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The 20 Best Drummers of All Time

Photograph of the blog post author, Sebastian Wolf

Sebastian Wolf


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Best drummers of all time

Drummers are the backbone of any band, providing the rhythm and groove that drives the music forward. Over the years, countless drummers have left their mark on the world of music. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the greatest drummers of all time. We’ll explore their unique styles, techniques, and contributions to the art of drumming. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of rock, jazz, funk, or any other genre, you’re sure to find some inspiration in the stories of these legendary drummers.

Definition of a Drummer

What Is a drummer

A drummer is a musician who plays percussion instruments, usually a drum set, to provide rhythm and tempo to a musical performance. As such, they are essential members of any band or ensemble, as they are responsible for keeping the beat and providing a solid foundation for the other musicians to build upon.

Drummers use various techniques to create different sounds and rhythms on their instruments. For instance, they may use sticks, brushes, or their hands to strike drums, cymbals, and other percussion instruments in their kit. Additionally, they can also use foot pedals to control additional percussion instruments, such as a bass drum or hi-hat cymbals.

Drummers must have a strong sense of timing and rhythm and the ability to listen closely to the other musicians in the group. Furthermore, they must be able to adapt their playing to fit the style and tempo of the music or improvise when necessary.

In addition to their technical skills, drummers must have physical stamina and endurance, as playing the drums can be physically demanding. They must maintain a steady beat for extended periods and perform precisely and accurately.

The History of Drummers

History of Drummers

The history of drummers dates to ancient civilisations, where drums had applications for communication, religious ceremonies, and even warfare. In Africa, for example, drumming was an integral part of the culture, with different rhythms and beats symbolising different messages.

As time passed, drums evolved and became more complex, leading to the emergence of professional drummers. In the Middle Ages, armies employed drummers to signal commands during battles. In the Renaissance era, drummers would accompany dancers and musicians in royal courts.

During the 20th century, drumming became essential to popular music genres such as jazz, rock, and hip-hop. Legendary drummers like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and John Bonham revolutionised drumming techniques, inspiring generations of musicians.

Evolution of Drummers

Modern Percussion

Drumming has been an integral part of human music-making for thousands of years, with evidence of drum-like instruments dating back to ancient civilisations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, the role of the drummer has evolved significantly over time.

In early music, drummers were often used primarily for military purposes, providing a steady beat to keep soldiers in formation. As music became more complex and diverse, drummers began to play a more prominent role in creating and shaping the sound of a performance.

In the 20th century, the rise of jazz and rock music brought about a new era of drumming. Jazz drummers like Max Roach and Art Blakey pushed the boundaries of rhythm and improvisation. In contrast, rock drummers like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Neil Peart of Rush brought a new level of technical virtuosity to the instrument.

The 20 Best Drummers of All Time

Throughout history, many legendary drummers have left an indelible mark on the music industry. Each drummer has a unique style and sound that has influenced countless musicians and changed the course of music history. So, without further ado, here’s our list of the 20 best drummers of all time.

John Bonham

John Bonham was a legendary drummer known for his powerful and innovative playing style. He was a member of the iconic rock band Led Zeppelin, where he contributed heavily to their distinct sound and success. Bonham’s playing emphasised a thunderous bass drum sound, precise and intricate hi-hat work, and his ability to incorporate complex rhythms and time signatures into his playing seamlessly. He was also known for his impressive stamina and endurance, often playing extended drum solos during live performances.

Bonham had a massive influence on rock music and drumming, and his legacy continues to inspire generations of musicians.

Best Progressive Drummers: Neil Peart

Neil Peart was a legendary drummer known for his technical prowess, innovative style, and profound song lyrics. He was the primary lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush, and his lyrics often explored philosophical and existential themes. Peart’s iconic drumming featured complex rhythms, intricate patterns, and virtuosic solos that pushed the boundaries of rock music. Many regard him as one of the greatest drummers of all time, influencing countless musicians across genres.

Peart was also an avid reader and writer who created highly acclaimed memoirs and travelogues. He passed away in 2020, leaving behind a legacy that inspires and captivates music lovers worldwide.

Danny Carey

Danny Carey is a highly skilled and respected drummer known for his work with the progressive rock band Tool. He is famous for his unique and complex playing style, incorporating intricate polyrhythms and odd time signatures. Carey’s drumming is both powerful and precise, with a keen sense of dynamics and a willingness to experiment with new sounds and techniques.

In addition to his work with Tool, Carey has collaborated with various other artists and bands, including Pigface, Volto!, and Legend of the Seagullmen. Unquestionably, Danny Carey is one of the most talented and innovative drummers of his generation.

Keith Moon

Keith Moon was an English drummer best known for his work with the rock band The Who. Moon’s wild and energetic drumming style frequently included rapid fills, unconventional rhythms, and explosive crashes. However, he was just as famous for his flamboyant and exuberant personality and destructive behaviour, often smashing everything from drum kits to hotel rooms.

Despite his short life and struggles with addiction, Moon’s influence on rock music and drumming has endured, and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest drummers ever.

Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland is an accomplished drummer best known for his work as the founder and drummer of the rock band The Police. Born in Virginia in 1952, Copeland grew up in a musical family and began playing drums at a young age. He studied at the California Institute of the Arts, honing his skills and developing a unique playing style.

Copeland’s syncopated rhythms and intricate hi-hat patterns helped define The Police’s sound. In addition to his work with the band, Copeland has also composed music for film and television and collaborated with a wide range of musicians and artists throughout his career.

Best Rock Drummers: Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell was an English drummer best known for his work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was famous for his innovative and complex drumming style, combining jazz and rock music elements, syncopated rhythms, intricate fills, and dynamic cymbal work. He played on all of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s studio albums, including the groundbreaking “Are You Experienced?” and “Electric Ladyland.”

Mitchell’s contributions to the band helped redefine the drummer’s role in rock music, influencing countless musicians in the years that followed. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 61.

Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker was an English drummer who gained recognition for his work with the rock band Cream in the 1960s. Known for his unique style and powerful drumming, Baker’s influence on rock music is undeniable. He was one of the first drummers to incorporate African rhythms into his playing and one of the first to use double bass drums. In addition to his work with Cream, Baker played with other notable musicians such as Blind Faith and Fela Kuti.

Despite his musical talent, Baker was also notoriously volatile and had a reputation for being difficult to work with. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 80.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl is a highly respected musician and drummer known for his work with the iconic rock band Nirvana, and his own band, Foo Fighters. He began his music career as a teenager, playing drums for various punk bands before joining Nirvana in 1990. Grohl’s powerful and dynamic drumming style helped propel Nirvana to international success. After the tragic death of frontman Kurt Cobain, he formed the Foo Fighters, where he continued to showcase his exceptional drumming skills while taking on lead vocals and guitar.

Grohl’s contributions to rock music have earned him numerous accolades and a place among the greatest drummers of all time.

Best Jazz Drummers: Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich was an American jazz drummer and bandleader regarded by many as one of the greatest drummers ever. He began his career at a young age, quickly gaining recognition for his technical skill and showmanship. Rich was known for his lightning-fast speed, precision, and ability to improvise complex rhythms. He played with many famous musicians and bands, including Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra.

Despite his talent, Rich was known for his fiery temper and controversial behaviour. He passed away in 1987 at 69, leaving behind a legacy as a true virtuoso of the drums.

Best Pop Drummers: Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr is a British musician, songwriter, and actor who rose to fame as the drummer for the Beatles. Born Richard Starkey in Liverpool in 1940, he joined the band in 1962, replacing their original drummer Pete Best. Starr’s unique drumming style, simple and with a solid backbeat, was a vital component of the Beatles’ sound. He also contributed vocals to several of the band’s songs, including “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Starr embarked on a successful solo career, releasing a string of hit albums and singles. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Beatles member in 1988.

Bill Ward

Bill Ward is an English musician and songwriter, best known as the original drummer of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath. Ward was a founding member of Black Sabbath and played on all their studio albums until 1980 when he left the band due to personal issues. He rejoined the band several times and pursued a solo career as a drummer and vocalist.

Ward is widely regarded as one of the greatest drummers in rock history and is known for his powerful, dynamic playing style and ability to blend jazz and rock influences.

Brann Dailor

Brann Dailor is a drummer, vocalist, and songwriter best known as a member of the progressive metal band Mastodon. Dailor’s drumming style features a high level of technical proficiency, with intricate rhythms and odd time signatures. He has received praise for his ability to seamlessly blend different genres and styles, from jazz to metal to rock.

Dailor has also contributed vocals to many of Mastodon’s songs, often using a melodic and harmonised approach that contrasts with the band’s heavy instrumentation. He has been recognised as one of the most influential drummers of his generation and has received numerous awards and accolades for his work with Mastodon.

Mike Portnoy

Mike Portnoy is a highly acclaimed drummer known for his technical proficiency and innovative approach to drumming. He gained worldwide recognition as a founding member of the progressive metal band Dream Theater, where he played for over 25 years. Portnoy’s style is famous for his complex rhythms, intricate patterns, and ability to seamlessly blend different music genres.

In addition to Dream Theater, Portnoy has played with several other bands, including Avenged Sevenfold, Transatlantic, and The Winery Dogs. He continues to be a respected figure in the drumming community for his contributions to the development of progressive rock and metal and an inspiration to many aspiring musicians.

Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts was an English drummer best known for his work with the Rolling Stones. He joined the band in 1963 and remained a member until his death in 2021. Watts was famous for his precise and steady rhythm, understated style, and minimalist approach to drumming. Significantly, his playing perfectly complemented the Stones’ bluesy, rock and roll sound.

Watts was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones in 1989. Furthermore, he was awarded the Jazz Foundation of America’s “Jazz Master” award in 2004.

Al Jackson, Jr.

Al Jackson, Jr. was a highly influential drummer in soul music. He was a founding member of the Stax Records house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and played on countless hits for artists such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Sam & Dave. Jackson’s drumming included tight, precise rhythms and an ability to create powerful grooves that drove the music forward. He was known for using the hi-hat and snare drum to create complex, syncopated patterns that gave Stax records their distinctive sound. 

Jackson’s contributions to soul music continue to be celebrated and studied by musicians and fans alike.

Best Extreme Metal Drummers: Gene Hoglan

Nicknamed “The Atomic Clock”, Gene Hoglan is a highly respected drummer in the metal community. He is famous for his technical proficiency, versatility, and exceptional accuracy, even at extreme tempos. Hoglan has played with various bands, including Death, Strapping Young Lad, and Testament, receiving praise for his ability to incorporate different metal styles into his playing. In addition to his drumming skills, Hoglan is known for his songwriting contributions and involvement in creating many classic metal albums.

His influence on the genre is far-reaching, and he continues to be a sought-after drummer for bands and recording projects.

Joey Jordison

Joey Jordison was an American drummer and songwriter best known for his work with the heavy metal band Slipknot. Jordison was a founding band member, playing with them from 1995 until 2013. As such, he hugely contributed to their growth and success with his aggressive and innovative drumming style. Jordison was also a member of other bands, including Murderdolls and Scar the Martyr.

Many regard Jordison as one of the best drummers of his generation, and his influence on heavy metal music continues today. He tragically passed away on July 26, 2021, at the age of 46.

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa was an American jazz drummer and bandleader who rose to fame in the 1930s and 1940s. He was famous for his energetic and innovative drumming style and for helping to elevate the role of the drummer in jazz music. Krupa’s performances were notable for his use of tom-toms, cymbals, bass drums, and showmanship on stage. Furthermore, he played with some of the biggest names in jazz. Collaborators include Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker. Undoubtedly, his influence continues to resonate in the drumming of many contemporary jazz musicians.

Krupa’s legacy as a pioneer of modern jazz drumming continues to inspire and influence musicians worldwide.

Chad Smith

Chad Smith is a highly acclaimed American drummer best known for his work with the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was born on October 25, 1961, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and began playing drums at an early age. Smith has a powerful, dynamic drumming style and plays with energy and groove. He has also worked with notable musicians and bands, including Chickenfoot, Glenn Hughes, and Johnny Cash.

Smith has earned numerous accolades for his drumming skills, including being named one of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine.

Tomas Haake

Tomas Haake is a Swedish drummer best known as the founding member and primary songwriter of the progressive metal band Meshuggah. One of the most innovative and technically proficient drummers in modern metal, he’s famous for his complex polyrhythmic patterns and precise, machine-like playing style. Additionally, Haake is also a skilled guitarist and bassist. He often contributes to the songwriting process beyond his role as a drummer.

Receiving critical acclaim and a large fan base for his work with Meshuggah, Haake has influenced numerous drummers in the metal and rock communities.

Best Drummers of All Time: Closing Thoughts

Future of Drumming

The best drummers of all time have left an indelible mark on the music industry with their unique styles and techniques. From the thunderous beats of John Bonham to the intricate rhythms of Buddy Rich, these drummers have influenced generations of musicians and continue to inspire new talent today. Their mastery of the drums has elevated the role of percussion in music. Furthermore, it’s also pushed the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument.

It’s impossible to definitively rank the best drummers of all time. However, it’s clear that the drummers in this list have had a lasting impact on the world of music. As technology continues to evolve, it’s exciting to see how new generations of drummers will build upon the legacy of these greats and continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible.

Whether you prefer the hard-hitting rock of Keith Moon or the jazzy finesse of Gene Krupa, there is no denying the immense talent and influence of the best drummers of all time.


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