Drum Transcription: “How Many More Times” — John Bonham with Led Zeppelin
Posted on December 27, 2020
Happy Holidays everyone! This week, I decided to share something I started a long time ago which I’ve recently polished up: fills and solos from “How Many More Times” off of Led Zeppelin’s debut album, with John Bonham on drums.
I think it’s appropriate to close out my first year on the site with this tune. The project was actually the first “big time” transcription of a song I ever attempted, starting way back in the summer of 2014. I really got into Zeppelin when I was a sophomore in high school, but “How Many More Times” escaped me until the end of my junior year (which can happen when you listen to an artist’s entire catalog all at once).
I tried drumming along to the song but the solo sections tripped me up; it was difficult to just play right through Bonham’s fills. So at the start of my senior year, I took my first shot at some serious transcribing with “How Many More Times”. I can’t say for sure when I started it; my earliest MuseScore project relating to this song is dated September 2014. On top of that, I dug up some old manuscript paper from my drum lesson days, and it sure looks like my teacher and I tried to figure out some of Bonham’s swing grooves about a month earlier:
In any case, I called it done around the end of December. Yep… about four months of work for this one.
The project ended up devolving into a full–length, note-for-note transcription of the tune, from start to finish. Then it turned into a bit of a mess, with lots of endless groove variations (especially for the swing sections), mixed with poor attention to detail. I eventually called it a day without much care for accuracy.
I prioritized the solos and fills for this updated version. Maybe one of these days I’ll update the sheets for the full track, but at this point in my career, I’ve lost interest in doing full songs from beginning to end (particularly for an eight–minute tune). Right now, I wouldn’t get anything out of that much work.
“How Many More Times” has most of the typical moves for Bonzo at this point in his career: Bonham triplets, quad fills, bucket fills, paradiddles — all that good stuff.
An interesting thing that’s always grabbed my attention is how the swing feel is pretty much eliminated by the fourth measure of the guitar solo; most of the fills are sixteenth notes and straight eighths. This has never felt jagged or awkward to me, probably because nobody else in the band is swinging (the backing rhythm part is just breve chords as Jimmy wails). My suspicion has always been that Page and Bonham improvised their parts from all the experimenting they did on their ’69 Scandinavian tour.
I included the big fill at the end of “The Hunter” section because it’s an awesome lick. And then there’s the grand finale, which marked my first exposure to nonuplets (that I was at least aware of). They are a deceptively easy rhythm — in the case of 16th note nonuplets, just subdivide each hit of a quarter note triplet into three equal notes. Voilà!
Trying to rework my original project file was kind of a headache. I made some bizarre formatting decisions that I’m sure made sense when I was in high school, but not so much today.
I also remember having to search around for covers to figure out some of Bonham’s playing, something I don’t even bother with anymore. But this was back when I wasn’t so skeptical about the abilities of your average internet drummer. This is the video I used, and it is pretty good if I’m being fair, although sadly you can’t watch it in the US anymore.
For some reason, I actually wrote out all the swung rhythms in my original project. This is also the only song where I’ve put in stylistic descriptions throughout the score (Spooky, Psychedelic). I mean, just take a look:
The default MuseScore template takes me back and made me realize how far I’ve come, not just in my engraving abilities but in the songs I’ve tackled since this one. Looking back, “How Many More Times” is what transcribing is all about for me; I’ve stolen a lot of licks from this one. Who cares about every little subtlety from the swing section?
(Alright, as a Christmas gift, here’s my original PDF. Well, it’s the oldest PDF I could find at least, dated to December 2014. Don’t get too excited — it’s full of mistakes, and it looks awful too. I did make it with MuseScore 1, so it’s practically prehistoric!)
“How Many More Times” on Songwhip.
Edit (May 2023): I recently got a hold of some old sheet music from my parent’s house, including some very early printed copies of this transcription. A couple of them are quite significant to me; this copy right here might be my very first attempt at producing any kind of score.
I had to feed the sheet music into my scanner to make soft copies. The PDFs are long gone, if they ever existed — I think I may have just printed these directly from MuseScore. Here’s what might be my first shot at the full song (version № 4).
You can see some messy pencil marks from my proofreading. Better yet, the staff is only three lines instead of five. Honestly... I really don’t know how that happened. It looks like I didn’t catch it until (what I think is) my 6th major revision.
Finding the paper copies inspired me to do some digging through my old computer backups, and I think I found the most accurate PDF of my original project, exported in July 2015. Maybe this was my last effort at fixing things up before finally leaving it alone (for a few years anyway). It still looks like a dog’s dinner, but it’s the best one I’ve got that includes all eight minutes of the tune.
Counting both the hard copies I just found and different PDF files, I have over two dozen iterations of my “How Many More Times” transcription. I can’t help but feel a tad sentimental now that I’ve really seen how this passion project evolved over 10 months of work. Thankfully, transcribing doesn’t take me nearly that long anymore — these days, I could never afford to spend that much time transcribing a single tune!