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(Credit: Bent Rej)

Music

Let Ringo Starr teach you how to play classic Beatles songs

@TylerGolsen

It’s taken a long time, but Ringo Starr has finally earned the respect that he always deserved as one of rock’s greatest drummers. Beloved as the goofiest and most amicable of all the Beatles, Starr’s skills behind the kit were occasionally dismissed or looked over, both by the public and by his bandmates. On a few tension-filled sessions, Paul McCartney stepped in to play. Other times, jokes were cracked at Starr’s expense. In an era full of monster players like Keith Moon and John Bonham, Starr was an obvious outlier.

The truth was that Starr was an innovator behind the kit. Like some of his peers, including Charlie Watts and Mick Avory, Starr was uninterested in wild flash or histrionic solos. Starr served the song first and foremost, but within that rigid framework came rhythms and hits so hooky and memorable that they became iconic in their own right. The drums for songs like ‘In My Life’ and ‘All My Loving’ don’t seem difficult on first listen, but they’re atypical compared to a simple backbeat and almost impossible to replicate accurately.

During one particular sit down with producer friends and former Eurythmics co-leader Dave Stewart, Starr gamely took his place behind the drums and proceeded to give an intimate lesson on how he brought some of his most iconic rhythms to life. The first was ‘Ticket to Ride’, which features a syncopated jump between the snare drum and rack tom. In between these unique rhythms, Starr throws in some lightning-quick fills just to keep the song’s energy up.

Instead of relying on the standard downbeat, Starr plays slightly off the beat, giving ‘Ticket to Ride’ a looser and slinkier groove. ‘Ticket to Ride’ probably isn’t lighting up the dance floor, but it remains an incredibly catchy song that is remarkably easy to dance to. That’s thanks to Starr throwing in a bit of off-beat shenanigans to keep things interesting. 

Next, the duo jump into one of Starr’s most iconic runs: the opening fills to ‘Come Together’. Starr spreads out over his entire kit, incorporating hi-hat flourishes, light ride cymbal touches, and a rollicking bit of rhythm across the toms. Starr does something here that few drummers can do – roll across the toms from low to high. Since most drummers are right-handed, the natural flow of rolls tends to go from left to right, descending down the toms from high to low. For ‘Come Together’, Starr does the opposite, something he credits to his natural left-handedness.

Since he plays at a right-handed kit, Starr’s signature fills and wonky rhythms are largely just him trying to get his left hand around a kit that isn’t meant to be played by a left-handed drummer. The results are now iconic, but they also help show the simplicity behind some of The Beatles’ most iconic musical moments. Starr wasn’t trying to redefine how rock drummers play – he was simply trying to get across the kit without losing the rhythm.

Check out Starr’s masterclass in Beatles drumming down below.