As a touring/studio musician, I’m always puzzled by drummers who are indifferent to their snare drums. They don’t play them much on the road; they don’t play them much in the studio.
And then they wonder why their drumming sounds dull, uninspired, and out-of-synch.
Snare drums are an essential component of any kit. They anchor a song’s tempo and energy. Okay, sometimes you can be weird about them, but only if you make someone feel better.
— Sky “Moon★moon” Moonquan || rebuilding his studio★ (@SkyMoonquan) November 18, 2021
This got me interested in what the difference is between an inferior snare drummer and the best snare drummer in the world. I checked out forums like gearspace.com and other resources to get my answer.
I discovered six extraordinary snare masters whose talents I’d like to share with you. I’ll provide info about:
- His background.
- Where he plays or has played.
- Awards he’s won.
- His sound and technique shown in YouTube videos.
1. Baby Dodds (1898 – 1959)
Warren “Baby” Dodds was born in New Orleans in 1898. He is revered as one of the best and most innovative jazz percussionists.
Dodds is known for many trailblazing techniques, including his snare style. He played the ride rhythm on the snare and tuned the snare and tom-toms to the other instruments in the band.
Uniquely, Dodds could change rhythmic patterns for every chorus in every song. Imaginative and exciting, he would surprise listeners by placing beats where they were unexpected.
Dodds originally played in New Orleans’ parade bands. When he was only 24, he was hired by Joe “King” Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
His expertise also garnered his gigs and recordings with illustrious players including Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.
Pops Foster, Baby Dodds, and Sidney Bechet, 1936
— Andrzej Orski (@OrskiAndrzej) October 5, 2021
In honor of his extraordinary contribution to music, Dodds was posthumously inducted into the Drumbeat Hall of Fame in 2010.
Even legendary rhythmist Gene Krupa was humbled by Dodds’ talent: “Baby taught me more than all the others. Not only drum playing but drum philosophy.”
New York composer John Zorn tips his hat to Dodds as well: “No one sits in front of a drum set and thinks they invented it all out of whole cloth. The fact that the set is there means that you’ve got some dues to pay to Baby Dodds.”
Watch as the master demonstrates and explains his signature Shimmy Beat and Press Roll in the video below.
Dodds advised newcomers that playing the drums is a step-by-step process: “Drum pad, that’s where you start – with no drum, no bass drum at all, no snare drum – from pad to drums, from drums to street drums, from street drums to orchestra work, from orchestra work to pit work, from pit work to concert work, to show work, from show work to now.”
Do you like this drum sound, but also want to try something heavier? Then click here to check out how to tune drums for metal.
The next musician turned a 20-second break into the most-sampled drum snippet ever.
2. Clyde Stubblefield (1943 – 2017)
Clyde Stubblefield, nicknamed Funky Drummer, was famously known as James Brown’s percussionist. He played on songs that are considered funk classics, including “Cold Sweat” and “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
He is particularly acclaimed for playing an iconic, 20-second break on the song, “Funky Drummer,” that later became the most heavily sampled drum pattern in hip hop. It’s been sampled on over 1,000 songs by hip hop luminaries including NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and the Beastie Boys.
Stubblefield was also a master of snare beat displacement. This means he moved the drum beat from an expected position to an unexpected one.
Growing up in a factory town in Tennessee, Stubblefield originally got his groove by practicing drums against the rhythms of trains and compressed air smokestacks, along with whistling teakettles, washing machines, ticking clocks, and other cadenced tones.
Had a blast unveiling the Clyde Stubblefield mural at Cherry Street Tavern. Clyde’s a legend—the most sampled drummer in HipHop history—and as a fellow drummer and fellow Chattanoogan, I have so much respect for him. Glad to see his memory kept alive in our city! pic.twitter.com/hTwFdq4MR1
— Tim Kelly (@MayorTimKelly) November 19, 2021
In 2013 he was honored with the Yamaha Drums Legacy Award. He was also inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Hall of Fame in 2000, and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Madison Area Music Association in 2004.
Additionally, Stubblefield was bestowed an Honorary PhD in percussion from the University Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in 2017.
Adrian York of the Conversation said, “It is in the snare drum part where Stubblefield made the magic happen.”
Upon Stubblefield’s death, Roots band member Questlove reflected, “The spirit of the greatest grace note left hand snare drummer will live on through all of us.”
Check out Stubblefield breaking down the immortal “Funky Drummer” snippet in this video.
What advice does Stubblefield give to budding musicians who want to be a snare drummer? “You want to play a feeling. Working on the patterns is certainly a good thing to do, but you have to keep the groove in mind.”
The next percussionist was only 19 when he dropped jaws at Woodstock.
3. Michael Shrieve
If you were at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, you were probably stunned by Santana’s barely 19 year-old thumper, Michael Shrieve, and his legendary improvised solo during “Soul Sacrifice.” It’s a masterpiece and showcases his brilliant snare drum technique.
Shrieve began his illustrious career in his teens, playing full-time with the band Glass Menagerie. Next, he played in an R&B club’s house band for luminaries such as B.B. King and Etta James.
Soon after, he jammed with Santana and was hired on the spot.
Shrieve left Santana in 1974 to pursue a solo career, playing with famed musicians including the Rolling Stones, John McLaughlin, Pat Thrall, Al DiMeola, and Jaco Pastorius. He also pioneered the use of electronic drums.
In 1998, Shrieve was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was honored with Guitar Center’s first annual Lifetime Achievement Award.
— James Augustus Lee (@jamesalee7) September 4, 2021
In addition, Rolling Stone’s readers ranked him as one of the Top 10 Drummers of All Time in 2011 and one of the 100 Greatest Drummers in 2016. Drum! ranked him as one of the 50 Most Important Drummers of All Time.
Carlos Santana has high praise for his former bandmate: “Some drummers only have chops, but Michael Shrieve has a vision.”
Michael Greenblatt of Goldmine comments: “Shrieve has to be looked upon at this point as one of the great rock drummers. He and Carlos introduced not only salsa to rock’s umbrella mix but fusion and samba as well.”
Travel back in time and witness 19-year-old Shrieve’s astonishing “Soul Sacrifice” solo in this video.
Shrieve has wise words for newbies: “You have to live your life based on a level of creativity, values, and ideas that feel true and honest with yourself. From there, you create the music.”
Here’s a player who created a happy marriage between electronic and acoustic drums.
4. Jojo Mayer
Son of famous jazz bass player Vali Mayer, Sergé “Jojo” Mayer got his first drum kit at age two. Foreshadowing his future virtuosity, he was playing publicly at the tender age of three.
His musical career began in earnest at age 18, when he toured Europe with iconic jazz pianist Monty Alexander.
Mayer went on to play with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone and became breathtakingly adept at the limitless foot and hand techniques. Two of his best are snare backbeats and ghost notes.
Mayer departed conventional jazz to play with avant-garde jazz-rock band Screaming Headless Torsos and later with the experimental band Nerve. One of Mayer’s trademark techniques is “reverse engineering,” in which he plays electronic drum beats on actual drums.
Additionally, he has released two best-selling DVDs which delve into hand and foot techniques.
Available now on our YouTube channel, Part 2 of Jojo Mayer’s Learn The Music! 🙌 We’ve taken a deep dive into our video vault to feature this fan favorite of @jojomayernerve complete with multi-speed breakdowns, on-screen transcriptions along with free pdf downloads. pic.twitter.com/Rws7rjX2PG
— Vic Firth (@vicfirth) November 17, 2021
Mayer is listed in Modern Drummer’s 50 Greatest Drummers of All Time for 2014.
Amazon reviewer Mark loved Mayer’s DVD, “Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer Foot Technique”: There is no doubt Jojo Mayer has made a massive contribution to the drumming world.”
Amaan Khan of the Wild City has high praise for Mayer: “He has done more [musical] exploration than many artists do in their [entire] career.”
JoJo shows off his extraordinary snare prowess in this video.
Mayer’s advice to aspiring musicians? “Practice what you can’t play. If you sound good while practicing, you’re not getting any better.”
Dynamic showmanship with breathtaking snare mastery defines the next percussionist.
5. Carl Palmer
Combine formidable power with limitless energy and profound technical skills, and you’ve got Carl Palmer. Already a professional drummer at age 15, he played in several minor R&B groups.
He got his big break with an opportunity to play in Chris Farlowe’s backing band. He later joined the Crazy World of Arthur Brown while still in his teens.
That same year, he also played with Atomic Rooster.
In 1970, he united with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake to form the prog rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Upon meeting Palmer, Emerson and Lake said they felt “an immediate chemistry.”
When the band debuted that same year, Palmer vaulted to one of the most revered drummers in the world. His playing not only communicated with rock fans but jazz and even classical followers.
In 1989, Palmer was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and was presented with the Prog God Award at the Progressive Music Awards in 2017. In collaboration with Ludwig Drums, Palmer created his signature “Venus” snare drum.
Carl Palmer – not only the best drummer but also the most handsome & nice! 😍🥁❤️😍 I was so NERVOUS after I saw him/ELP Legacy Band while waiting to get his autograph on my 1983 Modern Drummer magazine. I was shaking but he was so friendly & immediately made me feel at ease. pic.twitter.com/zeCrraJEpB
— Susan A (@SusanLovesELP) November 20, 2021
YouTuber WolfgangRohan enthused: “If God wanted to play drums, He’d ask Carl Palmer to teach Him.”
Jeb Wright of Classic Rock Revisited said: “Carl Palmer has a reputation of being one of rock’s greatest drummers. In fact, his rep is so big you can take the word ‘rock’ out of the previous statement and just consider him one of the best drummers around today.”
Palmer plays the snare drum with sheer brilliance. Check out this video of him doing more with a single snare than other percussionists do with a full kit.
Palmer advises newbies that drumming should be more than just a passing fancy: “If you’ve got a job that you really enjoy doing, then you’ll do it for the rest of your life. If it’s something you would do on your day off, if it’s something you do as a hobby, if it’s something that’s really serious to you, then you’ll do it forever.”
The next drummer is almost 100 and still going strong.
6. Roy “Snap Crackle” Haynes
When you think of a 96-year-old man, a drumming dynamo with energy to burn typically doesn’t come to mind. But then, Roy Haynes isn’t a typical nonagenarian. Or a typical drummer.
Saying that he didn’t discover drums, but that drums discovered him, Haynes is a jazz percussionist whose repertoire has included jazz fusion, avant-garde jazz, bebop, and swing. He’s considered a trailblazer of modern jazz drumming.
When he was only 20, Haynes got his first significant job with Luis Russell’s big band ensemble. Later, he played with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Stan Getz, and many more.
He’s also played on more than 600 recordings.
Astoundingly, he turned down an invitation to play with the iconic Duke Ellington in 1952. He said that new music was happening and he might clash with the Ellington Orchestra’s older members.
Haynes’ unique style is characterized by intricate rhythms that mirror a song’s melody. He also has a signature sharp, machine-gun snare sound that earned him the nickname “Snap Crackle.”
Roy Haynes recorded We Three with Phineas Newborn and Paul Chambers #onthisday in 1958. The album, which was released on the New Jazz label, was recorded in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. pic.twitter.com/g0Q1DbITTi
— Jazz On This Day (@jazzonthisday) November 14, 2021
Haynes has amassed many awards during his career. He won the Danish Jazzpar Prize in 1994 and was knighted by the French government in 1996.
France also awarded him with the prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
Haynes received honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory (2004) and Berklee College of Music (1991), along with the Peabody Medal in 2012. He was inducted into the Down Beat Magazine Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 2010 he was bestowed the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation BNY Mellon Jazz Living Legacy award 2010. In 2010 he also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1960, he received an award unrelated to drumming: Esquire magazine dubbed Haynes one of the best-dressed men in America, along with Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire.
Haynes has also collaborated with Zildjian to create his signature drumstick, and with Yamaha to produce his signature snare drum.
On Drumform.org, contributor Rondrums muses, “There was definitely something magical about his snare drum sound on those great 60’s records. I couldn’t reproduce it, even though I had the exact same snare drum.”
YouTuber William L. raves, “This sounds are as close to what the true essence of drumming is all about as anything I’ve heard….absolutely incredible.”
Prepare for your jaw to resoundingly drop to the floor when you watch this amazing video of Haynes in action.
What advice does he have for rookies? His advice is to not take advice:
“Advice may not be good advice 10 or 15 years from now. Someone could tell you something years ago and it might not work today.
“The world is constantly changing. One word could mean something different today.”
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Drumming Is My Middle Name – Ringo Starr
These six drummers have elevated snare drumming to an art form, and each could easily be called the best snare drummer in the world. From decades ago to the present day, they’ve made an indelible mark on music. Trends may come and go, but these drummers are always in style.