How to Build Maximum-Impact Drum Solos

Guestblogger Wietse Hendriks lays down the ins and outs of the drum solo. Where does the drum solo come from? Are there different kinds of solos? And, how can you build a great solo that delivers maximum impact? Here, Wietse puts the drummer in the spotlight and explains how to get the most out of every second of your solos.

The Drum Solo: A Short History

When you’re learning anything about music, it’s always worth understanding where it came from and how it happened in the first place. That means diving into the history books. Since the dawn of the big band at the beginning of the twentieth century, drummers have been stepping up to play solos. These passages would often echo the rest of the piece and were sometimes accompanied by the band. All of this changed when Ginger Baker emerged on the scene (you can see a photo of him below). When he started playing with Cream at the end of the sixties, he was the first drummer to play long, bombastic solos – the band even wrote a song around them (but more on that later). From that moment on, the drum solo became part of any rock band’s bread-and-butter. Drummers like John Bonham and Neil Peart created entire shows around the concept, but one of the biggest stars and masters of the craft was Buddy Rich – especially when he played with his own big band.

How to Build Maximum-Impact Drum Solos

Two Drum Solo Approaches…

You can play a drum solo in one of two different ways:

  1. A solo within context
  2. A standalone solo

The Solo in Context

This is probably the most common. By ‘in context’, I mean that the solo is played as part of a song, so the band plays a full track and halfway through or maybe at the close of the number, the drummer lets rip. It’s important here that the solo sticks to the same tempo, rhythm and atmosphere as the rest of the song. If you stray away from these details, the band might struggle to fill in the blanks and you risk confusing your audience. Steve Smith from Journey (you can see him below) would play an in-context solo in pretty much every show and, if the song was played with a shuffle beat, his solo was played in a shuffle. The drummer from Radar Love, Cesar Zuiderwijk uses the same trick. As well as solos built around a song, you also have songs built around the solo, like Toad by Cream and Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin.

The Standalone Solo

This is the kind of solo that, partly thanks to Animal from The Muppets, most people will think of when they think of drum solos. This is the moment where a drummer can really show off their art and pull every trick out of the box – however, the most important trick is making sure that no one in the audience sees your solo as the perfect time to go to the bar. Thankfully, most drummers think that a solo should never be three minutes of tubthumping and showing off, but should actually tell a story. This way, you can keep things clear for the audience. With that in mind, picking a fixed theme and changing things up within your theme or making sure that any transitions run as smoothly and seamlessly as possible can really work. It’s also worth considering the space you’re actually playing in: if you’re in a tiny little jazz cafe, maybe spitting blast beats and mega-fast double bass passages won’t really fly and, if you’re playing in a full-sized venue, then it makes little sense to pull your brushes out of your stick bag.

How to Build Maximum-Impact Drum Solos

How Do You Write a Drum Solo?

If you set out to write a drum solo, that doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll be playing that exact same solo at every gig. However, it can be really useful to note down the structure:

  • Think about the theme and feel of your solo. This will give you a good foundation to build on and will keep things focussed. This isn’t just nice for you, but for your fans.
  • The start of your solo needs to be super solid. This can mean building up things quietly but it can also mean a tight and hard opening (see an example of this last one below where Thomas Lang starts with a couple of fills, then transitions into a groove. From there, he starts to push it).
  • You could divide your solo up like the chapters of a book that keep returning to your central theme while, in between, you throw in some other treats, like half or double-time patterns, alternating fills and grooves, and everything else you can think of.
  • You can think about the end of your solo in the same way as you thought about the beginning. Will you go for a grand finale, or pull everything back to complete silence?

Examples of (Famous) Drum Solos

Some of the clips included below are performed by drummers with legendary status but all of them are worth checking out. You’ll also find solos from all of the drummers we’ve already mentioned in this blog.

Ginger Baker (Cream)

Phil Collins & Chester Thompson

Neil Peart

Buddy Rich

Simon Phillips

Terry Bozzio

Which solo do you think is the greatest in all of drumming history? Let us know in the comments!

See also…

» How do I become a drummer?
» How to Drum Faster
» Drum Kit Configurations: Try These Variations!
» Reggae Drumming – Rhythms, Sounds and Cues
» The History of the Drum Kit
» 5 Legendary Drum Parts

» Drums, percussie & accessoires

No responses

No comments yet...

Leave a Reply