Unfortunately, we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like, but that’s already changing fast. Thanks to pioneers like Karen Carpenter, Sheila E., Meg White, Helen Hallsworth, and YouTube stars like Meytal Cohen, more and more girls are picking up a set of sticks and pounding the skins. In this blog, we tell you about 5 of the best known and most interesting female drummers out there.

Cindy Blackman – Photo (cropped): Cindy Blackman, by Manfred Werner / Tsui, licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Drummer or Female Drummer

So, in a perfect world, this blog would just be called ‘5 Drummers You Should Know About’. If you drum, you’re a drummer. But if you happen to be female and a drummer, your gender will almost always be pointed out whenever you or your band is written about. What’s often also grating for these drummers, and in fact, female musicians in general, is that how they look is unfortunately often placed above the quality of their playing. But you’ll never hear someone talk about Keith Moon’s mug before they talk about how hair raising a drummer he was, right? While we can’t change this overnight, we can state the simple fact that a drummer is a drummer.

1. Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker

In the Seventies, Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker was already known for her incredibly unique and uncompromising playing style as part of The Velvet Underground. At 19 years old, she heard the Rolling Stones for the first time and was immediately inspired to get her first snare and began teaching herself how to drum, largely by just playing along with songs on the radio. As she put it herself, the purpose of a drummer is to simply “keep time.” As such, she consciously kept her playing relatively minimalistic, and besides being one of the first women to ‘keep time’ for a rock band, there was a lot that made Tucker stand out. The first, was that she would usually play standing and would use a set up that consisted of nothing but a bass drum placed on its end and a snare. While she did have cymbals, she openly hated them and therefore barely used them and she also preferred beaters over standard drum sticks. All of these details immediately marked Tucker out as an innovator, rather than falling into the trap of believing that there’s a way the drums ‘should’ be played. It’s kind of reassuring to know that this highly influential musician now lives a quiet life, having withdrawn from the fame her talent brought her.

 2. Sheila E.

If you were to ask a random passer by to name a female drummer, the chances are that they’ll say Sheila E. Which is pretty fair when you consider the heavyweight names this American drummer and percussionist has worked with. Naturally, she’s known for the many times she worked with Prince, but names including Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé, Lionel Richie, Ringo Starr, Gloria Estefan and Patti Labelle can also be found on her extensive CV. In her own words, she’s maybe the only drummer in the world able to play problem-free in a pair of 6-inch heels. Besides a stunning career, she also has ongoing endorsements with DW Drums, Zildjian, and Toca. Besides being an incredible drummer, she’s also a just as awesome singer and dancer.

3. Meg White

If you’re able to drum with as much power as Meg White, then your band won’t even need a bassist. At least that’s what was concluded when, together with then-husband, Jack White, The White Stripes was born. Partly thanks to their massive success and Meg’s onstage presence, more girls are turning up for drumming classes than ever. What’s unique about Meg is that, while she’s no technical drummer, her style is anything but simple. Expression, power, and rhythm are what drive her playing and ever since The White Stripes broke through in the early 2000s, she played her now-iconic red Ludwig kit, complete with the immediately recognisable swirling red and white resonance heads on the kick and toms, backed up by a set of Paiste cymbals and Vater sticks. Since her divorce with Jack White (who actually owes his surname to her), Meg has been comparatively quiet. Which is actually a shame since she’s sorely missed and we sincerely hope she one day returns to her kit.

4. Cindy Blackman

When she was very small and was invited over a friend’s house, little Cindy Blackman saw a drum kit for the very first time and immediately fell in love. After much nagging, she got to sit behind a kit of her very own at just seven years old. A few years later, she attended a drumming clinic held by Tony Williams that changed her life forever. Under Williams’ tuition she developed and honed her skills at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has since more than earned her prowess as a formiddable jazz, pop, and rock drummer. She is so insanely versatile that you could spot her playing deep, raw jazz grooves with a small ensemble one night, then playing a packed out arena with the likes of Lenny Kravitz the next. Blackman is also not short of a few endorsements, including Istanbul Agop Cymbals, DW Drums, Gretsch Drums, and Vic Firth. She’s also married to none other than guitar virtuoso, Carlos Santana. You can guess what their karaoke nights are like.

5. Anika Nilles

First rising to fame as a YouTuber, we once had the privilage of witnessing the brilliance of Anika Nilles when she hosted a drum clinic at Bax Music. Sitting behind her white, 6-piece Mapex Black Panther kit and a set of 8 Meinl Byzance cymbals, while you could barely see her, the impact she had was literally awe inspiring. Flowing from pop, to rock, to electronica, she’s able to spin split second timing shifts and spit polyrhythmic patterns – all of it without breaking so much as drop of sweat. For Nilles, the groove is everything and when she’s sitting behind one, a drum kit becomes an insanely dynamic instrument. Just like Meg White, Nilles comes across as fairly shy, until she has a pair of sticks in her hands – then you’re looking at a genuine human drum machine.

In Closing

A blog about female drummers and percussionists would not be complete without at least mentioning the following incredible musicians: Terri Lyne Carrington, Meytal Cohen, Elise Trouw, Karen Carpenter, Evelyn Glennie,  Bobbye Hall, Samantha Maloney, Lisa Ann Jonker, Tessa Boomkamp, Anouk Verdonk, Gianna Tam, Senri Kawaguchi, Emmanuelle Caplett, and Sandy West. The percussion duo, Lip Stick Percussion formed by Laura Trompetter and Maria Martpay is also something that nobody should miss!

See Also …

» What Are the Four Most Important Drum Rudiments?
» Drum Notation 101: Tips & Tricks for Beginners
» Reading Music: Rhythm, Tempo & Measure
» What Do You Need to Start Drumming?
»How Do I Become a Drummer?
» What’s the Best Drum Kit for Me?
» What’s the Best Electronic Drum Kit for Me?
» What Are the Best Drum Sticks for Me?

» Drum Books
» Acoustic Drum Kits
» Electronic Drum Kits
» Drum Starter Packs
» Practice Pads
» Drum Sticks
» Drum Headphones

1 response
  1. Jack Splat says:

    Senri Kawaguchi. Best in the world.

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