Some go to school to learn music, some like to teach themselves. But in the past few years, the living-room musicians of the world have enrolled in the free and accessible YouTube school of music. The massive amount of performance videos online have made the web a place to watch the greats online and learn en masse. Here are some of the most influential videos I’ve come across in my digital lifetime. Note that this is a subjective list and is far from complete, so feel free to add or subtract in the comments section. Now, put on your best drum faces and dig in.
Buddy Rich: It seems only natural to kick off with the original gangsta, Buddy Rich. Arguably the most famous big band drummer of all time, Buddy kicks it traditional like none other. Here is a fun video taken from his appearance with the Muppets.
Bernard Purdie: Up next is a lesson from the father of the ghost note, Bernard Purdie. He explains his shuffle technique which has been passed down through the ages ever since. Toward the end, this video also highlights what might be the best funk faces on the Web.
Jeff Porcaro: Jeff Porcaro was a famed session drummer who played with Toto (of “Africa” fame), Steely Dan and also Michael Jackson on the hit “Billie Jean.” Porcaro is seen here expanding on the Purdie Shuffle. Sadly, in a story worthy of This is Spinal Tap, Jeff died of a reaction to pesticides while weeding his garden.
John Bonham: Bonzo needs no introduction. The Zeppelin drummer is an all-time favorite to most young rock players. Here he is playing “Moby Dick,” one of his most famous drum solo pieces.
Thomas Lang: Many stupid YouTube videos are tagged as “greatest solo all time” or something of the like. After having watched most of them, I think it is very possible that this may in fact be the one. This is an uber-technical kind of solo, but it is pure dark magic.
Tony Royster Jr. : Another favorite YouTube trope is the classic “Amazing x year old drummer!!!1!.” The bulk of those videos are not too impressive. The great exception to this rule is TR Jr., who is only 11-13 (different accounts) in this video. This is quite the solo for a kid.
And oh, look at what this boy has become.
Aaron Spears: While I have the hip-hopper’s attention, here is a video of young drummer Aaron Spears. The description says it all — “Aaron killin Usher’s song’.”
Let’s take a sharp turn into Prog territory, because no drum list would be complete without the following names:
Bill Bruford: King Crimson pulled some funky tricks in their day. This performance of “Indiscipline” has a killer polyrhythmic intro.
Mike Portnoy: You can never have too big a drum kit. That’s what Portnoy always says. Here is the song that brought him to my attention, “Panic Attack.” This, kids, is how you make good use of lots of cymbals and tasteful double-kicking.
Neil Peart: And now for the baterísta of the Holy Trinity — Rush. Neil Peart threw down the foundations of wild progressive drumming and is the most air-drummed drummer of all time (a fact I just made up). Here is his legendary performance of “YYZ.”
Jimmy Chamberlin: Back to rock. JC, a humble carpenter from the Chicagoland suburbs, hooked up with the Smashing Pumpkins over 20 years ago at the Chicago Metro. Ever since, his big band training and “drill-to-your-head” drumming has made him one of the finest in popular music. Jimmy’s drumming is better exemplified by the Pumpkins’ catalog than by videos, but he sure is something to watch in action. Here is the live video for “Geek USA,” a song that producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage) called the greatest drumming he’d ever seen.
Vadrum: This post has insofar been mostly about videos of famous drummers posted online. The YouTube drum phenomenon is better illustrated by a true online drummer like Andrea “Vadrum” Vadrucci. Vadrum, an unknown, began posting videos from his bedroom set onto YouTube and has since become the most subscribed-to musician in all of Italy and one of the top 100 in the world with over 38 million views. His original drum covers are some of the most proficient and exciting parts I have ever seen, and every video on his channel is a gem, like this:
I can’t help but close here with my favorite drummer. This video altered the course of my life after only one viewing by convincing me that I needed to start learning the drums immediately. Growing up at a New England summer camp, I had known this band well as a soundtrack for the Birkenstock shuffles of my counselors and peers, but what never dawned on me until I saw this video was just how nasty the band’s drummer really was. He is master of the open-hand style, a pioneer of high hat technique and one of the jazziest cats in popular music. I think his greatest achievement, however, is being able to tie all this technical skill and complex writing into the music of the most popular and successful touring band of the decade. So put your preconceived stereotypes aside and see what is really going on behind the Dave Matthews Band. Ladies and Gentlemen, Carter Beauford.