The Best Drummers of All Time

25 best drummers of all time, play over a concert stage

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The rhythm of the drums is the heartbeat of music, driving the pulse of songs across all genres. While the title “best drummers of all time” might suggest a definitive ranking, it’s important to recognize the vast landscape of talent beyond mainstream visibility.

Our list highlights those who have become the most influential and widely recognized in the industry, acknowledging that many exceptional talents might not gain the same level of fame. These drummers have not only mastered their instruments but have also significantly shaped our musical experience, making them stand out as iconic figures in their own right. Now let’s take a look at the list:

1. John Bonham

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  • Date of Birth: May 31, 1948
  • Learning the Drums: Bonham was largely self-taught, developing his powerful style from a young age.
  • Famous Band: Led Zeppelin
  • Signature: Bonham is known for his speed, power, and the use of triplets, particularly in bass drumming. His solo in “Moby Dick” showcases his innovation and technical prowess.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “When the Levee Breaks”
    • “Moby Dick”
    • “Good Times Bad Times”

2. Neil Peart

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  • Date of Birth: September 12, 1952 (he passed away in 1980)
  • Learning the Drums: Peart took a few lessons as a teenager but was primarily self-taught before he refined his skills with jazz instructor Freddie Gruber in the mid-90s.
  • Famous Band: Rush
  • Signature: Peart’s intricate drum setups and use of odd time signatures were groundbreaking. His lyrical and storytelling ability in songwriting, alongside his technical skill, made him a drumming legend.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Tom Sawyer”
    • “YYZ”
    • “The Spirit of Radio”

3. Buddy Rich

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  • Date of Birth: September 30, 1917 (he passed away in 1987)
  • Learning the Drums: Rich was a child prodigy who began playing drums at two years old without formal lessons, showcasing natural talent from a young age.
  • Famous Band: Buddy Rich led his own bands and played with Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Count Basie.
  • Signature: Known for his incredible speed, technique, and showmanship, Rich’s ability to play intricate rhythms at high speeds without losing clarity or power set him apart.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (Live at Caesars Palace)
    • “The Beat Goes On”
    • “Channel One Suite”

4. Keith Moon

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  • Date of Birth: August 23, 1946 (he passed away in 1978)
  • Learning the Drums: Moon was largely self-taught, developing his unique style through extensive playing and experimentation.
  • Famous Band: The Who
  • Signature: Moon’s wild, chaotic style and extensive use of tom-toms, cymbals, and a double bass drum setup contributed to his reputation as “Moon the Loon.” He played with a frenetic energy that was both innovative and influential.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
    • “Who Are You”
    • “The Real Me”

5. Ginger Baker

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  • Date of Birth: August 19, 1939 (he passed away in 2019)
  • Learning the Drums: Baker took some lessons in his teens but developed much of his style from jazz influences and his own experimentation.
  • Famous Band: Cream
  • Signature: Baker’s use of double bass drums and his ability to fuse jazz rhythms with rock music made him a pioneering figure in rock drumming.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Sunshine of Your Love”
    • “White Room”
    • “Toad” (solo)

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6. Danny Carey

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  • Date of Birth: May 10, 1961
  • Learning the Drums: Carey began playing drums in grade school and studied at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he gained a broad musical education.
  • Famous Band: Tool
  • Signature: Carey is known for his use of polyrhythms, complex time signatures, and incorporating electronic drum elements into his setup. His technical skill and musicality bring a unique sound to Tool’s music.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Schism”
    • “Forty Six & 2”
    • “Lateralus”

7. Stewart Copeland

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  • Date of Birth: July 16, 1952
  • Learning the Drums: Copeland was exposed to a variety of musical styles from an early age and taught himself to play the drums, drawing on rock and reggae influences.
  • Famous Band: The Police
  • Signature: His innovative use of the hi-hat and incorporation of reggae and ska rhythms into rock music are hallmarks of Copeland’s style, contributing significantly to The Police’s distinctive sound.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Roxanne”
    • “Walking on the Moon”
    • “Message in a Bottle”

8. Dave Lombardo

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  • Date of Birth: February 16, 1965
  • Learning the Drums: Lombardo was self-taught, developing his skills through playing along to his favorite records and performing in local bands.
  • Famous Band: Slayer
  • Signature: Lombardo’s aggressive speed and use of double bass drums helped define the thrash metal genre. His ability to create complex and powerful drum parts made him a key figure in metal music.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Angel of Death”
    • “Raining Blood”
    • “Seasons in the Abyss”

9. Mitch Mitchell

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  • Date of Birth: July 9, 1947 (he passed away in 2008)
  • Learning the Drums: Mitchell received some formal training but was largely self-taught, influenced by jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Max Roach.
  • Famous Band: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  • Signature: His jazz-influenced, improvisational style complemented Hendrix’s guitar playing, making for a dynamic and innovative rhythm section.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Manic Depression”
    • “Fire”
    • “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

10. Steve Gadd

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  • Date of Birth: April 9, 1945
  • Learning the Drums: Gadd began drumming at a very young age, receiving formal training and attending the Eastman School of Music.
  • Famous Band: Steve Gadd has played with Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, and many others.
  • Signature: Gadd is celebrated for his impeccable timing, groove, and musical expression across a variety of genres, making him one of the most respected and versatile drummers.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Aja” (Steely Dan)
    • “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (Paul Simon)
    • “Late in the Evening” (Paul Simon)

11. Mike Portnoy

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  • Date of Birth: April 20, 1967
  • Learning the Drums: Portnoy attended Berklee College of Music where he met his future bandmates. He is largely self-taught, drawing from a wide range of influences.
  • Famous Band: Dream Theater
  • Signature: Known for his technical proficiency, Portnoy’s complex compositions and ability to play intricate rhythms and time signatures have made him a standout in progressive metal.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Pull Me Under”
    • “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper”
    • “The Dance of Eternity”

12. Carter Beauford

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  • Date of Birth: November 2, 1957
  • Learning the Drums: Beauford was a natural talent, starting to play drums at the age of three and later playing in various bands, developing a unique style influenced by jazz, funk, and rock.
  • Famous Band: Dave Matthews Band
  • Signature: Beauford’s ambidextrous playing style and ability to incorporate complex rhythms into popular music make his drumming both innovative and accessible.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Ants Marching”
    • “#41”
    • “Two Step”

13. Gene Krupa

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  • Date of Birth: January 15, 1909 (he passed away in 1973)
  • Learning the Drums: Krupa was self-taught initially, later studying music formally and becoming one of the first drummers to be recorded.
  • Famous Band: Gene Krupa led his own swing band and played with Benny Goodman.
  • Signature: Krupa was a pioneer in drum soloing and use of the bass drum for musical expression, elevating the role of the drummer in jazz bands.
  • Songs:
    • “Sing, Sing, Sing” (With Benny Goodman)
    • “Drum Boogie”
    • “Gene’s Boogie”

14. Bill Ward

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  • Date of Birth: May 5, 1948
  • Learning the Drums: Ward is largely self-taught, developing his style through playing in various bands before forming Black Sabbath.
  • Famous Band: Black Sabbath
  • Signature: Ward’s heavy, yet dynamic drumming laid the groundwork for heavy metal, combining power with a deep sense of groove and feel.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “War Pigs”
    • “Iron Man”
    • “The Wizard”

15. Ian Paice

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  • Date of Birth: June 29, 1948
  • Learning the Drums: Paice is self-taught, starting to play at 15 and quickly developing a style influenced by rock and roll and rhythm and blues.
  • Famous Band: Deep Purple
  • Signature: Known for his solid, driving rhythms and technical skill, Paice’s work with Deep Purple showcases his versatility and power as a drummer.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Burn”
    • “Space Truckin'”
    • “Fireball”

16. Chad Smith

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  • Date of Birth: October 25, 1961
  • Learning the Drums: Smith began playing drums at a young age, influenced by rock, funk, and jazz, developing a distinctive style that blends these genres.
  • Famous Band: Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Signature: Smith’s powerful, groove-oriented drumming is a key component of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ sound, demonstrating his ability to fuse different rhythmic styles.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Give It Away”
    • “Californication”
    • “Can’t Stop”

17. Dave Grohl

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  • Date of Birth: January 14, 1969
  • Learning the Drums: Grohl taught himself to play drums, recording his own tracks to learn and refine his technique.
  • Famous Band: Nirvana, Foo Fighters
  • Signature: Grohl’s hard-hitting, energetic drumming style helped define the sound of Nirvana and later, the Foo Fighters, showcasing his ability to drive a song forward with power and intensity.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
    • “Everlong” (Foo Fighters)
    • “My Hero” (Foo Fighters)

18. Taylor Hawkins

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  • Date of Birth: February 17, 1972 (he passed away in 2022)
  • Learning the Drums: Hawkins was influenced by classic rock and glam bands, developing his style through playing in various bands before joining the Foo Fighters.
  • Famous Band: Foo Fighters
  • Signature: Hawkins’ dynamic playing and stage presence continue the legacy of energetic, powerful drumming in rock music.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Best of You”
    • “All My Life”
    • “The Pretender”

19. Max Roach

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  • Date of Birth: January 10, 1924 (he passed away in 2007)
  • Learning the Drums: Roach was a musical prodigy, starting to play drums at a very young age and quickly advancing through playing in gospel churches and with jazz bands.
  • Famous Band: Max Roach played with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and was a pioneer of bebop.
  • Signature: Roach’s innovative use of the drum set as a melodic instrument, his emphasis on the ride cymbal, and his contributions to bebop make him a key figure in jazz.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!” (With Charlie Parker)
    • “The Drum Also Waltzes”
    • “Driva’ Man” (With Abbey Lincoln)

20. Vinnie Colaiuta

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  • Date of Birth: February 5, 1956
  • Learning the Drums: Colaiuta studied at Berklee College of Music and is known for his technical precision and versatility across genres.
  • Famous Band: Vinnie Colaiuta has worked with Frank Zappa, Sting, Jeff Beck, and many others.
  • Signature: His ability to play complex rhythms and time signatures fluidly across various musical styles makes Colaiuta one of the most respected drummers in music.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Seven Days” (Sting)
    • “Keep It Greasy” (Frank Zappa)
    • “Joe’s Garage” (Frank Zappa)

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21. Bill Bruford

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  • Date of Birth: May 17, 1949
  • Learning the Drums: Bruford is self-taught, with a style that evolved through his work with some of progressive rock’s leading bands.
  • Famous Band: Yes, King Crimson
  • Signature: Bruford’s innovative use of electronic drums and his exploration of complex time signatures and rhythms have made him a pioneer in progressive rock drumming.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Heart of the Sunrise” (Yes)
    • “Red” (King Crimson)
    • “Frame by Frame” (King Crimson)

22. Chris Adler

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  • Date of Birth: November 23, 1972
  • Learning the Drums: Adler is largely self-taught, with a background in bass guitar before fully committing to drums.
  • Famous Band: Lamb of God
  • Signature: Known for his precise double bass drumming and technical skill, Adler’s work in Lamb of God has influenced the modern metal scene.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Laid to Rest”
    • “Redneck”
    • “Walk with Me in Hell”

23. Nicko McBrain

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  • Date of Birth: June 5, 1952
  • Learning the Drums: McBrain was influenced by jazz drummers and taught himself to play, developing a style that blends power and precision.
  • Famous Band: Iron Maiden
  • Signature: McBrain’s galloping rhythms and solid timing are central to Iron Maiden’s epic sound, showcasing his skill in heavy metal drumming.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Run to the Hills”
    • “The Number of the Beast”
    • “Where Eagles Dare”

24. Jeff Porcaro

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  • Date of Birth: April 1, 1954 (he passed away in 1992)
  • Learning the Drums: Porcaro received formal training and was a highly sought-after session drummer before co-founding Toto.
  • Famous Band: Toto
  • Signature: Porcaro’s groove, feel, and musicality, exemplified in the iconic shuffle of “Rosanna,” have made him an influential figure in rock and pop drumming.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Rosanna”
    • “Africa”
    • “Hold the Line”

25. Billy Cobham

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  • Date of Birth: May 16, 1944
  • Learning the Drums: Cobham attended the High School of Music & Art in New York and the New York City College, developing a powerful fusion style.
  • Famous Band: Billy Cobham has played with Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and led his own bands.
  • Signature: Cobham’s explosive technique and speed, alongside his ability to blend rock’s power with jazz’s complexity, have made him a pioneer of jazz fusion drumming.
  • Must-Hear Songs:
    • “Stratus” (from “Spectrum”)
    • “Quadrant 4”
    • “Red Baron”

These 25 best drummers of all time have not only defined the rhythm and pace of their bands’ music but have also pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved with a drum kit. Each brings a unique approach to the instrument, whether through technical mastery, innovative styles, or simply the unmatched energy they bring to performances. Their legacies continue to influence and inspire drummers around the world, ensuring that their beats will resonate for generations to come.

Inspired by the best drummers of all time?

Get ready to take your drumming to the next level. Get expert tips on coordination, drumming techniques, improvisation and more in the post titled Charting Your Drumming Journey”. / Written by: Raul Rodrigues: CEO of Drumap, Drummer, Music School Director and Mariano Steimberg: Drum Professor at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus.

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