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Who Is the Best Drummer in Rock Music?

Updated on October 8, 2014
Neil Peart of Rush
Neil Peart of Rush | Source

Cast Your Vote for the Best Rock and Roll Drummer - of All Time!

Rock music fans love to debate and compile lists of the best of the best: the best guitarists, the best albums, the best singers, the best band, etc. Well, I personally am a huge fan of rock drummers and love to debate with others about who is the Best Drummer in Rock Music - hence this webpage! While I have my personal opinions on who deserves the title, I wanted to give others a chance to vote as well. So below you'll find a chance to cast your votes for the best rock and roll drummer and tell me why you think he or she deserves the title.

I'll also share some thoughts on what I think makes for a great rock drummer, plus cool merchandise to help you play and sound like some of the greats yourself. So who do you think deserves the title: Keith Moon, Neil Peart, Dave Grohl, or someone else? Vote now and see what others think, too!

Stewart Copeland, drummer of The Police
Stewart Copeland, drummer of The Police | Source

What Makes a Rock Drummer Great?

Playing to the Beat of His Own Drum

Every rock drummer is different – at least, every good rock drummer. Some restrain themselves to keeping the beat and allowing the other musicians to shine; others propel the drums to the front of the band’s music. Some play a basic, stripped down kit of snare, base, cymbals and a few toms; others surround themselves with every percussive instrument known to mankind. Some play hard and at blinding speeds, throwing off 64th notes like there’s no tomorrow. Others are the master of soft inflection and nuance.

A great rock drummer has a unique sound that inspires but can never be completely imitated. A great rock drummer may pay homage to his inspirations but then turns those inspirations into something new and fresh. A great rock drummer knows how to play more than a steady 2/4 backbeat – but doesn’t have to show-off and play more than that unless the music calls for it.

What is the most important characteristic of a great drummer?

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Subscribe to Modern Drummer - A Magazine for All Drumming Enthusiasts

Ultimate Drum Play-Along Rush: Play Along with 6 Great-Sounding Tracks (Authentic Drum), Book & CD-ROM (Ultimate Play-Along)
Ultimate Drum Play-Along Rush: Play Along with 6 Great-Sounding Tracks (Authentic Drum), Book & CD-ROM (Ultimate Play-Along)

Playing along with Neil Peart is certainly a challenge - but you can give it a try with this book/cd set.

 
Drum Techniques of Led Zeppelin: Note for Note Transcriptions of 23 Classic John Bonham Drum Tracks
Drum Techniques of Led Zeppelin: Note for Note Transcriptions of 23 Classic John Bonham Drum Tracks

Learn the techniques that make John Bonham one of the greatest drummers in rock history.

 

Cast your vote here!

Who is the best drummer in rock music?

See results

Some of the contenders for best drummer

Before casting a vote for who you think is the best, here are the top contenders I've included in my poll - and a little bit about each of them. Did I leave off your personal pick? If so leave a comment at the end of this article.

1. Neil Peart

Drummer for Rush, and worshipped by drumming geeks everywhere. Virtually impossible to match from a technical standpoint, able to create complicated grooves, solos and fills with scary-precise timing. Some say he's even too precise, leaving his sound "cold." What do you think?

2. Keith Moon

Drummer for The Who until his untimely death, many still say he was the ONLY drummer for The Who. Moonie played like no one else before or since, with a style all of his own. Technically imprecise, he cared not, creating some of the wildest, most personality-filled drumming in rock history.

3. Alex Van Halen

The driving beat behind Van Halen's hard rock is thanks to Alex Van Halen. His playing set the foundation to showcase his brother's fancy guitar licks and David Lee Roth's vocals, but he too shined in some stellar fills and ability to rock out the crowd.

4. John Bonham

The father of all hard rock and metal drumming? Perhaps. John Bonham thundered and rolled as the drummer of Led Zeppelin, creating a heavy sound that was raw, emotional, and supremely masculine.

5. Nicko McBrain

Iron Maiden's powerhouse drummer has precision and technique while still creating thunderous beats for their heavy metal music.

6. Mike Portnoy

Dream Theater could be accused of putting Mike Portnoy's drummer front and center, perhaps even to the detriment of the song. Yet for drumming fanatics he is much idolized for his technical wizardry and the complexity of his playing style.

7. Danny Carey

Drummer for Tool. Ability to create complex rhythms with both hands and feet.

8. Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker showed the world how powerful double-bass drumming could be in the supergroup Cream. He mixed jazz sensibility with driving rock, becoming an idol to many rock drummers for generations to come.

9. David Grohl

Dave Grohl is a drummer's drummer, respected and adored for his powerful hard rock playing in Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures and more. To see Grohl in action is to appreciate the ferocity - and joy - he brings to the kit.

10. Taylor Hawkins

It's got to be hard to be the drummer for the Foo Fighters, playing under the shadow of Dave Grohl - considered by many to be one of the greatest drummers in rock today. Yet Taylor has his own unique, fast and hard style that his come into its own while still paying homage to his own heroes including Roger Taylor of Queen and Stewart Copeland.

11. Lars Ulrich

Ulrich has powered Metallica for decades of heavy metal and hard rock beats. He's not over-fancy but solid and gives the "headbangers" out there just what they want.

12. Phil Collins

Those who only know Collins for his sappy later solo work really need to get out some early Genesis albums to hear what Collins can do on the kit. Tastefully complex, he could prog rock with the best of them and his playing on the toms is instantly recognizable.

13. Nick Mason

Drummer of Pink Floyd, he was equally at home on their experimental, psychedelic numbers as on straight-ahead rock and roll tracks. Nick always seems to keep his cool and play in an almost effortless manner.

14. Bill Bruford

Bill Bruford has supplied the complex and awe-inspiring drumming for groups such as Yes and King Crimson for decades. He can complement complicated progressive rock without stealing the show, yet always being precise in his technique.

15. Stewart Copeland

"The Rhythmatist." Best known for his drumming work with The Police. Stewart's trademark sound is a sharp, tight snare and his high-hat work is extremely expressive. Stewart mixes world rhythms into his rock playing for a complex sound that often takes center stage, and his sound was critical to rock music in the 1980s.

16. Ringo Starr

Ringo often gets a lot of flack, but his tasteful playing for The Beatles provided just the right sound for the band's classic music. If you ever hear a band try to cover the Beatles, you'll notice that virtually no one can quite get that "Ringo shuffle" right. He was inventive and creative in finding unique grooves as no one had in the past.

17. Charlie Watts

Timekeeper for the Rolling Stones. Like Ringo Starr, Watts is often accused of having a "too" simple style. But his drumming keeps the Rolling Stones' music on the beat and driving forward.

18. Joey Jordison

Joey Jordison of Slipknot was voted the best drummer of the past 25 years by readers of "Rhythm" magazine in August of 2010. A speed demon on the kit, he's got a huge fan in Stewart Copeland and others impressed by his incredible double bass playing.

19. Mick Fleetwood

A master of tasteful groove playing and giving a song just what it needs. Mick's playing in Fleetwood Mac inspired many who noted his subtle skills and ability to put emotion and feel into rock drumming.

20. Carl Palmer

In groups such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Asia, Carl Palmer wowed arena rock crowds with his musicality and inspiring technique. With a classical training in tuned percussion he was a natural for progressive rock music.

21. Carmine Appice

A seasoned session drummer who has worked with everyone from Rod Stewart to Ozzy Osbourne. Carmine Appice was one of those who set the stage for the big rock sound of the 1970s and was an inspiration to drum gods such as John Bonham.

22. Chad Cromwell

Established session player in Nashville who has played for Peter Frampton, Neil Young, Mark Knopfler and other noteworthy musicians.

23. Jeff Porcaro

Known for his work on Michael Jackson's Thiller and Dangerous albums, as well as being part of the band Toto. Well respected by the drumming community for his work across various genres.

24. Josh Freese

Josh is a very busy drummer who has played with artists ranging from Guns 'n Roses to Miley Cyrus. It doesn't get much more diverse than that!

25. Terry Bozzio

Perhaps best known for his monstrous, over-sized kit - but he's one of the few drummers out there who can carry off playing it!

26. Steve Gadd

The most respected session player of all time? Well, Steve is certainly in the contention for that title thanks to his work with such artists as Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.

27. Chad Smith

The drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad knows how to bring the funk to the band's hard-rocking sound.

28. Vinnie Colaiuta

A drummer with the skills to play anything from jazz to rock to pop, known for his 19 albums recorded with Frank Zappa - among many other incredible accomplishments.

29. Travis Baker

The drummer for Blink-182, Travis has a huge following and is known for his versatility in technique.

30. Gavin Harrison

At the forefront of today's British prog rock, Gavin is known for his work with Porcupine Tree and King Crimson.

Learn to Play Like the Greatest Rock Drummers of All Time - Instructional Books and Videos on Rock Drumming

Okay, so no book or video is going to instantly turn someone into Neil Peart or John Bonham. But these great instructional programs will reveal at least some of their tricks and techniques. Whether you play drums for a hobby or in a band, they're worth checking out.

Ultimate Realistic Rock: Drum Method (Book with 2 CD's and 1 DVD)
Ultimate Realistic Rock: Drum Method (Book with 2 CD's and 1 DVD)

A great beginners' volume on rock drumming beats, fills and soloing by Carmine Appice.

 
Metallica's Lars Ulrich - Drum Book/CD Pack
Metallica's Lars Ulrich - Drum Book/CD Pack

Want to play like you're in Metallica? This book and cd package will help you out.

 

More Lists of Great Rock Drummers - "Best of" Lists On-Line

Sure, these other pages won't let you vote on your personal favorites. But you can see who other websites, magazines and writers have picked as the best rock drummers of all time. Do you agree with their rankings?

Bid Now on Drum Kits on eBay - Want to be one of the greats someday? Then it's time to start practicing.

Dreaming of buying a new drum kit, or maybe your very first? Check eBay and you might find a fabulous kit for sale at a great price.

Get a Signature Snare Drum on eBay - High-Quality Snare Drums Created for Drumming's Finest

Lots of legendary drummers put their name on "signature" drums - drums made specifically to their demands and desires for sound, quality and durability.

Signature Drum Sticks - Use the Sticks Designed For Your Favorite Drummers

Drum sticks are a very personal choice for most drummers. Some like a slender stick with a light, quick rebound while others want a heavier stick that will really drive home the hits! If you want to sound more like your favorite drummer, getting a pair of their signature sticks is a great starting point.

Tributes to some of my favorite drummers

Foo Fighters Drummer Taylor Hawkins: A Tribute
Taylor Hawkins is best known as the drummer of the rock band the Foo Fighters, one of the hottest and hardest rocking bands today. Indeed, they just were awa...

Stewart Copeland - The Rhythmatist of The Police
Most people know Stewart Copeland as the drummer for the rock band The Police. But while his work with Sting and Andy Summers was some of his most popular, S...

Stewart Copeland Soundtracks
Stewart Copeland may be most widely known as the drummer for the rock band The Police. But he has also developed a notable career as a prolific and much in-d...

© 2011 Nicole Pellegrini

Who's Your Favorite Rock Drummer of All Time? - Share Your Thoughts on What Makes Him or Her the Best

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    • Mr. Smith profile image

      Mr. Smith 3 years ago from California

      Stewart's been my favorite from the day I first heard the police. There are so many opinions on the topic of the best rock drummer. I have to say this was the first list I've seen that included Stewart Copeland. I've never understood that.

      I like Bonham a great deal, but more for the power and flare in his playing than for the technical ability or musical interpretation. It was perfect for Led Zeppelin. But since his death, he's become a legend. Other drummers have played those same songs with some of Bonham's band mates, and have done more than justice to them. In fact, I've seen Jason Bonham, and I think he's every bit as good as his father, if not better.

      I've been of the opinion for quite some time that three-piece bands are made up of the finest musicians. Cream, and the Police are my favorite examples. Each had three of the finest and most skilled musicians of their times. I don't mean to compare Sting's bass playing with that of Jack Bruce, but Sting contributed great vocals while playing technically intricate songs. So I give him a lot of points for that. Eric Clapton/Andy Summers. Stewart Copeland/Ginger Baker. It just doesn't get better than the 3-piece band...

      Lastly, partly because Baker himself hates to be called a "rock drummer", and partly because Copeland probably had to perform more on stage (possibly without the constant use of psychedelic drugs), I would give him the nod as the finest rock drummer.

      And to all of this I'm sure, Ginger Baker would say... "Rubbish!".

    • Otto Phillips profile image

      Otto Phillips 5 years ago

      This is very tough. I would pick a top five of John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Nicko McBrain, Lars Ulrich and Keith Moon but in no particular order. The best thing about these five is that they all had their own distinct style and pure genius as drummers in their own way. Each drummer definitely were the heart and soul of their band.

    • mattjohntz profile image

      mattjohntz 5 years ago

      My favorite (but not on the list) is Chad Cromwell. From the list I would have to say Bonham. (the good Bonham, not his son)

    • profile image

      webscan 5 years ago

      Most impressive was Santana's drummer. He was only 15 during Woodstock.

    • profile image

      jackthebuilder 5 years ago

      I love Alex VH actually. But I wish I can play like Neil Peart does.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Simon Phillips

    • MacPharlain profile image

      MacPharlain 5 years ago

      Nicko McBrain! He's a maniac on the drums, plays in one of the best bands ever and has the coolest name.

    • liz-molnar profile image

      liz-molnar 6 years ago

      Cozy Powell! Maybe I'm wrong but I think he is the most recognizable drummer in the rock history.

    • GarciaGadget profile image

      GarciaGadget 6 years ago

      I don't think he's the best, but my favorite is Tool's Danny Carey.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      For those of us who are old enough to remember seeing him play, it's hard to surpass Keith Moon.

    • profile image

      sam132 6 years ago

      It has to be Bonham!Sam from Roland Drums

    • profile image

      Bronnze 6 years ago

      I agree with Iudachonz. Although I also like Dave Grohl, Alex Van Halen, and Keith Moon as well. Oh yeah and Mike Portnoy.

    • profile image

      Iudachonz 6 years ago

      Neil Peart forever! Rush forever!

    • cok666 lm profile image

      cok666 lm 6 years ago

      My favorite drummer is R.I.P. James "the rev" Sullivan.but it's not in the list :)

    • profile image

      NuMil3Design 7 years ago

      Ginger Baker. No one better. Just calling it the way I see it.

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