I know it’s common to see bands with multiple instrumentalists playing the same kind of instrument but just one drummer in the band. Often, having two or more drummers playing in a band is seen as a bit excessive and weird, especially with the improvement in technology and music production.
So why do bands use two drummers? One of the main reasons why bands have more than one drummer is because it creates more drum beats. These then lead to sounds that are thicker, fuller and denser. With two drummers, there is more variety and intensity in their synchronised playing that creates more beautiful sounds.
There’s a general consensus that people think one drummer can produce the drum sounds needed, as the overriding question would be what would a second drummer add to the music. Beyond the strange looks that one might get, bands have a number of reasons for utilising more than one drummer and we are going to examine that right now.
For jazz bands, having two drummers is quite common. This is especially the case with a drummer band or free jazz bands. A lot of bands have experimented using two drummers in their performance, we check out some them to see and how the multiple drummers influenced their music styles.
Examples of two drummers being used by musicians include Genesis, Bon Iver, the Allman Brothers, the Fall, King Crimson, even individuals like John Coltrane in his 1966 album and even James Brown (1, 2).
Not all these bands or individuals use two drummers and make them play two different drum kits during a gig. Most times, the second drummer would play percussion instruments like the banjos, floor toms, or the standing bass drums or cymbals. You can see modern examples of this happening with a jazz band like Snarky Puppy (4), and the alternative band Imagine Dragons.
We will be examining the common ones and see how this improved their music styles.
In Jazz: The Allman Brothers bands
The Allman Brothers band was an American rock band, they incorporated elements of jazz, blues, and country music in their live shows included jam band-style improvisation and instrumentals. They often used two drummers in some of their live shows. Before we go into why they used two drummers, it is important to understand the logic behind it.
It is a common practice nowadays to layer instruments like the drums when recording or in general music production by adding multiple tracks to increase the music quality. But back in the 20th century, this had to be done manually, and the Allman Brothers wanted this quality in their live performances.
When asked why he uses two drummers, Duane Allman, the founder of the band, simply told the band percussionist Jaime “..because James Brown has two”.
Looking beyond the sentimental reasons, if you listen to any of the singles from the Allman Brothers Band like “in the memory of Elizabeth Reed,” one thing you will notice is the seamless connection of bother their drummers. Drummers Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks developed such unique musical bond on and off the stage. They combine flawlessly and play like one super drumming machine.
They both had their different playing styles before coming into the band, but when they play together, they are completely in sync.
Butch plays the foundation beats more like the rhythm while Jaimoe builds on it adding explosive fills and jazz-like riffs. They both blossomed to make the Allman brothers band one of the most successful groups to ever made use of two drummers.
In 1994, the band added a third drummer, a percussionist Marc Quinones, which added more rhythm to the band style.
As mentioned earlier, using two or more drummers doesn’t necessarily mean that they would play different drum kits on stage. Sometimes it’s just the introduction of multiple percussionists. This is a common thing in Latin and reggae music, and also in jam bands like The Grateful Dead, who brought two drummers to most of their shows as this allowed for more creative improvisation.
In gospel music, bands like Hillsong, Jesus culture even gospel hip hop group like Kanye’s Sunday service have incorporated the use of multiple percussionists on stage.
Imagine Dragons when performed by Radioactive at the AMA’s, every member of the band dropped their instruments and pick up sets of mallets or sticks, violently beating large booming drums making sounds just like a rallying cry to the amazement of the audience in attendance. This is one example of pop bands using multiple percussionists on stage.
Before the James Brown era having more than one drummer was rare. Although he wasn’t the first, he is credited as the father of double drummers, inspiring a lot of others to adopt the addition of multiple drummers. But the two-drummer phenomenon that looks like an innovation, happened mistakenly.
It all started in the 1960s when Brown’s band members refused to perform with him because they were tired of putting up with his attitude. Brown later succumb to their demands but made a promise to himself to always have two of everything in his band.
The singer went on with his promise and hired extra instrumentals for each of the instruments in his band, adding several drummers and guitarists, bassists, and a whole horn section. He had such a large number of instrumentalists to select from, that he could do without any instrumentalist who chooses to leave him at any time.
Brown noticed later on that his two drummers John Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, played so well together that, Brown opted to use them both in his stage performance and for most of his songs. Together, the drummers laid the foundation for double drummers in modern music.
Bands like the Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Radiohead, Joe Walsh, and a lot of others credited James brown and his two drummers for inspiring them to experiment with the use of multiple drummers in their respective bands.
From all the listed bands and their music output I have put together a list of the different factors that show why bands use two drummers
To Create A Fuller Sound
If we are talking about modern-day music productions, having one decent drummer can recreate the sounds you need for most music performance. But when it comes to a live stage, it’s a whole different case. Using two drummers in live bands helps to create a powerful rhythmic sound especially when the band has a strong drum emphasis. This is evident in a lot of bands listed in this article that have experimented with two drummers.
For The Appearance
Sometimes a band can use it to distinguish themselves from other bands, making it something unique about their brand. It is very intriguing to watch two drummers play in such unison, like the Allman Brothers band, it creates a kind of thrill in the audience that people want to see.
The two-person band of Twenty-One Pilots – Joseph Tyler and Josh Dun – have both played the drum together to the trill of the fans in some of their concerts.
For jazz bands and some folk bands, live jam bands use two drummers to create space and the freedom to improvise during their live stage performances. The Allman Brothers often used this to their full advantage on stage. It’s evident in most bands using two or more drummers that it creates more space for creativity because the drummers don’t need to do everything themselves.
For Bands Who Play Long Jam Sessions
For bands who play long band sessions and have multiple drummers, it is not an issue when they have long gigs. A lot will depend on the drummers’ understanding but they can maintain the musical tempo for as long as the band wants and a lot longer than they would if they had just one drummer.
Final Thoughts on Why Do Bands Use Two Drummers?
There is a long, list of other examples you will find on the internet on why bands use two drummers. I got a first-hand experience when, some years ago, I joined a band that had two drummers. The band already had a drummer before I joined, but over time it became obvious that I was more technical and had more experience playing within a band, I gradually started to get more playing time on the drum kit.
To accommodate both of us and increase the playing time for both drummers, it was decided that he could play the percussions while I played the drums. This felt great because while he kept the tempo, I could add my fills beautifully. We were both in a gospel band, so we played long sessions of spontaneous worship songs for between 3 and 5 hours.
When fatigue set in, I could easily play with just the bass drums and hi-hats pedals keeping the dynamics with him while he increases tempo with the cymbals. Times when we had two drum kits, he played rhythm one set of drums while I play solos on the other, it was a great experience.
It takes a lot of discipline for two drummers to play together because if both of you want to do solo and keep the rhythm at the same time, it will turn out to be just noise.