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Tool Drummer Danny Carey: 5+ Reasons Why He’s A Genius

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Aug 4, 2023

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.

During his 30+ years in the industry, Danny has earned a reputation as a high-energy percussionist whose ability to slip in and out of complex time signatures is nothing short of unreal.

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.


Who is Danny Carey?

  • Danny Carey has been playing drums since he was 10 years old, taking classes at school and private lessons at home.
  • He’s played with bands like Tool, Zaum, Green Jellÿ, Pigface, Skinny Puppy, Adrian Belew, Carole King, Collide, Meat Puppets, Lusk, and the Melvins.
  • Always known for going heavy on his kit, Danny stands out for being right at home with complex polyrhythms and oddball time signatures that he switches in fast, creative patterns.
  • His style is all over the place, with recognizable influences from progressive metal, progressive rock, heavy metal, art rock, alternative metal, hard rock, jazz fusion, and experimental rock.
  • Before dropping out of college, Danny studied geometry, science, and metaphysics.
  • Danny Carey is 6’5″ – one of the tallest drummers in the game.

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 tom groove in “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.

Check out Aaron Edgar’s tips on playing the tom parts in “Ticks & Leeches” and “Eulogy”:

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.

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”

“987” is the 16th number in the Fibonacci Sequence, which you get by adding two numbers together to get the next number (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.).

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” before the groove comes in, 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. For example, 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.

Danny Carey’s drum set

Like most professionals, Danny has zeroed in on a few setups that work for him. He usually plays with wood-tipped versions of his own signature drumsticks from Vic Firth, though he used to endorse Trueline’s Tribal Assault line.

Danny’s setup has changed over the years, and during the Lateralus 2002 tour he was using a custom kit made entirely out of recycled bronze from melted down Paiste cymbals. Today he’s got something a bit more conventional, but it’s as big and diverse as you’d expect.

Danny Carey’s setup (Photo:
Sonor SQ2 DrumsPaiste Cymbals
  • Bass drum 20″x24″
  • Bass drum 19″x22″
  • Floor tom 16″x18″
  • Floor tom 14″x16″
  • Tom 12″x12″
  • Tom 10″x10″
  • Tom 8″x8″
  • Snare drum 14″x8″
  • Gong drum 22″x15″
  • 6″ 2002 Cup Chime
  • 6 1/2″ 2002 Cup Chime
  • 22″ 2002 Novo China (Custom)
  • 5 1/2″ 2002 Cup Chime
  • 8″ Signature Dark Energy Splash Mark I
  • 8″ Signature Splash
  • 10″ Signature Dark Energy Splash Mark I
  • 18″ Signature Power Crash
  • 14″ Formula 602 Classic Sound Edge Hi-Hat
  • 18″ Signature Power Crash
  • 22″ Signature Dry Heavy Ride “Monad”
  • 22″ Signature Heavy China (discontinued)
  • 20″ Signature Power Crash
  • 11″ Noise Works Dark Buzz China Top
  • 18″ 2002 China
Danny Carey Top Down View
Click here to check out a rotating 3D version of his famous kit (cymbals differ slightly)

How long has Danny Carey been playing drums?

The drums called to Danny in the fifth grade. Demonstrating an early knack for percussion, he started taking private lessons in Lawrence, Kansas. By the age of 12, his favorite drummer was John Bonham.

He played in the high school jazz band and toured local jazz clubs in Kansas City while studying science and metaphysics at the University of Missouri.

Eventually, he dropped out and split for Oregon so he could play drums professionally. But his time there was limited, as Danny – like many other drummers aiming for the stars – soon found himself moving to LA where the legendary Carole King needed somebody to fill in on drums.

While working with King, he was also rocking live sets with Pigmy Love Circus, the whimsically-named darling of LA’s underground rock scene.

Danny Carey was first known for his work in Green Jellÿ

You couldn’t play in the LA underground scene for long without bumping into some interesting characters. Personal connections and a knack for nailing the audition landed Danny a solid gig playing on stage with Green Jellÿ (formerly Green Jellö).

This makes Danny Carey one of the 637 people (according to the band) who’ve been members of Green Jellÿ over the years.

The video for one song in particular – “Three Little Pigs” – got lots of airplay on MTV back in 1992-93, with a stop motion fairy tale and Danny on the drums. He’s credited as “Danny Longlegs,” which was a very ’90s thing for him to call himself back then.

How did Danny Carey join Tool?

Danny lived in an apartment above Maynard James Keenan. All of Tool’s potential drummers apparently flaked out on their auditions, so he started jamming with them “out of pity”, according to an interview he later gave.

Since then, Danny has appeared on every Tool album. During the early days, they toured with a who’s-who of the early-’90s bands that were playing in the background while you were at the skate park: Rollins Band, Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie, and Corrosion of Conformity, to name a few.

Tool wound up being the big one for Danny. To date, he and the band have cut five studio albums, one EP and a box set. Their sound has evolved from the downtuned heavy metal of the late ’80s on Undertow, to the alternative sound of Ænima in 1996.

Lateralus (2001) and 10,000 Days (2006) were much more of a fusion of sound, and both went on to sell millions of records. Fans had to wait another 13 years for Fear Inoculum, which came out in 2019.

Tool canceled its Fear Inoculum international tour in 2020 (you can guess why). The following year, the band started using the term “on hiatus.” This is the kind of thing that worries fans, especially if the band has been touring since the early ’90s. A longer remix of “Opiate,” called “Opiate Squared,” came out in March 2022, but it wasn’t until the end of that year that Tool announced new tour dates (according to Tool’s official Twitter feed, they’re doing a U.S. run in September 2023, with so many tickets already sold that they’re adding second shows to some locations).

What’s the hardest Tool song on drums?

Every prog drumming Tool-lover will probably have their personal pick for what they’d consider the trickiest Tool song, but Danny Carey himself has his own opinions:

Hardest Tool song for endurance: “The Grudge” (Swiss triplets, double kicks)

Trickiest Tool song: “Invincible” or “7empest” (Danny isn’t as familiar with the newer songs yet)

Tool’s time signatures

One thing you can expect from Tool is an abundance of time signatures, sometimes flipping between four or more per song.

On top of that, Danny Carey sometimes plays in a totally different time from the rest of the band, which gives you a cool polymetric feel.

Here are some of the ones you’ll find in Tool’s most popular tracks, along with approximate tempos*:

  • “Pneuma” time signatures (~114 BPM): 12/8, 11/8, 10/8
  • “Ticks & Leeches” (~152 BPM): 7/4, 4/4, 7/8, 5/8
  • “Stinkfist” (~174 BPM): 4/4, 3/4, 6/4
  • “Schism” (~108 BPM): 5/8, 7/8, 6/8
  • “Lateralus” (~175 BPM): 6/8, 9/8, 4/4, 7/8, 5/8
  • “7empest” (~145 BPM): 4/4, 13/8, 11/8, 10/8, 7/8, 7/4
  • “The Pot” (~107 BPM): 4/4, 9/8, 3/4, 5/4
  • “Sober” (~149 BPM): 4/4
  • “Forty Six & 2” (~160 BPM): 4/4, 7/8, 9/8, 7/4
  • “The Grudge” (~100 BPM): 5/8, 5/4, 2/4, 6/8

*Danny Carey doesn’t always use a click in the studio, so tempos may fluctuate.

Snag the full sheet music (plus practice tools for looping and slowing down the parts) with a 7-day free trial of Drumeo.

Get Free Drum Lesson Tools

Danny Carey’s drumming influences

You can’t create fractal roller coasters like Danny Carey without hard work and study, which is why it’s not surprising that his list of inspirational drummers is almost as long as Green Jellÿ’s membership roster.

Danny manages to fuse the smooth jazz rhythms of Billy Cobham and Buddy Rich with Bill Bruford and Neil Peart’s melodic pep, combined with John Bonham’s heavy kicks.

Over the years, Danny has cited the following among his biggest drum influences:

  • John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
  • Billy Cobham (Miles Davis)
  • Buddy Rich
  • Bill Bruford (Yes/King Crimson)
  • Lenny White
  • Neil Peart (Rush)
  • Tony Williams
  • Barriemore Barlow (Jethro Tull)
  • Tim Alexander (Primus)

In this brief interview, Danny reveals that he once asked Stewart Copeland (The Police) for an autograph.

Why do people love Danny Carey?

From his earliest days drumming, Danny has had natural talent. But his status as a legend goes way beyond that.

The tens of thousands of people who come to hear him play don’t have to be drummers to appreciate what he does. From jazz and rock to metal and punk, Danny has built a unique engine out of his drumming.

Tool’s signature heavy vibe is partly his doing, and things wouldn’t be the same without him. He isn’t just a drummer – he’s an incredible musician who’s 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.

Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon 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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