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5 Reasons Why Danny Carey Is A Drumming Genius

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Aug 20, 2022

Danny Carey isn’t just the drummer for Tool – he’s a musical genius in his own right. And we’re going to show you why.

From his deep understanding of rhythm and his unique approach to composition, to his proficiency with challenging time signatures and independence, he’s developed a recognizable style that inspires drummers around the world.

If you’re familiar with Danny Carey, you probably know him for his polyrhythms, his mathematical approach to music, or at the very least, his awesome kit. But you don’t need convincing.

If you haven’t yet figured out why the Tool drummer has so much hype, here are 5 reasons why Danny Carey is a drumming genius:

1. His grooves are creative and distinct

Listen to the drum parts on “Stinkfist”, “The Pot”, and “Vicarious.” Danny’s grooves are undeniably cool, and Tool fans – even non-drummers – can instantly recognize many of them.

Click here to learn how to play “The Pot” by Tool

One of Tool’s biggest songs, “Schism”, has an intro groove broken into alternating bars of 5/8 and 7/8 (you could think of it as a longer phrase of 12/8).

He turns his snare wires off here.

How to play the intro of “Schism” by Tool

What about the opening hi-hat groove in “Sober”? It may not be overly complicated, but it’s a part Tool fans can instantly recognize.

The intro of “Sober” by Tool

And then you have his tom-based grooves on tracks like “Hush”, “Intolerance” and “Ticks & Leeches”, and the end of “Opiate”.

The tom groove in “Ticks & Leeches”
The end of “Opiate”

Whether it’s his technicality, his note placement or the way he builds the parts for the music, Danny Carey’s an incredible writer.

2. He’s a master of odd time

If you’re new to Tool, check out the cool drumming on these tracks:

  • “Jambi”
  • “Rosetta Stoned”
  • “Fear Inoculum”
  • “Invincible”
  • “7empest
  • …for examples of Danny Carey mastering odd time signatures.

Click here to learn how to play “Jambi” by Tool

Don’t miss “The Grudge” (with 5/8 sections):

“The Grudge” by Tool

Or “Forty Six & 2” (7/8 during the instrumental):

“Forty Six & 2”

Or “Pneuma” (12/8 to 11/8 to 10/8).

The original working title for the song “Lateralus” was “987” because in the intro and choruses, the time signature changes from 9/8 to 8/8 (aka 4/4) then 7/8.

Danny isn’t the only Tool member who’s into math. Many parts of the track are based around the Fibonacci sequence: where each number in the sequence is the sum of the two numbers before it. The number of syllables in each lyrical phrase represent Fibonacci numbers, and 987 is also in the sequence.

Here’s the beginning of the first chorus in Lateralus:

Part of the first chorus in “Lateralus”

3. His drum fills are mesmerizing

Danny Carey’s fills are chock full of hand-foot combos, mixed subdivisions and groupings, and flawless bass drum skills (he used to practice rudiments in his feet).

Click here to learn how to play hand-foot combos (with Eric Moore)

Listen to the intro of “Sober”, where you’ll hear meticulously executed subdivisions from 16th notes to 32nd notes.

The intro to “Sober”

The fills in “Forty Six & 2” and “Lateralus” are also incredible:

“Forty Six & 2” drum fill
Drum fill in “Lateralus”

And in the intro of “The Pot”, Danny creates rhythmic tension and movement with five note groupings and hertas on the snare drum.

How to play the intro of “The Pot”

Go listen.

4. He’s a math wizard

For a band that writes songs based around the Fibonacci sequence, you can bet the drummer dives deep into polyrhythms, polymeters, and other mathematical goodies.

We hear multiple time signatures/meters happening at the same time, giving us a cool over the bar line feel.

In “Lateralus”, the band plays in 6/8 (or a 12/8 feel) while Danny plays in 5/8. The bridge of “Eulogy” features what sounds like a standard 4/4 groove, but groupings of 3 on the hi-hats take three full bars to resolve.

The bridge of “Eulogy” by Tool

Check out the verse from “Invincible” – it has a 7/16 groove with a pattern that goes over the bar line, resulting in a 7 over 3 polyrhythm.

The verse of “Invincible”

(The tom in this sheet music represents the Wavedrum electronic sample)

Click here to learn how to play “Invincible” by Tool

And then there’s “Pneuma”, where you hear Danny play three note groupings of 16ths over a 4/4 bass rhythm.

pneuma 1

(The toms in this sheet music represent tabla samples)

As if that wasn’t enough, in “Rosetta Stoned”, he plays in 3/4 while implying 4/4 on the right hand and 5/16 with the bass drum.

Even if you didn’t pay attention in math class, it still sounds really cool.

How to play “Rosetta Stoned” by Tool
Drumeo's Danny Carey replica drum kit
Drumeo’s Danny Carey replica kit

5. His setup and sound are unpredictable

Math, geometry, metaphysics: even his kit reflects his interests, with symmetrical cymbal placements and geometric designs on his electronic pads.

Many of his musical choices aren’t standard for a rock or metal kit. He uses Mandala electronic pads for samples, a Wavedrum, and other electronics (Bill Bruford from Yes is an influence).


In the video at the top of this article, Brandon is using prototypes of Danny’s current Mandala V3s. The company is launching the final version of these pads with many new features, even beyond what Danny plays.

If you want your own Mandala sample pads like Danny Carey, click here to join the wait list!


A tabla player as well, Danny recorded many of his own percussive parts on tracks like “Disposition”, although he triggers these parts live.

You can hear shakers, congas, tabla, and other percussion on tracks like “10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)”, “Pushit”, “Forty Six & 2”, “Eulogy”, “Intention” and “Fear Inoculum”.

But we can’t credit Danny with developing his sound all on his own. His style is unique because of his broad range of influences, taking concepts from rock drummers like Neil Peart and John Bonham but also jazz and fusion drummers like Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd and Lenny White.

Listen to “Sweat” by Tool or “BHP” by his other band Volto! to hear his fusion influences. You can even hear a delicate snare/ride approach on Tool tracks like “The Grudge” that hints at genre greats like Williams, White, and Cobham.

So why is Danny Carey a ‘genius’?

He isn’t just a drummer – he’s an incredible musician who has carved out his own style of playing and composing. He writes memorable and interesting drum parts that have inspired drummers for over 30 years.

You could take our word for it – and we can call him “amazing” and “genius” all we want – but you really have to listen yourself to understand why so many consider Danny Carey a ‘god-tier’ drummer.

For other video breakdowns on why certain drummers are so well loved, check these out:

Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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