I think Rick Beato is doing a fantastic job with his YouTube series "What makes this song great". The link is at the bottom of this article. Since Rick is not a drummer I thought I'd make a drummer's supplement. So this is "What Makes This Song Great - The Drum Parts". I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy Rick's work!


Jeff Porcaro


If you ask drummers of ages 30 to 60 who their main source of inspiration as a drummer is/was, many are gonna say Jeff Porcaro. He was and still is a huge source of inspiration for me personally as well.


If you want to know more about him I suggest you start on Wikipedia and take it from there. We'll dive into the matter at hands here.



Rosanna - Main Groove and Intro - What you didn't know about the drum part


The fantastic main groove is almost always notated as a half time shuffle filled in with ghost notes on all second notes of the triplet. Great, but Jeff doesn’t play all of these ghost notes right off the bat.


In the intro he actually only plays the one ghost note in the last triplet of the second bar.




After 4 x 2 bars he starts to play one more ghost note in beat 2 of the second bar.





This is a typical example of Jeff Porcaro's musicality and personality. He was particularly known for his big heart, tasteful playing, and for always putting the music first. No ego involved whatsoever.


Being a studio musician first and the drummer for Toto second he had to always let the music come first. That's why everyone wanted to work with Jeff. That and his very particular sense of tempo and timing. They don't call the man 'Mister Time' for nothing..


All of this experience of being an in demand studio musician led him to become extremely musically sensitive. Jeff Porcaro was at the point where he was almost always able to develop his drum parts as the song progressed.


The further into the song, the more his patterns develop into something more intricate, busier. Not for the sake of notes, but because the music so desires. This way the song naturally progresses into something more exciting where it benefits from a few extra notes here and there.


At around 0.39 into the song he starts playing all ghost notes as we know the pattern. So 13 x 2 bars have been played without playing all the ghost notes. Are you still wondering why (drum) covers of Rosanna never seem to sound like the orginal?







Here's the original studio version of the isolated drum track. Listen to it and try to pay extra attention to the buildup with the ghost notes while the rest of the pattern stays intact.


Form - Rosanna drum part intro and first verse


Let's quickly examine the form here because 13 x 2 bars sounds a little odd, right? Let's dissect, shall we?


Intro drums only - 2 x 2 bars

Intro with bass guitar, guitar and piano - 4 x 2 bars

Verse 1 - Vocals of Steve Lukather enter - 3 x 2 bars + 2 x 2 bars ("Never thought..") + 2 x 2 bars ("Rosahanaaoowaah")


So this equals 13 x 2 bars in total. Never noticed this 7 x 2 bar bar verse did you? Me neither, and this among many other things, is proof that the song was written extremely well in my opinion. No concessions were made to favor logics or 'being right' or some other bull.. Music/Art won, in all its beauty.


Now go back to the top of this page and listen to the original again. This time check out the form which may look weird on paper but works out beautifully in the song.



Here's a little songwriting bonus assignment for you. Try to imagine the form being anything but this. The most logical thing would be to add another 2 x 1 bars in front of the "Never thought.." part. Yup, that would probably take out all of the excitement, flow and momentum which are built up in the verse. This is what I consider a proof of concept: try something else and see how that works. If the more logical solution turns out to make it worse then the irregular form must be the right way to go. Not because it's more interesting, but because it's the better, more beautiful option.


The Fill leading into the Chorus


Then there’s the fill leading to the chorus. It's a unison lick played by the whole band and the horn section. Jeff doesn't simply duplicate this though, he chose to make something really special of it.


But as with many great Jeff moments it's not easily noticeable. So we'll dissect it piece by piece. First here's the fill in its entirety.





This is no doubt one of his favorite stickings - if not his favorite - in shuffle playing. Any time you hear Jeff play a fill in a shuffle song and it’s not singles, it’s a pretty safe bet he is using a RRL sticking. And for good reason. This is all quite logical if you ask me. I’ll try to explain.


Using a compound sticking (combination of singles and doubles) is the only way to get to a 3-note grouping without altering the sticking. So we basically have six choices:


1 and 2. RLL / LRR
3 and 4. RLR / LRL
5 and 6. RRL / LLR


Assuming you want to start on the lead hand (R or r, accented or unaccented) only three remain. If we want to accent the 8th note upbeats, the 3rd note of the triplet as is used in this fill, the RRL sticking becomes the right one to use, because it's the most convenient. 


The fill here is notated playing the first and second note of beat 3 as rr on snare, but we can also play along with the riff and omit the second note of beat 3. This is also a reason to pick the RRL sticking as a basis, because it allows us to play this variation quite comfortably. 


Note: When Jeff played one beat long triplet fills he used the sticking LLR a lot. This can be seen in his video Star Licks Master Sessions where he demonstrates the half time shuffle with the band. It's easy for us to see because he plays this fill as an intro as well as into the ride groove @3.38.




Note: Don't get hung up on the Bo Didley bass drum figure because Jeff adds the bass drum on or before beat 3 of the second bar. He says "something like this". The Bo Didley figure INSPIRED his version of the Purdie/Bonham half time shuffle. Experiment or better yet: imitate, emulate, create!



Syncopation and Dynamics


Then there are other factors like Syncopation and Dynamics to determine which sticking is going to work best. Let's look at the three options.


1. Quarter note
2. Second note of the triplet
3. Third note of the triplet


1. A quarter note brings release instead of rhythmic tension. This sticking is awesome if you want to emphasize the pulse.

2. Accenting only the second note of there triplet brings a lot of rhythmic tension because this note is not part of the shuffle. So the rLr is a great sticking when you want ghost notes in your shuffle. We then use this dynamic motion Rlr. The version with the rLr dynamics certainly has its place in more rhythmically complex music but not so much in a pop tune with a great time feel. Too much rhythmic tension would just make it sound weird. (Don't ever show off syncopation skillz at the expense of the music. Been there, done that, got the angry looks of band mates..)

3. Accenting the third note of the triplet makes the shuffle upbeats stand out and come alive. This to our ears is a perfect mix of rhythmic tension with purpose.


So Jeff uses the third option a lot, and in Rosanna as well. The intro fill is also an example of that albeit that all three notes of the triplet are more or less accented here.


Now in the fill leading into the chorus it's basically the same compound sticking rrL. He just adds a little flavor to it by doubling the first note which is where the horn lick starts.





A quick word on Tempo and BPM. Rosanna is registered as being 82 beats per minute.


This is the half note tempo if you count it as a half time shuffle: 1triplet2triplet3triplet4triplet or 1nm2nm3nm4nm by the way.


But this is only partly true. The song actually fluctuates quite a lot in tempo. It mostly sits between 82 and 85 bpm.


The intro starts at 87 and then when the other instruments come in the verse groove settles at around 85bpm.


When the prechorus starts it's back to 82 and when the unison lick which leads into the chorus is played the pace goes up to 84 for the chorus groove. When the second verse starts it's back to 85-ish bpm.


This is how it was done pre Pro Tools era. No perfect (rational) clock dictating the feel of the music, just human (emotional) feel and musical time.


This is also part of the reason everyone wanted to work with Jeff. Back then we as drummers ruled the tempo, instead of the click track correcting us.


There were many, many drummers who had better metronomic, rational time. Jeff repeatedly told people his time sucked. But according to his credits he was surpassed by no one when it comes to musical, emotional, perfect feeling time.



Difference between Jeff and Simon


When Jeff Porcaro passed away in 1992 he was replaced by Simon Phillips who had been playing with Steve Lukather (guitars, vocals and songwriting in Toto) in other projects. Steve said Jef had always been a fan of Simon's playing so the choice was rather straighforward.


A lot can be said about the differences between these two drumming musicians, and an awful lot has been said about it. So I won't get into the whole 'who's the better drummer' argument because it's nonsense. They are/were both stellar musicians with great musical sensibility and personalities to match.


This fill is quite telling for their different approach to music. Simon more or less duplicates the lick while Jeff adds his own accent line to it. Simon uses more notes, more instruments. So the difference in drum kit configuration is sort of a giveaway here.


Check out the fill Simon plays here.


Jeff's Homework


There's much more we can do with this, so here's your homework. For now we're gonna pretend there are only two stickings available to us for now and combine the heck out of these.


Try these sticking combinations as fills to your shuffle grooves to see how they work.


1. RllRllrrLrrL
2. rrLrrLRllRll


Play these fills in a clockwise motion with the right dynamics and see if you can hear the Jeff vibe coming out.



How to practice the Rosanna drum part


The Shuffle

First of all get a nice shuffle feel going. First focus on making it feel good by itself without adding the ghost notes. Do this with the snare on beat 3 (half time) or with the snare on 2 and 4. Don't worry about the ghost notes just yet. It's most important to get the shuffle to feel good.


Ghost notes

Simultaneously practice the 3-note sticking Rlr we're going to be using when the ghost notes enter. Count along to make sure you're still playing triplets. 1triplet2triplet3triplet4triplet or 1nm2nm3nm4nm.


Once the shuffle starts to feel good, and the Rlr sticking is working for you, try adding ghost notes. Start by adding them in all the places without the ones directly after the snare. Make a distinction:

1. All ghost notes but the ones directly after the snare

2. All ghost notes

3. Ghost notes only where Jeff Porcaro plays them in the intro of Rosanna.


This way you'll soon notice that the ghost notes aren't the thing you want to be focusing on. You should always be focusing on getting a nice even sound and a good feeling shuffle, with AND without ghost notes.



If you want to sound like Jeff, focus on not playing the right hand too loudly.



Practice slowly and work your way up to about quarter note = 174 bpm. If you want to do yourself a favor here, practice this to the "Rosanna Intro and Verse" loop in our MIDI player. You get access to this and all other free MIDI loops after signing up for our Free Membership.


As a bonus you can practice everything else in the Rosanna drum part to our MIDI tracks as well. The chorus groove, the fills, and the horn unison lick are all in here, for FREE! How's that for studying smart?





Want a complete Rosanna drum lesson for free?

You'll learn the Rosanna Groove step by step by doing specific exercises. I'll show you how to practice the specific Fills with exercises. And as a bonus there are MIDI loops waiting for you to practice along to. This way you know exactly where you stand in terms of tempo.

You'll get this for free along with some other perks. So come and try it.

Want more?


Cool, check out our Online Drum Lessons department. Or come in right away and get a Lifetime Free Membership. You'll get access to our MIDI player which includes the Intro and Verse, Horn Lick and Chorus of the Rosanna drum parts to practice along to. You'll get a ton of other cool stuff as well. Extra Rudimental exercises, Lessons, and more MIDI to practice along to. And we're barely getting started!


If you want to know everything there is to know about playing Shuffles, Stickings, or Orchestration you can check out my book the 3D Drumming System - The Complete Workbook/Encyclopedia for the Modern Drummer. It's taken me over four years to write and compile all the material in it so and it's constantly being updated so I would hope this is the Ultimate Back To Basics Drum Bible.


Below is an excerpt of the encyclopedia in which all of the crucial pieces of the Rosanna drum part are discussed.


Spoiler alert! There are a few more of Jeff's grooves and fills in the encyclopedia. Just a few though, really, I promiss...




If you want me to do more songs like these then let me know in the comments below. Yes, songs without Jeff Porcaro on drums will do as well. 😛



And here's the original 'What makes this song great? Ep. 9 - Toto" by Rick Beato. If you're like me and you're interested in more than just drums and want to know more about the other parts in this song I highly recommend you check this one out.

About the Author

Bob Schillemans

Music and drumming have pretty much dominated my life for the last twenty five years. I enjoy every facet of it, and I intend to keep doing so for many more years to come.

Fan of music since 1981

Drummer since 1989

Teacher since 1993

Professional musician since 1996

Composer since 2002

Owner of Skillz Drum Academy since 2011

Author since 2014

Blogger since 2018