Player has this option) while listening to the fill. You’ll hear the pulse of the notes quite clearly.

Beat 4 of the bar contains Bonham’s famous Triplet lick. This involves two notes on the hands and one on the bass drum creating a smooth and flowing three note pattern. He fits two of these Bonham Triplets into beat 4 with the first two hand strokes played on the floor tom and the second two strokes on the snare and high tom (starting on the ‘+’ of beat 4).

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