May is International Drum Month. What a perfect follow-up to International Guitar Month in April!
Everyone has their favorite drummers. The most talented are indisputable: John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Roger Taylor of Queen, Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Neil Peart (RIP) of Rush, Taylor Hawkins (RIP) of Foo Fighters, Phil Collins, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Sheila E, Meg White, and many others. Some songs just have an intriguing driving or tribal beat that makes you tap your fingers, sway your body, and nod your head; you feel compelled to get out on the dance floor—and you might never know the name of that drummer.
Drums have been around for millennia and can be found in the earliest remnants of every culture. Anthropology and evolutionary biology have discovered that there is a scientific reason why humans love drumming.
Humans are a social species, and we love a good beat. Compared to other species, we love to gather in groups, whether for joyful or unhappy reasons. Scientists have determined that the sound of drums alerts our senses and triggers the need to move our bodies. This is a common reaction you may be familiar with if you’ve ever been to a concert or dance club where the bass is especially thick.
It is a rare event in archaeology to find an artifact that has such a universal role in creating emotions drawing attention and rhythm to an important event. Drums are held in such reverence, above and beyond other instruments, that many cultures still require that they not be treated as mere objects, including many First Nations people in Canada.
Archaeologists have determined that the drum and the dancing it inspires served a common purpose of bringing people together. Historically, drum circles are a common site across human societies, ranging from group gatherings in post-plague, medieval Europe, to war dances in multiple cultures.
There are many different kinds of drums. The most common are the acoustic drums found in most modern musical groups from rock to pop to indie to jazz. There are conga and bongo drums of Afro-Cuban origin, numerous African drums like djembe, udu, soukos, and many others. There are steel drums, timpani, handheld drums (tambourines), foot drums, gongs, and more. My bucket playlist below contains several songs from a variety of cultures such as African, Brazilian, Cuban, and others, but it consists primarily of more well-known rock, pop, and indie groups that would work well in the cycling studio. If you want to explore all kinds of drumming in your ride, I suggest you Google different drumming cultures and search on Spotify.
If you are creative and have a committed group of riders who like to be exposed to something different, you may even want to explore the possibility of adding a famous jazz song like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (those soft snare drum strokes!) or even a symphony classic such as Ravel’s “Bolero.” In the 15 minutes it takes to perform “Bolero,” the snare drummer plays 4050 beats, all within a repetitive unchanging pattern repeated 169 times. I’ve used “Bolero” in a cycling class, and it was amazing. But it requires a dedicated, patient group of riders who trust you.
Before I give you the bucket playlist with 155 great drumming songs, let me share with you some of my favorites along some of the more well-known drumming songs.
Let’s get the most obvious song out of the way, one that I am 99% sure you are going to put in your drumming celebration playlist…
In fact, I’m willing to bet if all the cycling instructors around the world were to put together a playlist with killer drum songs, the vast majority would include this song…and they would be right! I know it will be in my playlist.
In The Air Tonight, Phil Collins, 5:36, 96 bpm
I don’t care who you are, no matter where you are, the moment you hear this song, your ears perk up and you wait in anticipation for that moment…and when those drums begin, you feel a chill of complete awe come over you. When this song comes on in your cycling class, you will see smiles spread across your riders’ faces and perhaps a hand pump or two or a “YES!” emerging from the group of riders. When I use this track, I do not talk. I tell the class just prior to the start of the song that they are going to ride in silence. I ask them to break from the beat and ride somewhere between 60 and 80 rpm (half of 96 bpm would be a cadence of 48 rpm—far too slow necessitating too much resistance, and the song does not have the feel of a high-cadence effort at 96 rpm). I ask them to stay seated until that moment.* Then they can stand if they want for as long as they want.
*The drum solo starts at different times depending on the version you have. In this YouTube official music video, it begins at 3:15. In the remastered version on Spotify, it begins at 3:41.
Keep Yourself Alive, Queen, 3:48, 138 bpm
Listen to that drum solo at 2:13! And the rest of the time, just climb…
Take It Off, The Donnas, 2:41, 159 bpm
Let’s hear it for female drummers! Tori Castellano is pounding the drums in this high-energy track. The faster tempo encourages a higher-cadence 80 rpm effort at a high intensity.
Tom Sawyer, Rush, 4:36, 88 rpm
Incredible band, incredible drumming—which is why I’m posting it here—but IMHO, not the easiest song to ride in a cycling class unless you and your riders are deeply avid Rush fans—which is certainly a high probability. Especially if you are from Canada.
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac, 3:30, 90 bpm
This track is such a perfect song for the cycling studio. I love using it for a seated high-cadence interval. Here’s some fun trivia…did you know the band you hear in the recording is the USC Trojan marching band? They recorded it live at Dodge Stadium in June of 1979, led by USC drum major Rodney Davis. The music video was one of the first shown on MTV when the network first aired in 1981.
You Wreck Me, Tom Petty, 3:23, 83 bpm
Tom Petty songs often find their way into my cycling playlists; one reason is the driving drums that help you turn the pedals. Especially in this song, which I often use for short FTP tests or VO2 max (ouch!) intervals. Shout out to Steve Ferrone, Tom Petty’s drummer.
The Strong Rhythm, Manaca, Chus & Ceballos, 7:48, 126 bpm
Not all good drumming songs are headbangers—tribal rhythms make for phenomenal tracks in the cycling studio. Just like the lyrics of this song say, this song has a strong rhythm. The voice invites you to “release yourself” to the tribal beat, which begins at 1:30…and then it doesn’t let go of you for the next 6 minutes. (There is also a 9-minute version of this song. Search Manaca and Chus & Ceballos on whatever streaming service you use for more tribal sounds.)
Drumm Fever, Drummboys, 2:39, 142 bpm
This Brazilian rhythm track invites you to dig in for a hard push for the full length of the song. Use it for an above-threshold interval.
The End, The Beatles, 2:21, 125 bpm
Here are some great drums for a recovery song of just over 2 minutes. Make sure to dissociate from the beat.
Moby Dick, Led Zeppelin, 4:20, 95 bpm
There are many Led Zeppelin songs with driving drums in my bucket playlist, but this track is truly unique; it might be the only time you will ever use a song in a cycling class quite like this. But, oh boy, those drums in the middle! Ride moderate to hard for the first minute at 95 rpm, and then again for the final 20 seconds, start to pick it back up. But for a full 3 minutes from 1:00 to 3:58, you’ll ride easy and recover while you just listen to the drums. How do you make this work? You put a hard-driving song before this one so that you earn that recovery. The minute at the beginning of this song can either be at the same high intensity or slightly step down. Then, add another hard interval immediately after this song. Use the final 20 seconds to start building up intensity before the next track starts.
African Drums (Album)
Here is an album with 38 songs of varying length that you can use to add more of an international flair to your drumming playlist. They represent different kinds of drums from different African nations. Some of them would work well as short recovery songs.
Played-Alive (The Bongo Song), Safri Duo, 6:45, 138 bpm
The Danish duo of Safri Duo have been a favorite in cycling studios around the world since 2000, and you would often hear their unique electronic, drum-driven sounds belting out at Spinning conferences. They are so amazing that you have to see them perform live, so I am giving you both the Spotify link and a YouTube video of this song live. Just have fun with this song (or any of their songs)—most are at a tempo perfect for a vigorous climb. Many of their tracks take a short energy break midway in the track, giving you a perfect opportunity to recover while climbing.
And don’t forget Afro Celt Sound System, they have a bunch of drum /rhythm songs. A few that I play regularly – Whirl-Y-Reel 2, Lovers of Light, When You’re Falling (with Peter Gabriel !)
absolutely Joe! I could have sworn that I had ACSS in my bucket drum playlist but looks like I didn’t, so thanks for the reminder—I’ll add all of these. I did put the song “Release” in my “dump file” that I created to select for my ride for next week (which I’ll put on ICA when I get it done). I love the drums in “Release”!
My “dump file” is that in-between playlist where I put the songs I want to consider for my profile, so instead of choosing from over 150 songs, I’m only choosing from 30-ish songs.
I have that same dump file, lol. I even have one labeled “looking for a spot” Haha!