What Makes a Good Drummer?

Keith Moon of The Who

Keith Moon of The Who

Drums are the backbone of a musical group or band. Drummers keep the tempo of a group because in most other cases guitarists simply can’t. Although some people think that the “drums do attract many girls”, and are often described as being a “chick magnet”, they also play an important role in a band. The drummer is the main person responsible for the “feel” of a song. Drums are needed to hold all the instruments together. They keep the rhythm and timing of the band.

Drums are an instrument that look easy to play, but to ACTUALLY play them properly takes lots of practice. Saying this… drums are the ONLY instrument you can have fun with even before you know what you’re doing.

The stupidest thing I have ever heard from a guitarist was “at least you don’t have to tune your instrument” which is FALSE. In fact, drummers have 10x more tuning than guitarists do. Each drum head has to be tuned separately, top and bottom. Not only this, but cymbals must also be tightened to get the sound you want, whether you want them to sound like a CRASH sound or a crash with a long decay.

Truth is, there are not very many subpar drummers in bands that are classified as national acts. But subpar drummers are a dime a dozen in rock clubs across the country. All other things being equal, the drummer is the difference between a Tues, Wed, Thurs, night support spot and headlining on a Fri. or Sat. How good a drummer is has little to do with style or chops. It is more instinctive than that. It is the ability to sense immediately what a song needs rhythmically. I have known subpar drummers who had years of lessons and great drummers who were guitar players until one day when their drummer couldn’t make it to rehearsal, they got behind the kit.

Drums are the driving force of music and drum machines aren’t an option because they truly suck. If you are a band and want to play music that has any kind of momentum, then you need a drummer, unless they are acoustic they will suck.

But in punk, except if you replace it with programmed drums which requires very good programming to justify the lack of drums, you CAN’T go without a drummer. Drums are major and essential in punk music.

Many stereotypes exist concerning the drummer both as a person and as a musician. The primary two are that drummers are unintelligent and that their instrument requires the least skill to play. Both of these are unfounded, as the drum kit is a completely different type of instrument than something such as the guitar, being percussive as opposed to musical. Thus, the skills required for a guitar and the skills required for drums are not comparable, though both instruments are highly difficult.

In a typical band, the drummer (the meat behind the beat) serves to create the basic beat for the song, with the bassist providing a connection between the musicality and the percussion (e.g. the guitar/singing and the drums) that allows the band to sound in sync.

Damn dude, did you hear how totally superb the drummer was? He completely carried the band.”

Most often located in the back of the stage on a raised platform, the drummer often is left out of the spotlight, and all the attention is focused on the lead vocalist and the guitarist (in some cases referred as douchebags and diva-like singers who feel superior to the other band members) hence the frequent claim that drummers are underrated and unappreciated. Nevertheless, they remain the backbone of most styles of music, and are indispensable in a band. In short, you have to have a drummer. Or risk starting an unsettling pattern of seemingly incomplete bands: *coughwhitestripescough*

You can have a band without a drummer if you want to play acoustic style music. Trying to play any other sort of music that usually involves drumming, with no drums, is going to sound awful. The bass itself does not create enough of an underlying beat without the kick drum. The drumming IS the base of the song, and even if it is the simplest drumming, with no fills and no variation on the beat, it is my personal opinion that all songs need percussion (Except acoustic music, as mentioned). Because then when you do throw some fuel on the fire, get a good drummer that comes up with creative beats and interesting fills, you’ll enjoy the song and the music so much more.

Try to imagine a band on stage trying to get into their music really aggressively like bands love to do, with no drummer, it just wouldn’t be easy, the music would have no aggression to it. Of course, if you want very mellow, awkward sounding and different music, you could always give it a try. There’s a chance it could sound good, but you’d have to be VERY tight to perform with no drummer and make it sound good.

Or you could just be like Dashboard, they have no drummer and look how much they rock…

Here are some of our favorite drummers IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

Ginger Baker — He played with Cream, and was rock’s first superstar drummer and the most influential percussionist of the 1960s. He was famous for talent and mischief.

John Bonham – He was the Led Zeppelin’s drummer. Talk about Page all you like – his guitar was hot lava, but Bonham’s drums were the plate tectonics that let that lava squirt up so pretty in the first place. Every beat was perfect and every hit was an asteroid making a crater. Bonham did for drums what Leatherface did for chainsaws – nobody will ever hear them the same way again.

Pete DeFrietas — We read about Echo and The Bunnymen a couple of dozen times in their heyday. His drumming was so amazing that they set him up at the front edge of the stage instead of the back row.

Neil Peart — Born in Hagersville, Ontario, Neil is the drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush. Peart is known for his creative and intricate drum parts and extensive drum solos that delight both drummers and non-drummers alike. In 1996, Peart became an Officer of The Order of Canada, the highest civilian decoration in Canada.

Brad “EZ Beat” Morgan — One of the best. No accident that DBT became a national act after he joined the band.

Ringo Starr — Best known as The Beatles’ drummer, once I read in an interview where he said that he always keyed off the vocalist rather than an instrumentalist. I think this explains the energy of the early Beatles records.

Levon Helm — The longtime drummer for The Band, Levon Helm wore many musical hats throughout his long career, including multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, impressario, studio owner, studio engineer and producer. His first instrument was guitar, which he began playing at age eight, but after seeing the F.S. Walcott Rabbits Foot Minstrels, he decided to switch to drums. In mid-1967, The Band began working on Music From Big Pink, the first in a string of classic records which made them one of rock’s most legendary acts.

Moe Tucker — Probably the most unique drummer in rock history, was best known for having been the drummer for the rock group The Velvet Underground. Tucker’s style of playing was unconventional. She played standing up rather than seated (for easier access to the bass drum), using a simplified drum kit of tom toms, a snare drum and an upturned bass drum, playing with mallets rather than drumsticks.

Charlie Watts — Plays The Rolling Stones. Jazz influenced, keys off the rhythm guitar.

Nick Knox — Like Moe Tucker, he was another minimalist. But The Cramps would have never found that swampy, acid drenched groove with anyone else.

Huge Kotche fan as well. His work on any Wilco tune enhances the songs so much. If anyone has ever seen any of his solo gigs (don’t know how often he gets out of the Chicago area) his use of a boxes of crickets for sound is pretty sly.

Keith Moon – He was best known as a member of the Who, but he was far more than that, even within the context of his role within the group. Moon, with his manic, lunatic side, and his life of excessive drinking, partying, and other indulgences, probably represented the youthful, zany side of rock & roll, as well as its self-destructive side, better than anyone else on the planet. In that sense, he was the soul of the Who, as much as Pete Townshend was its brain and Roger Daltrey was its heart; and, along with John Entwistle, Moon was at the core of its sound, and not just for his drumming per se.

Terry Bozzio – By the early ’70s, he had landed gigs with such rock musicals as Godspell and Walking in My Time, in addition to playing in several jazz/fusion outfits and appearing on his first record – backing trumpeter Luis Gasca on his 1972 release Born to Love You. In 1975 he got a spot drumming for Frank Zappa. He was only 3 yrs with Zappa but he was featured on ten albums and countless tours (Bozzio also appeared in the Zappa concert movie Baby Snakes).

Compare these two videos. Pete Best versus Ringo. Especially track 2 on the first video. “Money” was a staple in their live shows from both the Pete Best and Ringo eras.

One response to “What Makes a Good Drummer?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s