jbblurJohn Bonham’s fill at the top of the second track on Zeppelin IV has long been a point of confusion for many drummers, including myself. A few years ago I figured out what’s going on in the fill, and then it came up in discussion at last night’s rehearsal, so I thought I’d mention it here.

The trick is understanding that Bonham doesn’t start on a downbeat.  The very first accented snare and sloshy hats hit… it’s on the “& of 3” count, not “1.”  There’s no count off or anything to warn the listener that this is so, therefore many people hear the first accent as a downbeat followed by another accent on the “& of 2.”  In actuality, the fill starts with a pick-up notes and then a downbeat – so the SECOND snare/hats accent is on the “1.”

To try and play it, just count yourself in and remember to make the first few hits pick-up notes.  The fill is four bars long, but the four bars don’t start until the SECOND snare/hats accent.  So it will sound/feel like this:

1, 2, 3 PA-pa-pa-PA…”

The first “Pa” is accented (all caps) and lands on “& of 3,” the next two hits fill the gap on “4” and “& of 4,” and then the 2nd big accent is on the downbeat.  It just repeats from there a couple times and then he syncopates it a little.  The whole thing is really obvious and feels very cool once your orientation on the downbeat is correct, and the counts leading up to the hits will help with that.

Now check out Bonham doing it for real (and he’s even using the amber acrylic kit).