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What Is a Drum Solo?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rarer than a guitar solo but more common than a bass solo, the drum solo is a piece of music where the drummer is the center of attention. There are several types of drum solo, including drum interludes, live jamming sessions, and drum-orientated songs. Such solos can be found in a wide variety of music from jazz to rock via metal, Latin music, and punk. Creating a good solo requires planning, practice, and experimentation.

For the most part, drummers perform a background role. In many rock bands, they provide the rhythm in tandem with the bassist, and the attention is focused on the singer and guitarist or guitarists. The role of the drum solo in live shows is to not only allow the drummer to demonstrate his or her talents with the sticks, or in John Bonham's case, with his hands, but to also give the rest of the band a break.

In live shows, the drum solo tends to be introduced by the singer as a song or performance in its own right. This is the case with drum solos such as Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham's Moby Dick. Other prominent rock examples include solos by Ginger Baker of Cream and Ian Paice of Deep Purple. In jazz, the drum solo can be performed as a song in its own right or as an interlude. Short solos may also be performed as part of introductions, where the singer of the band will introduce each member, who will then show off their skills.

The first drum solo to be recorded on a commercial record was performed by Gene Krupa in 1934. A few years earlier, jazz drummer Krupa had also been the first drummer to record a bass drum. Krupa's solo was a drum interlude performed during the Benny Goodman's Band recording of Sing, Sing, Sing.

Perhaps one of the most famous drum solos belongs to Bonham. The song that featured this solo was first developed after guitarist Jimmy Page caught Bonham jamming by himself. It was soon developed into Pat's Delight and then later Moby Dick. The solo first appeared on Led Zeppelin II and then again as different versions recorded live on The Song Remains the Same and How the West Was Won.

Creating a good drum solo is not easy. The objective of is to avoid repetition and to avoid boring the audience. This means that it requires a song-like structure, even for interludes. A good example of how drums alone can be turned into songs is taiko drumming from Japan. While this often involves an ensemble, there are also solo artists such as Joji Hirota.

The drum solo begins with an intro and builds upwards. While changes in tempo are a key part of a good drum solo, a bass drum is often used as a rhythm keeper. This frees up the tom-toms and other drums to provide the flourishes. The solo then requires a signature tune, which can be returned to with variations during the song. It is important for drummers to know their solos before a performance by practicing, jamming, and experimenting.

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Discussion Comments

By anon973128 — On Oct 08, 2014

Personally, I think the greatest rock drum solo was during Santana's performance of "Soul Sacrifice" at Woodstock. That drummer managed to keep up the energy of the song and keep it interesting for a really long time. Then he doesn't miss a beat when the rest of the band kicks back in.

I think one of the worst examples of a drum solo is the live version of Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida". That drummer ends up hitting everything in the building with a stick, and it is completely self-indulgent. I can see why a lot of bands dread the idea of a drum solo, since it has to walk a line between impressive and showy.

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