I’ve come to realize there are key ingredients to making the perfect, most delicious, rise-up-and-dance-the-night-away drum grooves and solos. And I’ve also come to realize that Emmanuelle Caplette, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Jordan West are the queens of this kingdom.

From Caplette’s ghost notes and 30-note linear licks to Carrington’s perfect drumrolls intertwined with composed rudimental grooves to West’s waves of paradiddles played over the whole kit, each and every technique these drummers use creates a unique sound and feel. Technical ability is definitely the concept that links these three incredible drummers together, but the phrase itself is kind of ambiguous. What do we mean when we talk about “technical ability?” How many notes do you have to squeeze into a bar? How fast does one have to be? Do you Moeller? For me the answer to this question is centred around two things: stick control, and the ability to sound like a full rhythm section.

Many drummers have incredible stick control, and it was impossible to narrow it down to just three drummers using only this as a guideline. That’s why we added the quality of making one drum set sound like a full percussion section. We’re not just talking about an incredible jazz/funk/session soloist—even though those drummers are insanely brilliant—but someone who, if you close your eyes, sounds like it could be five people playing at once.


Emmanuelle Caplette

One of Emanuelle Caplette’s most prevalent techniques is her use of ghost noting. But unlike some naff 1930’s Boris Karloff horror flick, we never want Caplette’s ghosting to end—it’s utterly delightful. Her playing sounds to me like there are three people playing maracas underneath the accents of the snare. This signature groove style could be the reason why Caplette is one of our modern day technical drumming heroes. Her use of rudiments and strategic mixing of the bell and bow of her ride cymbal lends to a full samba feel, as does the nice use of quarter-notes on the hi-hat foot. These things are best demonstrated in the solo within this video at the 3:06 mark. Caplette’s setup goes hand and hand with her remarkable playing style. On her Sonor kit, she has one 10” x 7” mounted tom, two floor toms (13” x 12” and 14” x 13”), and an array of Sabian cymbals, which helps fill out that sonic space of a big percussion section.


Terri Lyne Carrington

As a jazz drummer, the signature piece of Terri Lyne Carrington’s kit are her cymbals. She plays Zildijan, usually the K series mixed with two or three Constantinoples. She also plays one of the most tightly tuned snares I’ve ever heard, which contrasts nicely with rim clicks and the lower tones of the toms. I’ve always been drawn to her technique, which creates thunderous waves of sound. There is something incredible about her use of dynamics and the way she applies ghosting, rudiments, and the use of each part of her kit with utter appreciation and awareness for every inch of its varied sounds. You can see this in the video above, as well as her smooth double-stroke rolls and snare accents. Her band is incredible here, but I’d also be perfectly happy to just hear Carrington’s full sound on her own.


Jordan West

When a drummer uses a hybrid setup, there’s even more chance she’s going to sound like a full five-piece band. Jordan West is one such player, but she is able to get a full sound even without heavily relying on the electronic side of her Ludwig/Roland combo. Her application of techniques like Latin rhythms in 6/8, paraddidles, and the Steve Gadd flutter lick (learn how to do it yourself in the video above) all contribute to her sound. If paradiddling is your thing, then this is the woman to tune into. Her use of inverted, double, single, flam paradiddles are something to aspire to. I believe that any paradiddle played well around a drum set can make one person sound like many, especially with bass drum, cymbals, etc. West also uses vocals and loops to create her sonic tapestry of music whilst laying down some complicated rhythms, to boot. And, like our previous two examples, you can hear and see that West is big on ghost notes and rudiments.