Singing drummers, eh? What a skill that is. As drumming is difficult enough with everything you have to focus on, but to sing whilst doing so?! Impressive!
There aren’t many singing drummers, but the ones who did master this multi-tasking skill are highly notable in the drumming community (see our 10 best drummers of all time).
And we’ve rounded up the main examples we know of to show off this rare talent.
Rhythm and Rhyming: Singing Drummers and the Complexity of Multi-Tasking
Before we begin, here’s an important distinction! What we’re on about here is drummers who sing (or sang) whilst playing the drums.
Not the likes of Dave Grohl, who’s also the frontman of the Foo Fighters, but doesn’t sing whilst playing the drums.
Okay, no more stalling. Let’s get on with this list, starting with a special talent… who wasn’t much of a singer. Great start to the list, eh?
Yes, believe it or not, Keith Moon did sing for The Who! He loved surf music like The Beach Boys and was highly enthusiastic about singing.
To keep him happy, the band members included a couple of surf songs in their mid-’60s set. And they let Moon do some backing vocals, as seen on Barbara Ann above.
Plus, they let him sing lead vocals on a B side single version of Jan and Dean’s Bucket T. It was released in November 1966… and kind of shows why the band didn’t let him sing very much.
On most occasions, the band desperately tried to stop him singing on their records (and you can kind of hear why), but the above are saved for posterity.
After those early efforts, Pete Townshend put a block on Moon contributing vocals to The Who’s songs (apart from Bell Boy on Quadrophenia).
Irritated by that, the drummer eventually recorded a debut solo album in 1975 (Two Sides of the Moon) providing lead vocals. It turned out to be a legendary disaster due to drunken excess.
But the interesting thing is Moon had the natural drumming ability to be able to sing whilst playing. He just didn’t have the voice for it.
Words can’t convey how impressed we are by young Yoyoka Soma. Still only 12, she’s achieved international acclaim with her ever developing drumming skills.
And her career hasn’t even started proper yet.
She shows all the hallmarks of a potential all-time great, with a natural ability few drummers can dream of.
And that includes being able to sing whilst playing. Now, we HAVE seen her doing this. It’s just we can’t find the clips on YouTube amongst all the footage of her drummer.
But we assure you young Soma san can sing whilst drumming. You’ll just have to take our word for it. So there.
But with her already highly impressive skills, the singing aspect is just another tool in her drumming arsenal.
Phil Collins is a great drummer, we’re happy to acknowledge that! But we’re not big fans of his music. Although he’s been enormously popular.
The Londoner rose to fame with Genesis and then launched a successful solo career in the 1980s.
Crucial to this list, he can sing it up a notch whilst playing! His drumming style was like a downplayed version of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, which is what led to him performing with the band at Live Aid 1985 (one of the few times Zeppelin has briefly reformed).
Nifty chops, unusual vocals, and a rare skill set. That’s why Mr. Collins is here!
Although Ringo Starr takes flack for his drumming, we still rate him.
He was very effective at playing to a song’s requirements, overcoming his limitations by relying on his creativity.
With his distinctive voice, he also leant his vocals to some famous Beatles songs.
He plays it straight on Act Naturally, with few flourishes (kind of his trademark style), but we think he does a fine job. Nice voice, eh?
Let’s not forget he also has a successful solo career with 20 albums to his name, so singing comes quite naturally to him. Apt.
The Eagles aren’t really our cup of tea, but Hotel California is a nice song. And it shows off drummer Don Henley’s skills rather neatly.
It’s the band’s most famous song. And we bet most people who’ve heard it have no idea the drummer is the singer.
Henley also plays the guitar and during live performances can shift between drums and centre stage singing.
Also, on a different note, Henley has funded numerous environmental charity causes and been active in liberal politics his whole life. Which is nice and we wanted to flag that up.
Heather Thomas is a bit of drumming, singing, and multi-instrumentalist tour de force. She’s naturally gifted at the lot, having made her name in Seattle before becoming a touring musician.
She doubles up as a music teacher offering lessons to help improve other drummers’ skill sets, whilst working on her latest albums.
But she’s one of the most prominent singing drummers on the scene right now, having a total naturally knack for it.
At the bottom of this feature, there’s a video of her explaining how she does it. With tips for anyone wanting to give it a go.
The Carpenters’ music isn’t for everyone. It was for a time and place, now having a kind of sickly sweet, twee quality.
But there’s no denying Karen Carpenter was a brilliant drummer. And she had a great voice.
Combine the two together and you’ve got an example of one of the most notable singing drummers in history. Not least emerging in the ’60s, when female drummers were pretty rare.. and singing drummers even rarer.
Kudos to Carpenter for laying down important groundwork with her energetic performances and natural enthusiasm.
It’s kind of difficult to stand out as a singer in a band with Freddie Mercury, but Roger Taylor still managed to do just that.
With his husky vocals and impressive range (including falsetto), his backing vocals were a perfect counterpoint to Mercury’s many and varied exclamations.
Given how extensive Queen’s live sets were in the ’70s and ’80s, the fact he could hold it all together for two+ hour gigs is very impressive indeed.
He isn’t the most naturally gifted drummer, but his creativity and commitment to holding the band together with his beats can’t be ignored.
And he was great friends with Mercury with the pair holding a sweet relationship.
There’s footage online of the lead singer needing to take a break mid-song due to his vocals breaking. Taylor swoops in to take over whilst Mercury recomposed himself.
All very brilliant and it shows how sharp Taylor was and the close-knit nature of the band.
The Stone Roses’ drummer Reni had a complex, incredibly physical style of drumming.
The fact he could reel off harmonic backing vocals at the same time is really quite extraordinary. His peer, Jon Brookes of The Charlatans, said of Reni:
“He never pounded the drums, he used to caress them and get them to sing, he was that kind of drummer. It was great to just watch him, very poetic, beautiful motion, very light touch, at the same time very musical. And he was singing as well, these beautiful melodies, it was unbelievable.”
It didn’t matter about the complexity of the song or the thunderous amount of effort he was putting in, it seemed effortless.
He has a beautiful voice, it really added extra soulful weight to the band’s music.
But what still stands out about his style is how natural it was for him. Effortless genius from the most naturally gifted drummer we’ve come across.
It could only ever be The Band’s Levon Helm at right at the front of this list.
Whilst his drumming wasn’t as complex and physically demanding as Reni’s, The Stone Roses’ sticksman wasn’t leading the band with his vocals.
Levon Helm was leading The Band.
Not only was he keeping time with his jazzy fills, his driving vocal range propelled each number forward. It’s mightily impressive!
Helping him along was just how amazing his voice was, with that southern American twang adding distinctive weight to The Band’s music (see the Brown Album of 1969).
Prior to discovering Helm, we thought Reni and Roger Taylor were the only singing drummers out there. When he watched Helm’s performance of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, we couldn’t believe it.
He was leading the whole performance—the centrepiece of an entire big band behind him with full brass section.
To this day, Helm is the quintessential singing drummer and we can’t really see that changing anytime soon.
Addendum: How Do You Sing and Play the Drums at the Same Time?
Some tips here for anyone wanting to add drumming and singing to their skill set.
We sure as hell can’t sing, so it’s not something we’d want to do. But we do play the drums and it’s a very difficult skill to master.
Try waving your arms about and talking—your voice naturally breaks and due to the exertion you put in. This becomes more complex for the energy required with drumming.
Thankfully, some of the experts are on hand to dish out their secrets!
In 1992, Levon Helm provided the tips for anyone wanting to take on this unique skill set. He clearly had a clear strategy in place to manage the needs of his two jobs.
Heather Thomas also has some tips, courtesy of the excellent Drumeo, about how to time your breathing and beats.
She has a five step guide for you to follow. Or else!
Her recommendations are interesting to note:
- Start from a balanced seating position
- Plan your breathing
- Be confident in your groove
- Line up your rhythm
- Practice your entrances
A final recommendation is also this… being able to sing. Alas, for many of us that’s not really an option.
But even if you can’t and want to roar away anyway, follow the above advice whilst bellowing away to whatever number you fancy. Fun!