What Makes Ringo Starr a Great Drummer: Demonstrations from a German Teenager & Ringo Himself

The ques­tion of whether or not Ringo Starr is a great rock drum­mer — maybe one of the great­est– seems more or less set­tled among drum­mers. “From the sim­plis­tic heavy-hit­ting of Dave Grohl, to the pro­gres­sive mind bend­ing of Mike Port­noy, and way beyond,” writes Stu­art Williams at Music Radar, “all roads lead back to Ringo.” Not only is Ringo “your favorite drummer’s favorite drum­mer,” but when he took the stage in 1964 on The Ed Sul­li­van Show, “you’d be hard-pushed to find anoth­er moment where one drum­mer inspired an entire gen­er­a­tion of kids and teenagers to pick up a pair of sticks and beg their par­ents to buy them a kit.”

There was lit­tle prece­dent for what he did in rock drum­ming even in the band’s ear­li­est years. Ringo helped change “the role of the drums from an ortho­dox, mil­i­tary and jazz-led dis­ci­pline into a more democ­ra­tised art form. If there was a blue­print for what drum­mers ‘did’ in rock ’n’ roll, Ringo’s approach widened it,” adds Music Radar. Much of his expan­sive vocab­u­lary was acci­den­tal, at least at first, a prod­uct of what Bea­t­les biog­ra­ph­er Bob Spitz calls a child­hood beset by “a Dick­en­sian chron­i­cle of mis­for­tune.”

Like many a ground­break­ing musi­cian, Ringo played at what might be con­sid­ered a phys­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage. He learned the drums in “the hos­pi­tal band,” he once said, while con­va­lesc­ing from tuber­cu­lo­sis. “My grand­par­ents gave me a man­dolin and a ban­jo, but I didn’t want them. My grand­fa­ther gave me a har­mon­i­ca… we had a piano — noth­ing. Only the drums.” Like Hen­drix, he was a lefty forced to adapt to a right-hand­ed ver­sion of the instru­ment, thus enlarg­ing what right- (and left) hand­ed drum­mers thought could be done with it.

As Ger­man drum­mer Sina demon­strates at the top of the post, Ringo’s unique style involves a great deal of sub­tle­ty, “tone, taste, musi­cal­i­ty, and that left-hand­ed drum­mer on a right-hand­ed kit reverse-fell tom-tom work,” writes Boing Boing. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Sina in a post in which great drum­mers pay trib­ute to Ringo. The daugh­ter of a musi­cian in Ger­man Bea­t­les trib­ute band the Sil­ver Bea­t­les, she shows off an unim­peach­able grasp of Star­r’s sig­na­ture moves.

In the clip above, Ringo him­self demon­strates his tech­nique on “Tick­et to Ride,” “Come Togeth­er,” and his high­est-chart­ing solo sin­gle “Back Off Booga­loo.” In explain­ing how he employed his most high­ly praised tal­ent — play­ing exact­ly what the song need­ed and no more — he shows how the drum pat­tern in the Abbey Road open­er came direct­ly from John’s vocals and Paul’s bass line. In “Tick­et to Ride,” he shows how he works from his shoul­der, pro­duc­ing a down­beat that’s slight­ly ahead.

Where do Ringo’s quirks come from, accord­ing to Ringo? “It has to do with swing,” he dead­pans, “or as we keep men­tion­ing, med­ica­tion.” More seri­ous­ly, he explains above in an inter­view with Conan O’Brien, he “leads with his left,” a lim­i­ta­tion that he turned into a musi­cal lega­cy on his favorite Bea­t­les drum moments and on every­one else’s.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Musi­cian Plays Sig­na­ture Drum Parts of 71 Bea­t­les Songs in 5 Min­utes: A Whirl­wind Trib­ute to Ringo Starr

How Can You Tell a Good Drum­mer from a Bad Drum­mer?: Ringo Starr as Case Study

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (8)
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  • James Drummer says:

    Oh, please. Ringo seems like a great guy, and I wish him all the best, but he’s a mediocre drum­mer.

    You could walk into any jazz bar in NYC any day of the week and find a bet­ter drum­mer.

  • Dan says:

    The body of work cre­at­ed by a group called the Bea­t­les was done in the eye of a hur­ri­cane with­out the ben­e­fit of sound mon­i­tors, a.k.a. they could not hear each oth­er play. Live at Hol­ly­wood Bowl, is a good exam­ple. Some­body was hold­ing all of that togeth­er, and that is Ringo Starr. Easy to com­ment on, but I guess you had to be present to under­stand it.

  • David says:

    When the Bea­t­les first arrived in the states, they held hun­dreds of inter­views.

    At one such inter­view, the band was asked is “Ringo, the great­est drum­mer in the world?”

    Not miss­ing a beat, Paul respond­ed and said “he’s not even the great­est drum­mer in the Bea­t­les!”

    Such quick wit, and the deep love the mem­bers had each oth­er in 1963–64.

    I could care less whether the lads were good musi­cians or not.

    They were cre­ative, inno­v­a­tive, made a door in the world and they said “fol­low us” and we did.

    I nev­er thought sny of the Bea­t­les were great musi­cians — what­ev­er they were changed the land­scape of music, life, clothes; and, when you lis­ten to one of their songs you feel hap­py and a bit gid­dy.

    No band, no, not one has done that since John, Paul, George and Ringo — first met.

  • Suprême god jesus says:

    Can you please tell ringo to stop pay­ing for these arti­cles, I know it’s hard to mon­e­tize online news sites but this a new low. I am unsure what is worse call­ing this jour­nal­ism or being so detached from real­i­ty to think that any­one cares about ringo’s drum­ming in 2021. Please find some­thing bet­ter to do with your time than pol­lut­ing the inter­net.

  • Tom says:

    That quote by Lennon say­ing Ringo is not the best drum­mer in the Bea­t­les is an urban leg­end. Nev­er hap­pened. Not even close.

  • shiloh says:

    Ringo was not a good drum­mer, he even strug­gled with time keep­ing, this arti­cle was con­jured no doubt to get rin­gos nod of approval, Ringo was not a good drum­mer peri­od. So please a wor­thy attempt to raise the bar, but lacks cred­i­bil­i­ty

  • Rich king says:

    I agree with the pre­vi­ous posts.he is mediocre at best put him in the same room with gin­ger Bak­er or Jon Bon­ham end of con­test…

  • Doug says:

    There used to be a site explain­ing why Ringo was a great drum­mer, one of the rea­sons it explained was his tem­po, he could lay down a drum track and when he played that track again the tem­po and what he did were exact­ly the same with­out a metronome, so a par­tial track from one take could be used on anoth­er tack because the tem­po was exact­ly the same.

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