One might say the cornerstone of music, and especially rock music, is the rhythm and beat that carries every tune. The crack of the snare, the boom of the kick drum and of course, the myriad of cymbals that crash throughout a song can electrify a simple melody into a hit. While they may not take center stage, the best drummers of all time are the backbone of rock and roll.
That low, powerful thumping you hear pulsating through every rock song known to man is all thanks to whoever sits behind the drums. It may not be outwardly noticeable, but it’s so important. In fact, a recent study reveals that it really is all about that bass when it comes to filling the dance floor. Researchers from McMaster University found that people danced almost 12 percent more when a very low frequency bass was playing.
It takes a special musician to conquer the drums. Their minds are even altered as a result of playing. New research discovered that playing the drums does indeed change one’s brain structure; drummers’ motor brain areas are organized more efficiently, and also appear to have fewer than normal, but also thicker, connecting fibers between the two halves of the brain.
Their dance worthy beats and intricate brain patterns are just the beginning when it comes to the kings of the sticks. StudyFinds set out to do the research for you, visiting 10 expert websites to put together this list of the best drummers of all time. If you’ve got your own suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!
The List: Best Drummers of All Time, According to Experts
1. John Bonham – Led Zeppelin
Best known as the drummer for Led Zeppelin, John Bonham’s powerful and innovative drumming style set the standard for rock drummers for decades to come. “Bonzo, as he was affectionately known, was renowned for his fast, loud and heavy drum sound, together with his incredible kick drum play. He was the powerhouse that underpinned the heavy metal sound but his playing was much more intricate than that, and that’s why he’s still seen as the world’s best ever drummer,” mentions Redditch Standard.
“Powerful drumming,” says Drumeo, “Is synonymous with Bonham. It’s especially obvious in songs like ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Rock And Roll’ and ‘In My Time Of Dying’. Don’t get us wrong, though: Bonham wasn’t just about playing heavy. He still had discipline and gave the music what it needed, whether it was a booming tom part or something more nuanced.”
Drum Magazine talks about his legacy, “It’s been 30 years since the tragic news broke from Jimmy Page’s Mill House, in Pangbourne, Berkshire. The memory of John Bonham, fueled by fact and fantasy, has since grown to become legend. But the reality is, Bonham was every bit as good as they say. He was the man with the golden groove, the sensational chops, and that great, big sound.”
2. Neil Peart – Rush
The late drummer of the Canadian rock band Rush, Neil Peart was known for his technical skill and complex drumming patterns. He was also a prolific lyricist and considered one of the greatest drummers in rock history.
“He was a key member of the rock band Rush. The band became massive over the years, and so did Neil Peart’s drumming. Neil Peart had an amazing sense of musicality behind the kit, and he was so accurate whenever playing complicated drum parts for Rush songs,” says The Drum Ninja.
Rolling Stone mentions, simply, “Peart, one-third of the Toronto band Rush, was one of the world’s most worshipped drummers, unleashing his unearthly skills upon rotating drum kits that grew to encompass what seemed like every percussive possibility within human invention.”
Damson Global recants his career: “Neil was without a doubt one of the best drummers of all time. It’s possible he could be number one but we just feel that position is well held by its current incumbent. Peart drew so much inspiration from the leading British drummers (British drummers really are the best!) yet he sandwiches himself in between two of them. You can hear in much of Peart’s style how he drew inspiration from the best drummers of previous generations (Ginger). Peart also didn’t let competition turn into jealousy as he drew inspiration from greats that were competing with Billboard chart-topping at that time (Copeland). It’s because of this that we move Neil above both of them.”
3. Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich was a jazz drummer who was widely regarded as one of the best in the world. He had incredible speed and precision, and his solos are still studied and admired by drummers today. “Buddy Rich has been called the greatest jazz drummer of all time—a statement that few would argue with,” says Modern Drummer, “Today Buddy Rich is remembered as one of history’s greatest musicians. According to another great jazz drumming legend, Gene Krupa, Rich was ‘the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath.’”
Electronic Drum Advisor broke down Buddy’s style: “He would master both sheer and delicate approaches to the kit, although he was best known for his powerful and intricate drumming. One of his trademarks was the ability to play at a very high speed and the vast use of hi-hats rather than bass drums. He had many more tricks up his sleeve, designed to impress the audience and to offer a great variety of sounds and layers during solos. One of these tricks was the one-handed roll, quite difficult to master even at slower tempos. Another trademark of his playing style was the use of a matched grip on floor toms during cross-sticking solos. He also had an irreproachable style with brushes.”
There was always his speed, “Buddy Rich did not just start drumming because others were doing it and it was beneficial, he loved and lived to drum. And for this reason, Rich had a technique that has remained unrivaled for all these years. No one can drum as fast as the rich could,” says Zero to Drum.
4. Keith Moon
Known as the drummer for The Who, Keith Moon was known for his wild and unconventional drumming style. He was a showman on stage and his explosive playing helped define the sound of The Who. “Moon was, quite possibly, the most sensational drummer in rock history, even if he never thought of himself as just the drummer in a rock ’n’ roll rhythm section. He wasn’t support; Moon thought what he played with The Who was ‘lead drums,’” says Best Classic Bands.
His legacy was talked about in Rolling Stone, “Moon was the first to be so celebrated as a drummer. Right from the beginning, as a seventeen-year-old who could have passed for fifteen without trouble. Moon trashed the limits that the best of his contemporaries – Charlie Watts, Hal Blaine, Kenny Buttrey – instinctively respected. There seemed to be no conscious arrogance or musical ambition involved: Moon simply didn’t recognize those limits. He didn’t hear them, so he didn’t play them.”
The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media beats along with Moon, “Self-described as the greatest drummer in the world, Moon hated rote rock drumming and repetition, in general. Serving as the inspiration for Animal of the Muppets, he gained a reputation for smashing hotel rooms as hard as his drum kits. Not the greatest reputation to have, but he owned it. He was even known for flushing explosives! Moon was as much a performance artist as he was a drummer. He tried to play with everyone in the band at once, making his breaks melodic, and he fit drum rolls into places they had never gone before.”
5. Stewart Copeland
The drummer for The Police, Stewart Copeland, brought a unique blend of punk, reggae, and jazz influences to his drumming. His unconventional rhythms and use of percussion helped shape the sound of The Police and influenced many drummers in the decades to come.
His style is anything but ordinary, “His style combines reggae, jazz, Arabic music, Latin, and punk rock, which gives him a unique rhythmic sound. For example, unlike most pop or rock drummers, he won’t wait until the end of 8 or 16 bars to add in a fill or chop,” says Drumeo.
Music Radar mentions, “Copeland was the icing on the cake with his fresh and original approach to the drums. Stewart has long ago moved beyond that era, re-establishing himself as an in-demand television and film scorer. He has also gained respect as an orchestral composer, writing operas and symphonic compositions.”
There was one part of Copeland’s style that resonated with Record Drum Online when they said, “I don’t know any other drummer who, before Stewart Copeland, had the brilliant idea of using delay effects on their drums with such deceptive results. Check out the infamous ‘Walking on the Moon’ (especially after 3.14..he goes absolutely nuts!) and the intro of ‘Regatta de Blanc’. Also, on ‘The Other Way Of Stopping’ if you like delay on toms.”
You might also be interested in:
- Best Rock Bands of All Time
- Best Beatles Songs
- Best Songs From the 1980s
- Best Surround Sound Systems
- Best Bluetooth Speakers
- Best Heavy Metal Bands
- Redditch Standard
- Drum Magazine
- The Drum Ninja
- Rolling Stone
- Damson Global
- Modern Drummer
- Electronic Drum Advisor
- Zero to Drum
- Best Classic Bands
- The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media
- Music Radar
- Record Drum Online
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.