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5 Different Types of Drummers:
- Metal/Hard Rock
- R+B/Funk/Hip Hop
Now, more than ever, there is more diversity in the stylistic avenue you can choose to pursue your drumming and more importantly, your music. Given the advances in technology, information, and home recording, it is much easier to become a specialized drummer in a vast area of genres. Still, this all leads to the question: Which type of Drummer are YOU?
The only possible answer is, in fact, quite simple. The only drummer you should strive to be is a Good One, better yet a GREAT ONE! OK, I realize this a somewhat vague answer to an equally vague question that doesn’t really help define a specific type of genre to place one in, so let me back up a bit.
Webster’s Dictionary defines greatness as the quality or state of being great (as in size, skill, achievement, or power). OK, now we are now getting closer to some elements that are relatable to us as drummers most specifically:
Yes, size and power do play a significant part in some styles of drumming, but without the skills needed, it won’t matter what drummer you define yourself as…unless, of course, you to choose to identify yourself as a poor one.
In an attempt to help define what type of drummer you consider yourself to be or how to gain the skill set to become the drummer or percussionist you’d like to be, let’s look at five different types of styles and areas of study that may be of interest to you. Of course, there are several more styles and sub-genres within these styles, but let’s keep to these five for now.
This often be can be the best introduction to drumming and music and can provide you with an excellent foundation for a lifetime of great hands and the other major components to being a great musician such as:
- ensemble playing
- personal accountability and teamwork
To excel in this idiom, you will need to put a great deal of time and consistent, daily practice into working on:
- Mastering the 40 P.A.S (Percussive Arts Society) International Rudiments, A general knowledge of the many “Hybrid Rudiments“ that have developed over the past 30 years.
- Mastery of all binary and ternary rhythms as they relate to a quarter note pulse (in this case, your feet). Thom Hannum’s “A Percussionist’s Guide to Check Patterns” is an invaluable resource.
The results will be extremely beneficial and can be readily applied to many other styles of drumming as well.
Some of the greatest drummers in history, such as Elvin Jones and Steve Gadd, have credited their marching experience as the foundation of developing their unique style.
There are also many physical benefits to today’s marching programs as well. Modern Drum Corps International and Winter Guard International programs, as well as competitive college and high school programs, require a great deal of physical marching agility and body movement, which has evolved quite a bit in the past 30 years. Here are some examples of how the activity has evolved:
1993 Star Of Indiana- Endurance Study:
2019 World Champion Santa Clara Vanguard Drumline:
As you can see, the physical demand for today’s premier marching groups is quite intense and very competitive. However, you don’t need to march a premier DCI or WGI to reap the benefits of rudimental drumming that can be applied to other styles of percussion. Even participating in modest, local marching or parade bands will help you hone the skills you need and give you the guidance to practice and excel.
2. Metal/Hard Rock Drumming
This is another popular style of drumming that has evolved immensely in the past 50 years. It contains many sub-genres that cover a broad range of speed and intensity. Like marching, to be a great drummer in this genre, it will require dedicated, consistent practice. Some examples of the skills needed in this genre:
- Precision in both hands and feet
- Physical endurance and stamina needed to play at a high volume and rapid tempo
- Double Bass or “extended” single bass technique (blast beats etc.)
- Knowledge and command of odd groupings and odd meters.
Some of today’s premier drummers throughout the genre, such as Mike Mangini, Matt Garstka, Tomas Haake, and Brann Dailor credit their years of hard work practicing and playing in metal bands as essential to developing their incredible power and stamina.
Like these players, today’s premier innovators in jazz drumming such as Mark Guiliana, Dave King and Dan Weiss also credit Hard Rock titans such as John Bonham and Neil Peart as well as the many metal sub-genres as influential to their styles as well.
John Bonham. The “Godfather” of Hard Rock and Metal Drumming
3. R+B/Funk/Hip Hop Drummer
I think a better way to label this category would be anything that is groove-based as opposed to say, dexterity, or chops based. That is not to say that this genre doesn’t include absolute monster players who possess incredible amounts of chops, skill, and versatility.
A lot of today’s premier players in this category, such as Chris “Daddy” Dave, Aaron Spears, and Chris Coleman, have pushed the envelope as to what is physically possible on the drums, still supporting the music and grooving hard.
Chris “Daddy” Dave:
However, you don’t need to possess world-class chops to work hard and enjoy playing within this genre, but you will need the following skills:
- Great timekeeping and the ability to play with a click track
- Dynamics and (most importantly) feel
- The ability to serve the song
This is by far the most visible and popular genre today. One needs to not look further than Late Night TV or the Super Bowl to see great players like such as Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Sean Pelton, and Brian Frasier- Moore laying down great grooves to millions.
Many drummers can find a great deal of work in Wedding/GB, Top-40, or Cover Bands to which you will no doubt be playing and emulating a lot of today’s top players and grooves.
In addition to the amount of hard work you will need to put in on your groove, feel, and timekeeping, you will need to research the rich history included in this genre. Check out and know the following drummers (to name only but a few):
- Clyde Stubblefield
- Bernard Purdie
- James Gadson
- Al Jackson Jr.
- Harvey Mason
- Mike Clark
- Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste
- Dennis Chambers
- Steve Jordan
Even though your focus will be serving the music with solid grooves and a great feel, you can still be imaginative and innovative with your playing as well. One need not look further than long time Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi, one of the most innovative and influential drummers in the history of this genre.
David Garibaldi with “Talking Drums”:
4. Jazz Drummer
I’ve purposely waited to talk about Jazz Drumming until this point, as quite frankly, it could be a whole article unto itself with many subtopics that deserve equal attention. The history of the modern drum set itself is intrinsically intertwined with the history of jazz spanning well over 100 years.
Like all the other genres mentioned so far, to be a great jazz drummer will require tremendous dedication and practice. Although there are exceptions, you will need to obtain a strong foundation of the following to serve the music properly.
- a steady ride cymbal beat and phrasing
- improvisation and soloing
- the ability to listen and play with others
- general knowledge of “Latin’ rhythms (bossa, samba, cascara, mambo, rhumba, bembe, etc.)
These are all essential to being a great Jazz Drummer.
One person’s taste in jazz could be that of “Big Band Swing” famous in 1940’s America while someone else’s could be “Bossa Nova” derived from Brazil and popular in the early 1960s and yet another likes Jazz Fusion from the 1980s. The stylistic umbrella covering what is called “Jazz Music” is quite vast and diverse.
Of course, you can focus on any one specific style of Jazz Drumming, but in doing so, you should have at least a general knowledge of the music’s history starting with a few of the early innovators:
- Baby Dodds
- Gene Krupa
- Chick Webb
- Buddy Rich
- “Papa” Jo Jones
- Dave Tough
- Kenny Clarke
- Sonny Payne
Other pioneers who also shaped Jazz Drumming (and influenced several different genres of drumming as well):
- Max Roach
- Art Blakey
- Roy Haynes
- “Philly” Joe Jones
- Jimmy Cobb
- Elvin Jones
- Tony Williams
- Jack DeJohnette
- Billy Cobham
- Steve Gadd
- Dave Weckl
Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich:
Private Teachers and Mentors for Jazz
With a style like jazz, it might be important to mention the importance of a role that a Private teacher or mentor might have in helping to shape into the drummer stylistically you’d like to become. Even if you are already a skilled drummer in one or various styles, it’s vital to search out and learn from players that have a vast amount of skill and experience in the style you’d like to pursue OR better yet….
Learn from an expert in a style that is different from the one you spend the most time working in and performing. This will only add depth to your skills and overall musicianship.
It’s not uncommon to find that a killer Metal Drummer spent years studying jazz and that a great funk drummer has also studied Latin music and Reggae extensively.
Also, many accomplished players in all styles of drumming have also spent considerable honing skills outside of percussion such as
- music theory and ear training
- composition and arranging
- study of piano, guitar, and voice
To make an analogy, this would be much similar to “cross-training” for runners and elite athletes. The benefits of doing different exercises and strength training have proven to be extremely beneficial to athletes boosting their performance and overall wellness.
“Musical Cross Training” may, in fact, be the most significant thing you could do to not only help your playing but help to discover the music and style you’d like to pursue.
5. The “Versatile” Drummer
Have we gotten this far and still not sure which type of drummer we are? Do we like some aspects of marching or metal drumming, but also love the musicality and creativity of jazz? No problem! In fact, GREAT.
Chances are, the majority of us will need to be versed in MORE than one aspect of drumming to play professionally, and to do so you will need to have mastery over various skill sets. Yes, this will require discipline and work, but you can keep from getting overwhelmed by following a couple of simple rules.
- Serve the music and each idiom to its fullest. Do your research, listen, and play with those who have experience and expertise in those various styles.
- Understanding the appropriate rhythms and grooves as they relate to each style. Is it triplet based like swing or shuffle? Straight 8th based? Or does the music follow a specific clave (rhythmic key found in many Latin and African based music)
- Divide your practice time evenly by 4-5 types of exercise in various styles to maintain an overall skill set that will enhance your versatility. This will require discipline and daily upkeep to see overall results.
Yes, there are no shortcuts to becoming a versatile musician. “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” is not anything you should aspire to be or anyone you should aspire to play with.
Think of some of the most versatile drummers in history, such as Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, and Steve Jordan. They have complete mastery in all the various genres they play, yet they maintain their originality- it always sounds like them.
Steve Jordan, in particular, is an excellent example. He can play Jazz with Sonny Rollins, Rock and Roll with Keith Richards’ and Big Arena Pop with John Mayer all within the same week.
Here is a great example of Steve demonstrating the origins of Rock and Roll Drumming. His respect for the history and importance of serving the music is evident. Not to mention his feel:
Hopefully, by looking at these five isolated examples, you have a better idea of where you might fit as a drummer. Again, there are many other styles not mentioned that you may interest you as well.
If you are still not sure, that is completely OK! Immerse yourself in the fun of gaining the skills to play various types of styles on the drums. Listen and check out as much different music as you can, play with others, and through hard work and practice, the music we are meant to serve will present itself to YOU.
That is the beauty of what we do and what will make you GREAT!
Dave Fox is a drummer and educator located in the Boston area. He is Percussion and Jazz Department Head at Indian Hill Music Center in Littleton, MA and teaches percussion at MJ’s Music School in Waltham, MA. He performs nationally and abroad with three-time Grammy Award winner Tom Hambridge and his band The Rattlesnakes. He is a current member of The Stan Strickland/Josh Rosen Quaret, Boston Rock Legends The Stompers and The Gravel Project. When not performing as a sideman, he leads his own jazz group featuring Ken Clark on Hammond B-3 Organ, Bill Jones on Sax and Phil Grenadier on trumpet. He is an endorser of Vic Firth Drumsticks. You can find more about him here: www.davefoxdrums.com