The Trailblazing Female Drummers

The Trailblazing Female Drummers

When you think of women in music, you might think of the great pop stars like Madonna or Beyonce. Or maybe you think of the iconic songwriters like Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton. However, what many overlook are the talented females taking on the instruments often considered “unconventional” for women. Today, we will explore the achievements of the greatest female drummers in history and the ones to look out for today.

What makes drumming such an unexpected instrument for females? Despite requiring the same amount of practice and dedication as other instruments, girls are more inclined to take voice, piano, or guitar lessons. An interesting perspective may be that drums are simply “too loud,” and women have been conditioned by society to present themselves as quiet and respectful. Another reason could be that drumming involves expressive and unrestricted movements, while women have traditionally been advised to avoid taking up too much space or being overly assertive. Over time, the instrument became associated with masculinity because of its lively nature.


An intriguing piece of history reveals that women were once the principal percussionists in society. The captivating narrative traces back to the 4th century and earlier, when women and priestesses actively engaged in rituals and worship ceremonies, utilizing drums and rhythm to connect with the divine. However, with the construction of the Vatican and the rise of Christianity, women were banned from learning musical instruments.

Over the years, the drums transformed from a ceremonial and ritualistic instrument to an integral element of military marching bands, since the drum kept soldiers in synchronized step. Something important to remember about the Military during this era? Women were excluded. It is worth emphasizing that the evolution of drums occurred within male-dominated spaces, and this played a role in shaping the perception of them in Western culture.

From history barring women from drumming to society’s tendency to confine women, there is no surprise that many women have not chosen drums over other instruments. Nevertheless, throughout history, there have always been women who defy societal norms. Today, we will celebrate and embrace these women, hopefully inspiring more girls to choose drums as their instrument.

What makes a great drummer?

The drummer has always been an integral part of music and the slightest thing can separate a good drummer from a great drummer. The drummer creates the pulse of a song. The rhythm and groove, the energy and backbone. From technical proficiency and versatility to creative innovation, here are a few things that make a great drummer:

  1. Discipline:
    • Practicing your instrument multiple times a week will ensure that you are constantly improving.
    • – Learning to play in the pocket – The fusion of rhythm and emotion. A natural ebb and flow. How one connects with the vibe of a song while staying precise.
    • – “Serving the song” – Are you playing whatever you want to play, or are you playing what sounds and feels right? Great drummers know how to pick the perfect groove for whatever song they’re playing.
  2. Mastering Your Technique: 
    • Working on your tempo and timing
    • Fine-tuning all the different drum techniques, such as rudiments, polyrhythms, muffling, etc.
  3. Embracing Your Creativity:
    • Learning the musical vocabulary of other great drummers
    • Opening up while you play and creating your own fills
    • Using cymbals, accents, rudiments, and rhythms in thoughtful, unique ways
    • Contributing to the composition of a song
  4. Versatility
    • Learning different genres of music
    • Changing to different drum styles to suit the song
    • Have the ability to switch to different time signatures, tempos, feels, and grooves

While these qualities are essential to being a great drummer, connecting with one’s instrument is another vital aspect. Forging an intimate relationship where the drum set becomes an extension of oneself is crucial. The women highlighted below show us the magic that comes from hard work, dedication, and a love for one’s craft.

The Female Drummers to Watch in 2024

There has never been a better time for female drummers and the following young women are proving that. They are making a significant impact on the internet with their drum covers, and their journeys can motivate young women around the globe.

Nikki Glaspie

Nikki Glaspie’s story is a source of joy and inspiration, as she once served as the drummer for one of the most empowering artists of our time, Beyonce herself! Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Glaspie started playing the drums at two years old. By the time she was eight, she was the full-time percussionist for her church. Recognizing her gift, Glaspie’s father introduced her to secular music for the first time (Van Halen, Hall & Oats), leading her to pursue formal education at the Berklee College of Music. She took her studies seriously and found she was attracted to hip-hop and jazz music in particular.

While at Berklee, Glaspie played gigs around Boston, fostering valuable connections. These connections eventually led to an audition for Beyonce Knowles’ all-female ensemble. Thanks to her robust educational background, Glaspie adeptly embraced the musical styles required while on tour. Working with Beyonce took her around the globe, to every live TV show, and even to the White House. Reflecting on her time with Beyonce, she emphasized, “I definitely had a great school with Beyonce, because it’s a well-oiled machine, a major production. I paid attention to every single little thing that happened around me. You pick up little gems, ‘Oh, this is how it’s done.”

Nandi Bushell

Oh, the power of the internet! Nandi Bushell has a story to inspire young girls everywhere. Originating from South Africa and being brought up in the UK, Bushell started posting drum covers of rock songs. Her videos garnered recognition from rock legends such as Dave Grohl and Lenny Kravitz, and what followed was an epic drum battle with Dave Grohl during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Bushell was suddenly everywhere! She appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, joined the Foo Fighters in concert, and even performed at Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.

Bushell started playing the drums just as every child with musical curiosity does. Her fascination was sparked by watching a performance, specifically Ringo Starr and The Beatles’ playing “Hey Jude.” Her parents then gifted her a kit, and she started taking lessons with a drum instructor. Her story shows how anything is possible if you stick with what you love and put yourself out there! Check out the cover that sparked her drum battle with Dave Grohl here:

Senri Kawaguchi

Senri Kawaguchi is a Japanese jazz and fusion drummer given the name tekazuhime or “Princess of Many Strokes.” She started drumming at five after her father purchased her an electronic drum kit. Initially, she received local lessons, but her skills flourished when she began learning from acclaimed drum instructor Kozo Suganuma. Under his guidance, Kawaguchi started playing with prominent Japanese rock bands and musicians like Kyoji Yamamoto and Tetsuo Sakurai. By the age of 13, she was placed on Drummerworld’s list of top 500 drummers.

Lauren Young

Lauren Young’s drum career started by accident. When she forgot her permission slip to join the elementary school band’s string section, she took up percussion instead. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to her, as it led to discovering a newfound passion. Influenced by her parents’ love for Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, Lauren looked up to Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. Like Bushell, Young started posting videos online and now has over 100k followers on Instagram.

On her website, she states, “I am a drummer – it is what I do, it is what I desire, it is my passion. Watching and learning from such amazing professionals inspires me to be the best version of me each and every day.”

Sina Drums

Born in 1999 in Marburg, Germany, Sina comes from a musical background, with her mother being a pianist and her father a professional live and studio musician. At two years old, she joined her father on a Beatles Tribute Band tour across Europe. When she turned 10, Sina started drumming after her father purchased a kit for his studio. She picked it up to help him in studio sessions since it was his weakest instrument. Within a year, she mastered the drums and posted her first cover on YouTube, performing Dream Theater’s “Metropolis Pt. 1,” receiving great praise. She found that doing covers was the best way to learn the different styles of different drummers.

Eventually, Sina wanted to expand her skills, so she joined the Drummers Institute in Krefeld for a year of intense study while simultaneously working on original music projects. Over time, she has collaborated with numerous musicians and embarked on frequent tours, showcasing her incredible drumming abilities.

Danielle Haim

Danielle Haim might appear as the lead guitarist and vocalist for the pop-rock band Haim, but she is the group’s drummer in the studio (and sometimes on stage). Born in the San Fernando Valley, Danielle was introduced to music by her parents at a young age. But what many people do not know is that drums was actually Danielle’s first instrument! Her father introduced her to the drums at the age of four. Haim consists of Danielle and her two sisters, Este and Alana.

Their 2020 album “Women In Music Pt. III” was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2020 Grammy Awards, further solidifying their status as one of the most successful all-girl bands of their generation. Check out Danielle’s drumming while singing in the video below!

The Female Drummers of the Past

There would not be such a stellar present if it were not for the remarkable women who paved the way. The following women were trailblazers in the music industry, establishing a standard that commanded respect from music fans and critics. It is time to honor and celebrate the contributions of past female drummers.

Viola Smith (1930s)

Viola Smith is the perfect place to start when looking into the past. Born in 1912, Viola is considered the first professional jazz drummer. She was named the “fastest girl drummer in the world” during the swing era and published an editorial in Downbeat Magazine, “Give Girl Musicians a Break!” Which urged orchestras to hire female musicians. She participated in The Hour of Charm, which was an all-girl orchestra. She was ahead of her time and paved the way for the following women.

Meg White (2000s)

Meg White

People often criticized Meg White for her simple playing style, but it seemed to be just what the White Stripes needed. Born in Michigan in 1974, Meg White started playing the drums “on a whim” after meeting up-and-coming musician Jack Gillis in 1997. Despite winning six Grammy Awards and earning recognition as one of the greatest drummers of all time, criticism persisted. White acknowledges, “I appreciate other kinds of drummers who play differently, but it’s not my style or what works for this band. I get [criticism] sometimes, and I go through periods where it really bothers me… but I realized that this is what is really needed for this band.”

Her success, despite the critiques, is just another reminder to keep doing what you love. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes continues to be a favorite amongst young drum students to learn. Check it out below!

Cindy Blackman (1990s)

Cindy Blackman is probably one of the coolest ladies on the list. Hailing from Ohio, she is a jazz and rock drummer who attended the Berklee College of Music. She recalls taking one look at a drum kit and knowing it was her destiny: “Just looking at them struck something in my core, and it was completely right from the second I saw them.” After playing around New York for a bit, Blackman was flown out to Los Angeles by Lenny Kravitz and went on to work with him for an impressive 18 years.

Currently married to the legendary Carlos Santana, Blackman shares advice for female musicians: “In the past, there were a lot of stigmas attached to women playing certain instruments. Any woman, or anyone facing race prejudice, weight prejudice, hair prejudice… if you let somebody stop you because of their opinions, then the only thing you are doing is hurting yourself. I don’t want to give somebody that power over me.”

Sandy West (1970s)

Sandy West

If you are unfamiliar with the 1970s all-girl rock band The Runaways, now is the time to check them out. Sandy West, their drummer, was born in 1959 in Long Beach, California, and started the band with Joan Jett at the age of 15. Her grandfather gifted her a drum kit at nine years old, and her love of rock music blossomed immediately. Want to experience West’s musical prowess? Give a listen to The Runaways’ popular song “Cherry Bomb.”

Mercedes Lander (2000s)

Hoping to find a woman in a heavy metal band on the list? Here she is! Mercedes Lander founded the heavy metal band “Kittie” at just 12 years old in Canada. Their first album sold 1.5 million copies worldwide, and they have gone on to play at the best metal festivals in the world. When asked about Lander, Steve Thomson (Guns and Roses, Korn) said, “I’ve worked with a lot of rock bands in the guy department that couldn’t hold a coin to Mercedes style and timing. I mean it is very rare when you can work with a drummer who doesn’t require a click track.”

Samantha Maloney (2000s)

Samantha Maloney

Samantha Maloney has a drumming career that most drummers would envy. Born in the 1970s in New York City, she began her drumming journey at five and never looked back. Enrolling at Fiorella H. Laguardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts, she studied percussion. Maloney auditioned for various drumming opportunities in the city and secured a permanent spot with her first band, Shift. Following a successful stint with Shift, Maloney transitioned to join Hole, where she embarked on an international tour. Hole took a break, and Maloney was offered to be the drummer for Motley Crue after their drummer Randy Castillo was diagnosed with Cancer. Maloney’s versatility allowed her to jump around to many different bands. She went on to join more metal and punk bands (Eagles of Death Metal, Peaches) and has had significant success in all areas.

Moe Tucker (1970s)

Born in 1944 in New York City, Moe Tucker is one of the main reasons The Velvet Underground had such a distinct sound. Her unorthodox approach to playing the drums was admired by her peers in the 1970s punk rock scene. Her unique approach included playing while standing up, upending the bass drum, and using mallets instead of drumsticks to create a softer tone! Her style focused on rhythmic patterns and keeping a deliberate steadiness.

Linda Ann McDonald (2000s)

Linda Ann McDonald

Linda Ann McDonald is a self-taught drummer born in Montana. She is the drummer of the all-female tribute band The Iron Maidens and a past member of the Ozzy Osbourne tribute band The Little Dolls. Although self-taught, McDonald leaned into her education by attending the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood and the Dick Grove School of Music in the San Fernando Valley.

Karen Carpenter (1970s)

Born in 1950, Karen Carpenter was an American drummer who achieved fame as half of the renowned band The Carpenters alongside her brother Richard Carpenter. Karen was both the drummer and singer of the band. She felt most comfortable behind the drum kit and called herself “the drummer who sang.” Despite struggles in their personal lives, the duo produced 17 top 20 hits during the 70s and 80s and won 3 Grammy Awards. Karen’s talent continues to be admired by music enthusiasts.

Sheila E (1980s)

Sheila E

Creating a list of influential female drummers would be complete by mentioning Sheila E. Born in Oakland, California, in 1957, Sheila E is one of the most highly regarded female percussionists in contemporary music. Emerging from a family of renowned Latin percussionists, her early exposure to Latin and jazz genres created a robust musical foundation that resonated throughout her adult life. Sheila E is mainly recognized for her work with the iconic Prince, particularly her contributions to “Purple Rain.” This collaboration elevated her to a different stratosphere and paved the way for a flourishing solo career.

Whether from the past or present, the remarkable women on this list are to be admired and applauded for their impactful contributions to music and for breaking free from the expectations imposed on female musicians. There is no such thing as being too loud or too expressive when embracing your creativity. Music provides the freedom to be whoever one chooses; these extraordinary female drummers are a testament to that. Whether you are a mother looking to pick up an instrument later in your life, or a young girl eager to embark on your musical journey, the time to pursue it is now.

The more women engage and excel in drumming, the more it feels like an inevitable return home, a harmonious reunion that is long overdue. In the words of Karen Carpenter, “I picked up a pair of sticks, and it was the most natural-feeling thing I’ve ever done.” While women’s involvement in drumming may be gradual and steady, its growth is of great importance and essentiality. Driven by the need to challenge existing norms and redefine what is deemed “acceptable,” women have constantly emerged as society’s trailblazers. In the name of empowerment, female drummers continue to pave a way towards a more inclusive and diverse musical landscape.

Author: Madison

Madison is a singer/songwriter born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender & Women’s Studies with a concentration in Media and Communications. As an independent recording artist, her music has received critical acclaim from the likes of EARMILK and Wonderland Magazine. Apart from her involvement with Ensemble Performing Arts, Madison performs shows across California.



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