In 1984 — when I was fifteen years old — I heard Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” drum intro for the first time. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. It had a sonic quality and a groove that literally defied comprehension. Alex was nothing less than a drum god after that.
In the last twenty-one years I’ve heard the song many times, and still enjoy listening to the intro and its unique shuffling double bass groove. Rhythmically reminiscent of classic drum recordings, Alex borrowed some old ideas and smartly applied them to triggered sounds — and the very ’80s double bass orchestration — that made the groove quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before or since. Even after two plus decades, it still sounds extremely polished, fresh-sounding, and highly produced. But beneath all that ’80s flair there’s something vaguely familiar about it in a mathematical sort of way. I’ve always planned on eventually sitting down and figuring it out on paper. I finally did.
To begin my exercise, I researched the Net a bit to see if there was anybody who’s written the thing down yet. There’s a drum instructor by the name of Danny Britt who offers short audio lessons on his web site. He covered Hot For Teacher in an audio form, but didn’t really write the thing down. Using Britt’s audio lesson as a starting point, I took my own familiarity with the piece and grabbed a pencil and paper.
There are four distinct parts to the intro worth explaining separately:
I. The opening tom pattern. This is a blazing fast sixteenth note pattern played on a low floor tom or trigger pad @ 260bpm. It’s the very beginning of the recording; the part that sounds like the rumbling motorcycle.
II. The double-bass shuffle. This comes in right after the Harley part, and then continues throughout the remainder of the intro as other tom parts get piled on top of it.
III. The swing tom pattern. Britt points out that this is directly influenced by Gene Krupa. It’s a simple pattern in 3/4, with three displaced accents on the high tom. You’ve heard it in swing grooves, usually played on the floor tom.
IV. The last nine bars. Going back to 4/4 time, these last nine bars of the intro drive the shuffle home, embellishing the swing groove and throwing in a couple bars with backbeats on 2 and 4.
Here’s what I scratched down. Have fun with it, and by all means, argue with me if I’ve got something wrong.
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Homework was never quite like this!