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In a band, there will be many guitarists. However, there will always be only one drummer. Why can't there be more than one drummer in a band? Are there any cultural or musical reasons behind it or that's just the way things are?

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You can look at it this way, a guitarist can only play one guitar and one guitar part at a time while a drummer plays multiple drums and percussion instruments at the same time including bass, snare, high-hat, toms, floor, cymbals, and sometimes other percussion instrument (like cowbell). –  Dom Apr 21 at 14:43
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OMG someone who never heard of The Allman Brothers Band! Moving rather far afield: take a look at the number of drummers (and percussionists) in a typical marching band., –  Carl Witthoft Apr 21 at 14:45
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Not true, some bands have several drummers, even in "rock" like Combichrist or Slipknot, but you'll notice that there is often a "standard" drummer (snare, cymbals, kick) and additional percutionnists (that often play bassy drums like toms). –  Julien N Apr 21 at 15:28
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@Carl - most marching band members find it hard to balance a whole drumkit whilst on the move ! –  Tim Apr 21 at 15:50
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The new line-up of King Crimson will feature three drummers! –  No'am Newman Apr 22 at 5:36

11 Answers 11

This is not always true. While most bar bands have this set up, if you go to many large concerts (for instance the Eagles concert tour), you will often find many percussionists working simultaneously.

But on average, and for most typical bands, I'd say you're correct. And while I can't give a scientific reason, I can give my general opinions and at no charge. But to sum my opinions up, I think it has mostly to do with an issue of competing within the same musical space.

  • Musical space:
    • It is easier to have multiple guitars adding to a song and not conflicting with each other, for instance with one playing lead, the other rhythm, or two rhythm guitarists playing at different timbres, rhythms, pre-amp and amp settings, different mic'ing, or one being capo'd and the other un-capo'd.
    • If you add bass to the guitar mix, then this is also obviously true.
    • It be hard to have two drum sets and not have them compete in the same sound space.
    • That being said, it wouldn't be a problem if one drummer were playing one type of set and another using a different set of percussion instruments.
  • Rhythm:
    • If one guitar is slightly rhythmically off from another, it's not as big a deal, since the backbone of the rhythm is usually provided by bass and drums.
    • Not so if you have more than one drum set.
  • Availability:
    • Guitarists, especially your average rhythm guitarists, are common and thus are easy to find (although very good rhythm guitarists are worth their weight in gold)
    • Drummers are less easy to find, and a decent drum kit may cost more and certainly has the added hassle of being cumbersome to transport and set up.
    • This is why at most "jam sessions" I've been to, I often play with 5 to 10 rhythm guitarists and one bass and drum if we're lucky.
  • Physical Space:
    • A guitar player takes up a relatively small amount of space
    • While a drummer with a full set takes up a lot.
    • In a small bar with a tight stage, this makes a difference.

Edit
I have to add a link nicely provided by Bradd Szonye that lists bands that use double drummers, that is two drummers playing their own full kits: Double Drumming Band List.

Thank you Bradd!

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Good answer. FYI, Wikipedia has a list of bands with multiple drummers. Some of them regularly use multiple drummers, others only for touring, and some only for specific pieces. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 21 at 23:50
    
@BraddSzonye: thanks for the info and the great link. I wonder how many use 2 drummers both with distinct full drum sets. If they did, I think that they would have to carefully choreograph their playing so as not to step on each other. I know that I have to struggle to do that myself, so that my keyboard is distinct and complementary to our guitar players. –  Hovercraft Full Of Eels Apr 21 at 23:52
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You'd need to check out the individual band pages for details. For example, the Allman Brothers regularly use double drummers; King Crimson and Modest Mouse have both used double drummers in some of their lineups (but not all); Radiohead uses double drummers only for touring. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 21 at 23:55
    
@BraddSzonye: I hope you don't mind that I incorporated your information as an edit to my answer. Again, thanks! –  Hovercraft Full Of Eels Apr 22 at 0:05
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Also Noise level, It is hard enough with just one drum kit to get anything apart from the drums in the vocal mikes, unless you got a big stage and/or a cage to put the drummer in. –  Ian Ringrose Apr 22 at 8:14

I can certainly explain why there aren't many rock bands with multiple drummers.

Because every garage band practices in the drummer's garage.

The drummer can't fit the drum set in the back of his mom's Celica, so everyone else else comes over to his house. Plus, even when the van is working, it's a pain to lug the set around. Much easier with guitars and such.

If you had two drummers, whose house would you practice at?

So even when a garage band hits it big, big enough to afford a permanent practice space, they are used to having a single drummer. Their fans are used to them with a single drummer. All the music they know is arranged for a single drummer. They only need one drummer. They only have the one drummer.

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True, but lots of drummers have two or more drum kits in their garage anyway (at least one acoustic, one electronic). And drummers generally aren't as fussy about using somebody else's instruments as guitarists are, so It wouldn't be too much of a problem for another drummer to come over. –  leftaroundabout Apr 22 at 8:37
    
@leftaroundabout I agree on a certain level but I myself as a drummer am very protective of my gear most drummers take a lot of pride and care of the drum kits it depends on how sentimental the kit is for the drummer. –  Nathan Taylor Jun 16 at 11:33

Apart from the fact that one drummer can produce enough volume to compete with guitarists, even with a big rig,every sound he produces on the drums, and even on the hi-hat, is a short sound. With two drummers, each 'note' they play will have to be timed more accurately than, say, chords on a guitar.This should be easy to accomplish, but my experience says that I've played with more drummers who wander with timing than those who keep an accurate beat. That's not to say every song has to be regimented and exactly the same tempo all through, but with two drummers, the chance of them speeding up or slowing down, even a little, together, is quite small.

If you've played with drummers, you'll know how much stage space they occupy.

I guess the OP is talking about two drumkits, rather than several percussionists, which is not an unusual line-up.

And... there are lots of bands with only one, sometimes two guitarists. Not many have many - playing at the same time. More than two often means parts are being played identically, for no gain musically.

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I can only think of two rock-oriented bands with two drummers: The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead. In both cases, as I understand it, there's one drummer (Bill Kreutzmann for the Dead, Butch Trucks for the ABB) who is primarily responsible for the timekeeping and another (Mickey Hart, Jaimoe) who focus more on providing flourishes and a greater rhythmic complexity.

(At least, that's how I understand it; I'm a guitarist, so if you played me Live Dead or Fillmore and said there's one drummer, I'd believe it.)

(Just thought of a third: Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. When I saw their live show on PBS, it featured Shiela E., who played when Ringo was a front man, and Ringo played when Shiela did her songs. For her main song, "Glamorous Life", she played percussion on a stand-up kit, as always. So, not the same thing.)

In general, you aren't going for that much rhythmic complexity, which is why you don't often see it.

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So, with Ringo's band there was only one drummer at one time. And Ringo wasn't even the best drummer in the Beatles... –  Tim Apr 23 at 6:03
    
Let's not bash on Ringo. –  VarLogRant Apr 23 at 14:11
    
'Twas not I who coined the phrase... –  Tim Apr 23 at 14:15
    
It was Paul. I know. –  VarLogRant Apr 23 at 14:17
    
And he was the best bassist...I think. –  Tim Apr 23 at 14:25

While many other valid points have been made here, IMHO it all comes down to LOUDNESS.

The signature tones of rock n roll guitar--distortion and overdrive--are said to have originated because early electric guitarists had to "max out" their primitive amplifiers in order to be heard over the drumset. Yelling and screaming as "vocal styles" likely evolved in a similar fashion.

An average drummer and drumkit alone can easily play at levels in excess of what is considered "safe" (i.e. non-damaging) for the human ear. This is compounded by the fact that snare drums and cymbals produce a broad swath of frequencies all at once, which masks other sounds (this is why some people use "white noise" machines to help them sleep).

Modern amps and sound systems are better able to "keep up" than they were 50 years ago, so even a three-piece (bass/guitar/drums) with cheap gear can achieve ear-shattering levels long before they "turn up to 11." With vocals (or instruments that require mics) you've got the added challenge of amplifying acoustic signals over the drums without causing feedback.

If you've ever seen an "unplugged" show, you may have noticed the drummer using "dowel sticks" (bundles of small wood or plastic rods bound together) or brushes of some sort to avoid overpowering everything else. This is also the reason you often see those plexiglass shields around drummers in some venues (they are not bulletproof!).

I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but in general: you have to be on a big stage, in a pretty large venue, outdoors, or have SERIOUS hearing protection (or major hearing LOSS!) -- PLUS have big trucks and top-notch performers -- before multiple drumkits actually sound like a good idea.

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Bands like the Doobie Brothers and The Allman Brothers did (do?) have two drummers.

One reason is that drums are, largely, one-dimensional musically speaking - they provide only rhythm without pitch. Guitars can provide both. So you can do more with guitars, like having a background rhythm with one while a more lead part with the other, e.g., listen to the intro in the Eagles' "One of these Nights." Or listen to the intro in Derek and the Domino's "Layla" - you'll hear one guitar playing the chord (or it could be only fifths) progression with Eric playing that classic lead lick.

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Ouch! If you really think percussionists (even w/ a semi-standard rock drum kit) don't produce pitch,you aren't listening! Snare, tenor, trap, bass drums produce radically different pitches. –  Carl Witthoft Apr 21 at 20:02

I can't believe no one has mentioned Adam and the Ants.

It's simple logistics, there are brazillions of guitar players, a lot of bass players and a handful of drummers in most localities. (A decent drummer, who has their own van is gold dust) Any good drummer is usually in more than one band.

Also, most material is written by the guys at the front who formed the band in the first place. It's sort of hard to write a song drums first.

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"It's sort of hard to write a song drums first." Disapproves. –  Malvolio Apr 22 at 18:40
    
I didn't say it was impossible. Mr Collins doesn't come up with melodies at the drum kit though. –  sanepete May 27 at 13:31
    
As I drummer myself I totally agree with you. I have been in two bands for at least two years now and throughout that time I have dabbled and been asked to play in countless other bands, drummers (good quality, diverse drummers) are hard to come by in this day and age. –  Nathan Taylor Aug 22 at 9:07

The question specifically addresses culture, so... here goes.

Drums are complicated and cumbersome. Keyboardists and guitarists are more portable and greater in number. Culturally, this can lead to friction with drummers (see Pete Best, etc) as drummers are often known for being... well, they like to be in control, because technically they set the beat and, thus, are in control. In every band I've known this has led to personality issues with rock band drummers. So, if one is difficult to deal with, who would want 4?

Rock traditionally doesn't have more than one drummer. But there's more out there than stoner rock bands like Allman Brothers. Big Pig, a band popular for a stint in the 90s, had 21 drummers! The Talking Heads have toured with a cavalcade of drummers, at one time featuring at least 13 percussionists on stage. The Creatures, basically just Siouxsie and Budgie, toured with other drummers as their music was very tribal.

Now, with synths and beats and djs, there's even less need for drummers. The last Creatures show I went to, for example, was JUST Siouxsie and Budgie and a handful of synths. For a lot of EDM which is very beat driven, there's no drummer at all.

Sheila E often used to perform with her father and his band, which also featured several drummers. Other bands, like Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Santana, have featured several drummers. So yes, it's cultural - on a variety of levels.

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Musically, I think the reason is...

Guitarists provide different things: rhythm (bass and rhythm guitar), harmony (rhythm guitar) and melody (mostly solo guitar). Also, we need bass and rhythm guitar because of different pitch they provide.

Drums provide only one thing: rhythm. Other percussion instruments (like congos in Latin music) add to that, but it's still only rhythm, with a little bit of tone. [EDIT: drummers don't hate me. This is too simplified, of course.]

(LATER) I saw that Randy had the same idea. BTW, Randy, saw a Cream DVD lately and wonder how do they work it out with only a lead guitar and no rhythm guitar. (Of course many other great bands did and do.)

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This is interesting although it would mainly be down to personal Opinion/ preference there are many bands that have more than one Drummer/ percussionists and it seems to work. and its not specific to one genre either. the band slipknot uses a drummer and two other percussionists which provides a lot of diversity in the way of drumming. (that's in my opinion) but I think the problem with having multiple drummers is the difficulty to keep time with each other it is much easier for guitarists to keep in time with each other than it is for drummers to hit at the exact same time.

Also the space on stage would have to be dramatically increased to support such bands, and practice rooms generally only have one drum kit in each room and more rarely have space for another. although I love the thought of two drummers in a band it would be quite hard for them to get along in terms of timing and space. There's also a financial strain on bands with one drummer alone in terms of transport and storage and so on never mind two, so I guess that's why you don't see many bands with more than one drummer.

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For shame.

You have all overlooked (the) Melvins.

Dale Crover and Coady Willis.

If you don't know, you should look into this.

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We're talking two bona fide drummers. No supplemental percussionism going on here. –  Jason P Sallinger Oct 15 at 7:34

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