You may have heard that Super Bowl halftime show instrumentalists are not actually plugged in or miked up; they fake their way through the set. It’s precarious to perform with barely any setup time in front of more than 100 million viewers, and networks don’t want to chance broken drumheads. The exception to this (most of the time) are the vocals, as these are delivered live.

During the beginning of the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show, Bruno Mars played a real 32-bar drum solo behind a backing track. Known more as a pop star, Mars showed off his multi-instrumentalist chops by delivering a well-designed, energetic drum performance. Drummers panned him on social media, but jealousy aside, he played an impressive solo full of iconic references.

Mars begins his solo with a big entry hit on beat 1, leaves some space (not such a bad idea for the beginning of a solo), plays a simple figure between flat flams on sloshy hi-hat and snare, and then ends the first four bars with a fill reminiscent of Keith Moon. He repeats the four bar idea (a great improvisational technique), executing a two-bar fill similar to the intro of “We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad.


Line three and four is straight out of the Tré Cool/Taylor Hawkins playbook (Check out his effective use of the Moeller whip). Lines five, six, and seven are an obvious reference to Travis Barker and his YouTube remixes of popular rap music (and the march-influenced grooves and quirky fills of Blink 182). The first two measures of line eight and the first measure of line nine are a modern take on Gene Krupa’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Mars finishes his solo with a thunderous crescendo of snare accents using a free stroke technique.

DRUM! Notation Guide