If you could choose the top drumming songs – as in, the ones every drummer should know and respect – what would you put on your list?
‘Best’ is a problematic word in art. Everyone’s list will differ. But that makes it great – music has no rights and wrongs; it belongs to everyone.
Some songs immediately popped into my head when I started compiling drummers and bands. Some drummers have so many recordings one could choose from. There are great drummers who don’t necessarily have great drum songs. If I wrote this list next year, it would be different.
So while there are some probably misses I’ll feel guilty about, this is a list of incredible tracks for many different reasons. You’ll likely recognize many legendary drum parts. Whether you’re a jazz fan or a metalhead, a fan of session cats or band lifers, a technique nerd or someone who appreciates playing for the song (or hopefully both!), you’ll find a track or two we agree on.
Like all good record collections, the list is in alphabetical order by band name or surname.
One last thing: I strongly recommend making your own list. The research was a lot of fun!
Although many people learn this pattern early on, they seldom play it with the same authority and discipline as Phil Rudd. His drumming provided the perfect foundation for the rest of the band to create an all-time classic.
In this iconic beat, Ringo emphasizes John Lennon’s vocal “Shoot me…” with the bass drum, the bass line on the hi-hats, and finishes with a roll on the toms. Ringo leads with the left hand, playing the kit backwards so it goes from floor tom to rack tom. He keeps time with a simple kick and floor tom pattern in the verses, but the feel is unbelievable – it’s not what is being played, but how Ringo is playing it.
Cited as the most sampled drum beat of all time, Clyde Stubblefield’s metronomic right hand plays a busy yet subtle hi-hat pattern that keeps the time perfectly. His ghost note doubles and the snare buzzes are beautiful. Check out the nine-minute version to get to the sampled parts.
The ride cymbal ostinato plays a crucial role in holding the entire band together, beautifully balanced by the left hand’s skipping on the snare in 5/4 time. The song then transitions effortlessly into a drum solo, comprising a blend of flams, singles, and doubles played with a smoothness and authority that is rare to find. The solo has so much feel and is still fresh and relevant even after over 60 years.
This instrumental showcases Bill Ward’s skills with lightning-fast snare fills before breaking into a drum solo. The track came from the band’s residency in Hamburg. They needed to lengthen their set, so they incorporated lengthy drum solos where Ward was given free reign. In this shortened version, you can hear his jazz influences, and there are some live recordings worth checking out where Ward’s power and speed are on full display.
There is an incredible solo early on, then a cool groove with extraordinary fills. A powerful performance from the fusion maestro: mixing, crossing and combining genres.
This is possibly the most iconic fill of all time. It comes after minutes of tension building on a drum machine. Collins called it the “face hugger” drum sound that sucked people in and knocked them out.
This tightly orchestrated piece shows a beautiful range in dynamics and razor-sharp precision with the rest of the band. Weckl’s seemingly constant ghost notes work against crazy right hand patterns, leading to some incredible solo sections.
Elvin Jones’ power shines through on this record without overplaying in an environment where dynamics are crucial. The ride patterns provide energy and forward momentum, while the hi-hat maintains a constant pulse under tenacious snare work. Elvin’s trademark polyrhythmic playing beautifully responds to the other musicians. An immaculate performance.
At the beginning of the track, the tempo alternates between standard and double time before leading into Ginger Baker’s famous drum solo. With improvisation, intensity and flair, he showcases why he is one of the greatest drummers ever.
Beautiful cymbal patterns over a bass line give the track an Afro-Cuban feel. Williams moves back and forth into a half-time swing as more of the kit is introduced, but the pulse feels uninterrupted despite tempo and time changes. Dynamic mastery.
Apparently, this part was created as a result of Ian Paice’s boredom in the studio. As they kept running the track, he played a solo in time with the chords – and everyone loved it. The song is absolutely bursting with energy, and despite the amount of fills, the drums don’t get in the way of the other parts.
A clean, linear groove sets a spacious tone. Sparse use of toms, ghost notes on the snare, and hi-hat flourishes create an exciting and precise yet laid-back part.
The song is highly complex, with multiple time changes and showcases Mike Portnoy‘s exceptional technical ability. Throughout the song, he effortlessly moves around the toms and creates some fantastic fills, moving in and out of double kick grooves and accenting the numerous changes. His command of the drum kit is impeccable.
The tom part in the verses is distinctive, mixed with snappy fills on the snare, picking up and holding back at just the correct times. Mick Fleetwood plays with the excitement and energy crucial to the band’s sound.
The 16th note hi-hat part in the verses adds brilliant energy and drives the song forward. This has the light touch at the correct times before thunderous fills in the choruses, powered by the kick drum.
The driving tom rhythm creates a steady foundation for this swing classic. The tasteful and organized fills during the breaks between solos maintain the song’s momentum.
Mitch Mitchell’s performance on this legendary track is a perfect fusion of jazz and rock, with relentless fills, razor-sharp technique, and rock and roll energy making it a timeless classic.
A blistering Bonham-esque triplet fill introduced Nick McBrain as Iron Maiden’s new drummer, followed by a relentless bass drum pattern playing groups of three. This song boasts hi-hat accents and huge tom fills that became Nicko’s signature over the years.
Steve Smith’s unique chorus part is an ingenious, open-handed pattern. He plays the hi-hat/snare with the left hand and ride cymbal/toms with the right. It’s a fantastic display of coordination, working a technical drum part into a mainstream chorus because it perfectly suited what was happening melodically.
Bonham moves through this song with cinematic musicality. The combination of power, speed and dynamics makes you forget it’s a drum solo bookended with a mean Jimmy Page riff. It’s filled with the trademark triplets on the toms and that lightning-fast right foot.
The song is incredibly intense and maintains a blazing speed from beginning to end. Pridgen showcases impressive single pedal footwork that complements the fast 32nd note fills played throughout the entire kit. The single-stroke rolls leading up to the choruses are relentless, and the series of fills at the end are brilliantly executed.
Opening with a tight double kick and tom intro, his part matches perfectly when the rest of the band kicks in for a legendary metal intro. His work on the ride cymbal lifts the track at the right time, complementing the guitars. Despite how tight the band are, Menza still has a particular swing in his playing that’s unique in the genre.
Tomas Haake has claimed that he wishes he didn’t have to play an absolutely relentless and brutal double-kick pattern, which took him six months of work to be able to perform. The herta pattern on the feet working polyrhythmically with the hand pattern is incredibly precise.
This song has some exciting playing in the verses, single hits on toms, accents with crashes, and constantly flipping the snare around. This all builds to the iconic double kick pattern, which are groups of six, first played in double time, then straight as a solo before the guitars lock in perfectly for maximum effect, finishing with machine gun snare fills in the outro.
Ziggy’s effortlessly cool groove is a choppy 16th note hi-hat pattern with a call-and-response chorus section with snare fills, hi-hat barks and crashes. Ziggy said this beat was inspired by the African feel of drummer Joseph “Smokey” Johnson Jr., and he incorporated it into his own playing in a search for his own voice.
Probably the most famous flams of all time, the rock-solid beat changed the guard in the 90s. Every note is in the right place in this song. The use of hi-hats and crashes lifts the track where needed. Just playing the quarter notes on the hi-hats is way more challenging than it sounds in those choruses. Grohl claimed to have stolen this from The Gap Band, but it’s much more than the intro.
A thunderous tom intro moves into a cool half-time feel with a clever off-beat start to the verses. Vinnie Paul brought such power on the toms and double kick in this track, but it still has so much groove.
It’s an understated yet complicated bit of drumming. Steve Gadd plays an open-handed pattern here, hitting the first hi-hat note with the foot immediately followed by the left hand then the right on the snare. Repeating marching style fills make it almost hypnotic, and a streetwise groove for the chorus perfectly shows why Gadd is a true great. If there is a conversation about what feel is on the drums, this track will end it.
An all-energy performance, the signature hi-hat work, snappy flams and tom orchestration make this one of the band’s stand-out tracks. There are some overdubs, which Copeland has said he regrets as he overplayed at the end of the song, but it’s a feast of rock, reggae, and punk to be admired.
A marching four on the floor beat with single stroke rolls with accents on both hands, this drum solo shows why Cozy Powell was hired by many of rock’s legendary bands. Musical and powerful, this solo reached number 3 in the UK charts!
Half of this song is fills, but it completely suits what is happening melodically. Dave Grohl’s blistering hertas between the snare and toms and use of the cymbals (recorded separately to have more control in the mix) keep the momentum just as solidly as a straight beat ever could.
A powerful performance, Wilk’s playing captured the band’s intensity on this song. There’s loads of musicality on this, from the iconic double cowbell at the start, the clean flams and snare work throughout, to the organized chaos of fills that seamlessly move into the final groove.
A flawless, exciting, dynamic performance from the jazz master. This arrangement is a musical journey that features insane drum breaks, tight orchestration, some fun parts and two drum solos that exemplify why many consider Buddy Rich the greatest drummer of all time.
The pounding double-time tom beat in the verse lays such a solid foundation for the rest of the band here. Charlie Watts had an incredible meter, like a metronome at times. He opens up a straight beat on trashy hi-hats for the choruses and throws in many brilliant fills as the song builds.
The opening groove is precise, giving the track space and creating an addictive feel. With the patterns on the ride cymbal, accents on the kick, and an album’s worth of cool fills, it feels like a song that never stops moving.
It’s a slow, funky, inventive part with the grooviest kick pattern. Playing groups of three on the right foot, with the double ghost notes on the snares and the hi-hats opening, displays incredible technique. But Chambers makes it sound effortless, playing in the pocket perfectly.
In trying to work out a fill from a Primus song, Cavalera created an exciting tribal groove on the toms and crashes to open this track, followed by some sharp double kick before settling into a heavyweight half-time beat. This feels on the edge from start to finish.
For all of Dave Lombardo’s technical genius, somehow hitting the toms three times at the start of this track sounds like the end is nigh! It then explodes into a blistering 16-note double kick beat. There are a lot of different parts, but all fit perfectly with the rest of the band.
Galloping, tasteful military snare work into delicate cross-stick verses (inspired by Alex Acuna’s playing on “Birdland” by Weather Report) and a half-time beat make this an epic drum take exploding with energy but still has a beautiful feel.
Check out the brilliant laid-back tom groove, complete with pauses for vocals, accented fills, crashes and hi-hat barks. It even features a spoon solo over a drum and bass breakdown! The main riff is 14 beats long, and can be divided in several ways, but the genius of this track is that it doesn’t feel like unconventional time.
The Purdie shuffle. Precise, laid back, tight. Perfect playing for the song, with some typically tasteful fills and accents on the cymbals. This take has bags of personality without stepping on anyone’s toes.
5/4 through the ears of a master. The song features a clean cross-stick and hi-hat pattern, where the accents move over the bar line (counted on the one and three, then two and five) plus some fantastic 16th note flourishes. While complicated, it flows easily. This came from a triangle pattern Sting had written as a constant pulse, which Colaiuta transfered to the kit. Some beautiful laid-back fills tumble into the choruses, with an equally complex ride cymbal pattern with tasteful splash cymbals.
One of the most famous drum breaks ever recorded, Wilson plays 16th note rolls on the toms with some right-handed accents in this instrumental surf music classic. It was written in 10 minutes as a B-side built around Wilson’s solos, drawing inspiration from marching band pieces and bongo patterns.
Powerful tribal rhythms on the toms drive this epic nine-minute track, but the odd time signatures, blistering fills, and incredible groove make it feel like this song is constantly building.
Most drummers will immediately recognize the iconic half-time shuffle. Porcaro cited Bernard Purdie’s “Home At Last” and John Bonham’s “Fool in the Rain” as the inspiration, but his precise and dynamic touch on the hi-hats and ghost notes on the snare have made it the north star for a generation of drummers.
This famous Garibaldi groove is built on linear concepts and full of tight ghost notes, busy but tasteful fills, and a fantastic overall feel. The bass drum only appears in the beat in the first verse, as it wasn’t unmuted by mistake, but it sounds like it was a deliberate decision!
The legendary intro of hertas on the toms mixed with a double kick shuffle sounds like an idling Harley Davidson until it snaps into a galloping beat. Plenty of razor-sharp fills and perfectly placed crashes add to the song’s energy.
This is a joyous performance, from the stylish hi-hat intro into a half-time rock groove with fills at the end of almost every bar, snare hits jumping out and accenting the vocal melodies. You can feel the chaotic energy of Keith Moon, but it all somehow fits.
Many fear “the black page” because there are so many notes on the sheet music they almost blend together into one dark spot! The term inspired Frank Zappa to write a complicated song that would warrant the title. It took Bozzio two weeks to learn. Once he could play it, Zappa wrote the melodies to accompany the mesmerizing performance.
That’s it – 50 amazing songs with legendary drum parts that every drummer should learn (or at least know). Did we miss anything? What more would you add?
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