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I play several instruments, but the drums are by far my favorite. As I write this article, I play the drums in three different groups and will potentially play with more in the near future and play drums for my own music composition.
When I listen to a new song for the first time, I first listen to what the drums or percussion section is doing, then the rest of the instruments, and lastly, I pay attention to the vocals, if there are any.
I understand this is not how many people will listen to music, but as a drummer, I find that the heart and soul of many songs come from drumming and percussion.
Even when I listen to songs without a drum part, I envision what I would play along with the music.
Based on this introduction, it might be assumed that I would think that drums are needed in every band, but that is not the case.
So, what is the deal? Do you need to have drums in a band?
No. You do not need drums in a band, just like you do not need to have a guitar, vocals, or any other instrument. Drumming can help keep time and bring a lot of value to a band, but it is not a requirement in order to have a good-sounding band.
Let’s take a closer look at why you do not necessarily need drums in a band and some of the factors that contribute to this decision. We will also examine why drums can be important in a band, their value, and some options to add drums into music that might not traditionally incorporate them.
What Are Drums?
This question might seem obvious but it is more nuanced than people might realize.
Percussion instruments are an integral part of many genres of music, and while most music incorporates some type of percussion, not all music requires drums.
Many solo artists will keep time with some type of percussion, be that how they use their instrument, by stomping the ground, or by some other method.
The drums are a part of the percussion family of instruments. While drums come in many different shapes and sizes, for this article, when I am referring to drums, I am speaking about the modern drum kit. If I talk about other percussion instruments, such as timbales, I will state those instruments by their names.
Below is a picture of my current setup.
My setup is ever-changing as I tweak where various cymbals go, as well as slight configuration changes.
Are Drums Important In A Band?
If many genres use percussion and drums, does that not mean they are, without a doubt, important in a band?
Yes and no. Like many other areas in music, this question is very subjective and based on a few different factors. Drums are important in a band if everyone in the band feels that they are important.
Of course, the importance of drums in a band is a bit more nuanced than just the band members’ feelings, but that is still an important consideration. Let’s look at a couple of reasons in more detail that make drums important to a band.
Reason #1: Type Of Music
One of the biggest reasons when determining if drums are important in a band boils down to the type of music a band is playing. There are countless examples of very successful bands that do not have drummers.
Some genres are more accustomed to having drums, such as rock and metal, while others, like bluegrass and folk, often do not. This means that a significant first step in determining the importance of the drums for your band is determining which genre(s) you plan on playing.
However, just because a specific genre traditionally does or does not use drums doesn’t mean you can’t do the opposite. This is just a good starting point for determining if drums are important to your band in your specific situation.
Having drums in a band will not determine if a band sounds good. Instead, if drums are used, it matters more how the drums are utilized or, on the flip side, how the music is created without the presence of drums.
Reason #2: Keeping Time
Drums can serve a crucial role in a band: keeping time. In fact, beyond the flare and fills, this is the central role of the drummer.
I am not saying that the drums do not add more value than just keeping time, they certainly do, but at the fundamental level, this is the primary function of the drums.
Ripping a blazingly fast drum fill in the middle of a song is awesome, but only if it is done without dropping the beat. In other words, if the drum fill or whatever else is being done on the drums interferes with the other musician’s ability to stay in time, it is not beneficial but rather a hindrance.
So, yes, drums can be very important in a band if they aid in helping to keep the entire ensemble on time. This doesn’t mean that the drums need to play the same thing for the entirety of a song. In fact, many good drummers will incorporate many different rhythmic variations, such as playing part of a song at half-time.
Changing between different rhythmic patterns is one-way drums can bring a lot of value to a band and completely change a song’s feel.
In the video below, I change how I approach the rhythm while still adhering to the given BPM from the metronome.
Reason #3: Adding Musical Variety
Another reason drums are important in a band is that they can add variety to the overall music being created.
Drums are very distinct from other instruments like guitar, bass, other stringed instruments, and horns. Adding drums to your band can add a whole other dimension to what is being heard. Drums also allow you to create songs that you might not otherwise have been able to create.
Can A Band Play Without Drums?
The short answer is yes. There are hundreds of examples of bands and artists that do not use drums in their music.
One of the beautiful aspects of music is that it is open to interpretation. There are not many rules when it comes to creating music, including deciding if a band should have a drummer.
Determining if your band needs a drummer or drums is something you must decide. Many factors can contribute to this decision, such as the genre or music style you create and perform.
As I mentioned above, there are many genres where drums have not traditionally been a significant piece of the musical ensemble and other genres where they are only used sparingly.
Again, there are no rules that state you need to have drums in a given genre or that you cannot have drums in another.
However, a couple of genres would be challenging to perform without using drums. The most notable genres would be metal, jazz, and rock.
That said, you can find numerous examples of situations where drums are not used in the abovementioned genres. There are many examples of awesome-sounding covers of metal and rock songs that do not use drums.
Some other genres, such as bluegrass and folk music, among others, are often performed without the use of drums, but again there are many examples with the use of drums and other percussion instruments.
Can You Add Drums To Music That Doesn’t Normally Have Them?
Yes! As I said above, one of the best parts about music is that it is open to interpretation. One way to interpret music is to add drums to music that does not typically utilize them (or at least not consistently).
As a drummer, this is a great practice technique that really helps me explore my creativity around the drum kit. Not only does it expose me to different genres and styles of music, but it forces me to come up with my own unique beats instead of just following along with what is normally played.
Another practice option to boost creativity is finding drumless tracks of your favorite songs and creating your own drumbeats.
One of my favorite types of music to do this are with film and video game scores. Film and video game scores are excellent because they vary significantly in the tempo, dynamics, and style between composers. They expose you to diverse options, forcing you to be creative. Although many scores have drums, you can find many that do not.
A common theme among many film and video game scores is that within a single song, the dynamics tend to change quite a bit, which helps develop your ability to do this.
A song can sound boring if you aren’t aware of changing your dynamics, so it is a good skill to practice regardless of the genre you typically play in.
Another closely related genre that doesn’t traditionally have drums is classical music. While many classical and orchestral ensembles use percussion, adding a modern drum kit to the mix brings a whole new level of creativity.
Check out the video below of Andrea Vadrucci drumming along to some awesome classical music.
Drumming to classical music that utilizes other types of percussion can be another fun challenge as it teaches you to accent the already present percussion and reminds us that we do not always have to do a lot to make a song sound good.
With music, sometimes less is more. While there are certainly times that I embellish a song we are playing live, I try to serve the song. In other words, I do my best to play in a way that adds to the song but not to the point where it is overdone. However, I have been known to overdo it from time to time.
Many other types of music don’t have drum parts, and I would suggest taking the time to find them. The larger the variety of music you can listen to and play with, the better drummer you will become.
Starting a band is an amazing experience. Creating and playing music has been one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had thus far.
However, starting a band can be challenging, and many decisions must be considered. Two of the most important are what type of music you want to create and play and what instruments should be included in your band.
I hope this article has helped show you the importance of drums in a band, but also that you do not need to have drums in the band to sound good or be successful.
Until next time, happy playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two rock/folk cover bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.