Heavy metal drumming

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Heavy metal drumsets are typically larger than those used in other rock genres. In the drum kit pictured, the drummer has three bass drums. Steve "Doc" Wacholz Drum Kit.jpg
Heavy metal drumsets are typically larger than those used in other rock genres. In the drum kit pictured, the drummer has three bass drums.

Heavy metal drumming is a style of rock music [1] drum kit playing that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. [2] With roots in blues rock and psychedelic/acid rock drum playing, [3] heavy metal drummers play with emphatic beats, and overall loudness using an aggressive performing style. [3] Heavy metal (or "metal") drumming is traditionally characterized by emphatic rhythms and dense bass guitar-and-drum sound. The essence of metal drumming is creating a loud, constant beat for the band using the "trifecta of speed, power, and precision". [4]

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Drum kit collection of drums and other percussion instruments

A drum kit — also called a drum set, trap set, or simply drums — is a collection of drums and other percussion instruments, typically cymbals, which are set up on stands to be played by a single player, with drumsticks held in both hands, and the feet operating pedals that control the hi-hat cymbal and the beater for the bass drum. A drum kit consists of a mix of drums and idiophones – most significantly cymbals, but can also include the woodblock and cowbell. In the 2000s, some kits also include electronic instruments. Also, both hybrid and entirely electronic kits are used.

Blues rock is a fusion genre combining elements of blues and rock. It is mostly an electric ensemble-style music with instrumentation similar to electric blues and rock: electric guitar, electric bass guitar, and drums, sometimes with keyboards and harmonica. From its beginnings in the early- to mid-1960s, blues rock has gone through several stylistic shifts and along the way it inspired and influenced hard rock, Southern rock, and early heavy metal. Blues rock continues to be an influence in the 2010s, with performances and recordings by popular artists.


Metal drumming "requires an exceptional amount of endurance", and drummers have to develop "considerable speed, coordination, and dexterity ... to play the intricate patterns" used in metal. [5] A characteristic metal drumming technique is the cymbal choke, which consists of striking a cymbal and then immediately silencing it by grabbing it with the other hand (or, in some cases, the same striking hand), producing a burst of sound. The metal drum setup is generally much larger than those employed in other forms of rock music. [6] Black metal, death metal and some "mainstream metal" bands "all depend upon double-kicks and blast beats". [7]

In percussion, cymbal choke is a drum stroke or push which consists of striking a cymbal with a drum stick held in one hand and then immediately grabbing the cymbal with another hand, or more rarely, with the same hand. The cymbal choke produces a burst of sound which is abruptly silenced, which can be used for punctuation or dramatic fortissimo effects. In some modern music, namely heavy metal, it is "often employed to emphasize a particular beat or signal an abrupt conclusion to a passage." Cymbal chokes are used extensively by classical percussionists to muffle the sound of a cymbal in accordance with the composer's notation, or in an attempt to match the sustain of other instruments in the ensemble. "The effect, a sudden burst of sound, is [often] further strengthened by a single, simultaneous kick with the bass drum."

For 'choke' cymbal, strike the suspended cymbal with the tip of a wood stick and dampen the sound immediately after the duration of the note.

[In] ragtime [1890-1920]...a lot of time there would be a crash cymbal, or a choke cymbal as they called it, that was usually played with a mallet. They would strike the cymbal with one hand and choke it with the other hand. And there were different techniques for choking the cymbals. Sometimes, they would really cut the cymbal and make it real staccato...Or they would play other styles where they would let the cymbal ring a little bit and sustain itself, and then catch it.

Rhythm and tempo

A large metal drum kit with two bass drums. Alestorm, Ex Deo and Lagerstein at St des Seins, Toulouse, 2013-03-20 - Ex Deo flags + drums.JPG
A large metal drum kit with two bass drums.

The rhythm in metal songs is emphatic, with deliberate stresses on beats by the drummer and other rhythm section players. Weinstein observes that the wide array of sonic effects available to metal drummers enables the "rhythmic pattern to take on a complexity within its elemental drive and insistency". [6] In many heavy metal songs, the main groove is characterized by short, two-note or three-note rhythmic figures—generally made up of 8th or 16th notes.

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band.

Eighth note musical note duration

An eighth note (American) or a quaver (British) is a musical note played for one eighth the duration of whole note (semibreve), hence the name. This amounts to twice the value of the sixteenth note (semiquaver). It is half the duration of a quarter note (crotchet), one quarter the duration of a half note (minim), one eighth the duration of whole note (semibreve), one sixteenth the duration of a double whole note (breve), and one thirty-second the duration of a longa. It is the equivalent of the fusa in mensural notation

Sixteenth note musical note duration

In music, a sixteenth note (American) or semiquaver (British) is a note played for half the duration of an eighth note (quaver), hence the names. It is the equivalent of the semifusa in mensural notation, first found in 15th-century notation.

Brief, abrupt, and detached rhythmic cells are joined into rhythmic phrases with a distinctive, often jerky texture. Heavy metal songs also use longer rhythmic figures such as whole note- or dotted quarter note-length chords in slow-tempo power ballads. The tempos in early heavy metal music tended to be "slow, even ponderous". [6] By the late 1970s, however, metal bands were employing a wide variety of tempos. In the 2000s decade, metal tempos range from slow ballad tempos (quarter note = 60 beats per minute) to extremely fast blast beat tempos (quarter note = 350 beats per minute). [5]

Whole note musical note duration

In music, a whole note (American) or semibreve (British) is a note represented by a hollow oval note head and no note stem. Its length is equal to four beats in 4
time, that is the whole 4
measure. Most other notes are fractions of the whole note.

A blast beat is a drum beat that originated in hardcore punk and grindcore, and is often associated with certain styles of extreme metal, namely black metal and death metal, and occasionally in deathcore and metalcore. In Adam MacGregor's definition, "the blast-beat generally comprises a repeated, sixteenth-note figure played at a very fast tempo, and divided uniformly among the bass drum, snare, and ride, crash, or hi-hat cymbal." Blast beats have been described by PopMatters contributor Whitney Strub as, "maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence".

The 'original' or traditional blastbeat is a single-stroke roll played between your cymbal and snare, with your kick playing simultaneously with every cymbal hit.


Like drummers from other rock music genres, metal drummers use a drum kit, a collection of drums and other percussion instruments, typically cymbals, which are set up on stands to be played by a single player [8] with drumsticks held in both hands and the feet operating pedals that control the hi-hat cymbal and the beater for the bass drum. Many metal drummers extend their kits from the basic "snare drum, bass drum, toms and cymbals" pattern, adding more drums, more cymbals, and many other instruments. In some styles of music particular extensions are normal, for example double bass drums in heavy metal music.

Percussion instrument Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater ; struck, scraped or rubbed by hand; or struck against another similar instrument. The percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments, following the human voice.

Drum stick type of percussion mallet

A drumstick is a type of percussion mallet used particularly for playing snare drum, drum kit and some other percussion instruments, and particularly for playing unpitched percussion.

Bass drum percussion instrument

A bass drum, or kick drum, is a large drum that produces a note of low definite or indefinite pitch. A bass drum is typically cylindrical, with the drum's diameter much greater than the drum's depth. There is normally a struck head at both ends of the cylinder. The heads may be made of calf skin or plastic. There is normally a means of adjusting the tension either by threaded taps or by strings. Bass drums are built in a variety of sizes, but size has little to do with the volume produced by the drum. The size chosen being based on convenience and aesthetics. Bass drums are percussion instruments and vary in size and are used in several musical genres. Three major types of bass drums can be distinguished.

A seven-piece kit with snare, double bass drums, two hanging toms, two floor toms, hi-hats, ride cymbal, three crash cymbals, splash cymbal and china type OutsideBRX-15.JPG
A seven-piece kit with snare, double bass drums, two hanging toms, two floor toms, hi-hats, ride cymbal, three crash cymbals, splash cymbal and china type

Common extensions beyond these standard configurations include:

Effects cymbal

An effects cymbal is a cymbal used in a drum kit for a special effect or accent. Effects cymbals include splash cymbals, china cymbals and many other less common types.

Splash cymbal

In a drum kit, splash cymbals are the smallest accent cymbals. Splash cymbals and china cymbals are the main types of effects cymbals.

China cymbal

In western music, China-type cymbals are a distinct type of crash cymbals designed to produce a bright, crisp, and explosive tone. It is for this reason that they have been nicknamed "trash cymbals". The name "China cymbal" is derived from its similarity in sound and shape to Chinese gongs. They are most frequently mounted upside down on cymbal stands, allowing for them to be more easily struck and for a better sound.

Less common extensions found particularly, but not exclusive to very large kits, include:


While some quieter, acoustic genres of music, such as jazz and traditional blues may not use microphones ("mics") in club gigs, in metal, the very loud stage volume from the huge guitar speaker stacks and powerful bass amplifiers means that drums are usually miked. In "miking" a drum kit in metal, dynamic microphones, which can handle high sound-pressure levels, are usually used to close-mic drums, which is the predominant way to mic drums for live shows. Condenser microphones are used for overheads and room mics, an approach which is more common with sound recording applications. Close miking of drums may be done using stands or by mounting the microphones on the rims of the drums, or even using microphones built into the drum itself, which eliminates the need for stands for these microphones, reducing both clutter and set-up time, as well as isolating them.

In metal, drummers use noise gates that mute the attached microphone when the signal is below a threshold volume. This allows the sound engineer to use a higher overall volume for the drum kit by reducing the number of "active" mics which could produce unwanted feedback at any one time. When a drumkit is entirely miked and amplified through the sound reinforcement system, the drummer or the sound engineer can add other electronic effects to the drum sound, such as reverb or digital delay.



The heavy metal gallop, an important drum beat. Gallop drum pattern.png
The heavy metal gallop, an important drum beat.

Metal drumming, whether playing accompaniment of singers or guitar solos and other instruments or doing a drum solo, consists of two elements:


A fill is a departure from the repetitive rhythm pattern in a song. A drum fill is used to "fill in" the space between the end of one verse and the beginning of another verse or chorus. Fills vary from a simple few strokes on a tom or snare, to a distinctive rhythm played on the hi-hat, to sequences several bars long that are short virtuosic drum solos. As well as adding interest and variation to the music, fills serve an important function in preparing and indicating significant changes of sections in songs and linking sections. A vocal cue is a short drum fill that introduces a vocal entry. A fill ending with a cymbal crash on beat one is often used to lead into a chorus or verse.

Drum solos

A drum solo is an instrumental section that highlights the virtuosity, skill and musical creativity of the drummer. While other instrument solos such as guitar solos are typically accompanied by the other rhythm section instruments (e.g., bass guitar and electric guitar), for most drum solos, all the other band members stop playing so that all of the audience's focus will be on the drummer. In some drum solos, the other rhythm section instrumentalists may play "punches" at certain points–sudden, loud chords of a short duration. Drum solos are common in heavy metal. During drum solos, drummers have a great deal of creative freedom, and drummers often use the entire drum kit. In live concerts, drummers may be given long drum solos, even in genres where drum solos are rare on singles.


Where the blues rock drumming style started out largely as simple shuffle beats on small kits, drummers began using a more muscular, complex, and amplified approach to match and be heard against the increasingly loud guitar. [9]

Thrash metal

Thrash metal emerged in the early 1980s under the influence of hardcore punk and the new wave of British heavy metal, [10] particularly songs in the revved-up style known as speed metal. The movement began in the United States, with Bay Area thrash metal being the leading scene. The drumming sound developed by thrash groups was faster and more aggressive than that of the original metal bands and their glam metal successors. [10]

Death metal

Thrash soon began to evolve and split into more extreme metal genres. Death metal utilizes the speed and aggression of both thrash and hardcore. Death metal uses extremely fast drumming, often with rapid double bass drumming and "wall of sound"–style blast beats. Frequent tempo and time signature changes and syncopation are also typical. [11]

Black metal

The first wave of black metal emerged in Europe in the early and mid-1980s use blast beats.

Doom metal

Emerging in the mid-1980s, the doom metal movement rejected other metal styles' emphasis on speed, slowing its music to a crawl and using melancholy tempos. [12]

1990s and early 2000s subgenres and fusions

In the mid- and late 1990s came a new wave of U.S. metal groups inspired by the alternative metal bands and their mix of genres. [13] Dubbed "nu metal", bands such as Slipknot, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Korn and Disturbed incorporated elements ranging from death metal to hip hop beats. [14] Nu metal gained mainstream success through heavy MTV rotation and Ozzy Osbourne's 1996 introduction of Ozzfest, which led the media to talk of a resurgence of heavy metal.

Notable performers

Metal drummer Lars Ulrich of Metallica in a 2009 performance. Lars Ulrich Madrid 2009.jpg
Metal drummer Lars Ulrich of Metallica in a 2009 performance.
Samantha Maloney at a live show. Samantha Maloney.jpg
Samantha Maloney at a live show.

Some of the most notable metal drummers include:

See also


  1. Du Noyer (2003), p. 96; Weinstein (2000), pp. 11–13.
  2. Weinstein (2000), pp. 14, 118.
  3. 1 2 Fast (2005), pp. 89–91; Weinstein (2000), pp. 7, 8, 23, 36, 103, 104.
  4. Dawson, Michael. "Lamb of God's Chris Adler: More than Meets the Eye", August 17, 2006. Modern Drummer Online. Retrieved on November 13, 2007.
  5. 1 2 Berry and Gianni (2003), p. 85
  6. 1 2 3 Weinstein (2000), p. 24
  7. Cope, Andrew L. (2010). Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal Music. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 130.
  8. "OnMusic Dictionary". Music.vt.edu. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
  9. Walser (1993), p. 10
  10. 1 2 "Genre—Thrash Metal". Allmusic. Retrieved on March 3, 2007.
  11. Kahn-Harris, Keith (2007). Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. Berg Publishers. ISBN   1-84520-399-2.
  12. Wray, John. "Heady Metal". New York Times, May 28, 2006. Retrieved on March 21, 2007.
  13. Christe (2003), pp. 324–25
  14. Christe (2003), p. 329

Related Research Articles

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Hi-hat combination cymbal and stand found in a standard drum kit, played by means of a foot pedal

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Speed metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) roots. It is described by AllMusic as "extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding" music.

Drummer percussionist who creates and accompanies music using drums

A drummer is a percussionist who creates music using drums.

Ride cymbal

The ride cymbal is a standard cymbal in most drum kits. It maintains a steady rhythmic pattern, sometimes called a ride pattern, rather than the accent of a crash. It is normally placed on the extreme right of a drum set, above the floor tom.

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and often fast tempo. The songs usually use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead guitar work. The lyrical subject matter often deals with criticisms of The Establishment, and at times shares a disdain for Christian dogma resembling that of their black metal counterparts. The language is typically quite direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.

Groove (music) music

In music, groove is the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or sense of "swing". In jazz, it can be felt as a persistently repeated pattern. It can be created by the interaction of the music played by a band's rhythm section. Groove is a significant feature of popular music, and can be found in many genres, including salsa, funk, rock, fusion, and soul.

Comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a jazz musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.


A drumline is a section of percussion instruments usually played as part of a musical marching ensemble. A drumline can also be a section on their own competing against other marching drumlines. High school and college marching bands, drill and drum corps, drum and bugle corps, indoor percussion ensembles are some examples of groups that include a "drumline".

Four on the floor (music)

Four-on-the-floor is a rhythm pattern used primarily in disco and electronic dance music. It is a steady, uniformly accented beat in 4/4 time in which the bass drum is hit on every beat in common time. This was popularized in the disco music of the 1970s and the term four-on-the-floor was widely used in that era: it originated with the pedal-operated, drum-kit bass drum. Earl Young is seen as the inventor of the disco style of rock drumming, as he was the first to make extensive and distinctive use of the hi-hat cymbal throughout the playing time of an R & B recording.

In music, a breakdown is part of a song in which various instruments have solo parts (breaks). This may take the form where all instruments play the verse together, and then several or all instruments individually repeat the verse as solo parts.

Live sound mixing

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Jazz drumming art of playing percussion, predominantly the drum set, in jazz styles

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In music, the term swing has two main uses. Colloquially, it is used to describe the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or "groove" created by the musical interaction between the performers, especially when the music creates a "visceral response" such as feet-tapping or head-nodding. The term is also used more specifically, to refer to a technique that involves alternately lengthening and shortening the pulse-divisions in a rhythm.

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Heavy metal guitar

Heavy metal guitar is the use of highly-amplified electric guitar in heavy metal. Heavy metal guitar playing is rooted in the guitar playing styles developed in 1960s-era blues rock and psychedelic rock, and it uses a massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and overall loudness. The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification has historically been the key element in heavy metal. The heavy metal guitar sound comes from a combined use of high volumes and heavy distortion.