It’s pretty rare to see a drummer singing lead, particularly when on stage, but just how practical actually is it? In this article I’ll be addressing why the challenges associated with singing and drumming at the same time, and give you some examples of musicians who have done just that!
The Quick Answer
It is possible to be a lead singer and drummer in a band, however it can be difficult to do during a live performance as it is very challenging both physically and mentally. Since the drums are so loud, it can also be difficult to prevent sound bleed into the vocalists microphone on stage.
Why Drumming and Lead Singing is Difficult
It is rare to find a drummer that is also a vocalist in the band because it is hard to both sing and keep the beat at the same time. It can also be hard to get good sound quality when performing live if the lead singer is also the drummer.
4 Main Challenges:
- Keeping the beat and singing at the same time is difficult
- Drumming is physically exhausting which makes singing more challenging
- Drummers can’t move around the stage and perform the front-man role very well
- It is difficult from a sound engineering point on stage
Whilst singing and drumming at the same time presents an issue when performing live, it is not really a problem in the studio as both roles can be recorded separately. That’s why you’ll often see musicians who perform the vocals and play the drums on the album, decide to just perform the vocals on stage.
Singing and Keeping the Beat is Challenging
One of the most difficult things about singing lead and playing the drums at the same time is the fact that it involves mixing the percussive and melodic elements and trying to play them at the same time.
The drummer has a very specific role to keep the beat and time for the rest of the band, including the singer. If you have ever tried drumming and singing at the same time you’ll quickly realise how difficult it can be!
To counteract this, you’ll often find that the drumming is relatively simple as otherwise there is just too much going on.
Drumming is Physically Exhausting
Another issue with playing the drums and singing at the same time is that it can be very physically taxing at points.
The drums are a very physical instrument, particularly compared to the guitar, bass or keyboard. It’s not uncommon to see a drummer who is out of breath after a high energy sequence and this makes singing much more difficult.
To get the best vocal performance a singer should ideally be stood up and feel relaxed. These are two things that are very hard to do whilst drumming at the same time.
Drummers Can’t Move Around the Stage
Lead singers are typically classed as the front-man/ woman of the band. When on stage, they’ll move around, chat to the crowd and keep the energy up to make sure they’re putting on a good show for the audience.
Since drummers are sat at the back of the stage, masked by a huge drum kit and often placed behind a screen, it’s very difficult for them to perform this “front-person” role when performing live.
It’s often why you’ll see some lead singers and drummers just performing the vocals on stage and someone else will take over the drums for them.
The Sound Quality is Not Optimal
Getting the sound spot on when a band is playing live is very difficult. It requires a skilled sound engineer and top quality equipment to make sure that the balance of the different instruments is optimal and one instrument is not dominating the mix too much.
And that’s a big reason why drumming and lead singing is an incredibly difficult balancing act when performing live.
Drums are very loud and will bleed into the singer’s microphone quite easily. Unless you have access to the best equipment and sound engineers possible, it just doesn’t sound good live.
It can also be really hard for the drummer to hear themselves singing due to the volume of the other instruments around them.
Some professional musicians such as Phil Collins and Don Henley have played the drums and sang live, but it’s not uncommon to see a backup drummer taking their place whilst they focus on the vocals on stage.
Examples of Drummers who are also Lead Singers
Despite the challenges that drumming and singing at the same time present, there are plenty of professional musicians who have done just that.
It’s more common for a lead singer and drummer to just focus on the vocals whilst on stage and let a backup drummer take the reins, but it has been done before.
Phil Collins, Genesis
Phil Collins the lead vocalist and drummer of Genesis has been proving for decades that it’s possible to both sing and drum at the same time.
Although it’s more common to see Phil being the front-man on stage and a backup drummer taking over that side of things behind him, there are plenty of examples where he has done both on stage.
Check out this YouTube video to see Phil Collins drumming and singing at the same time whilst performing “In the Air Tonight”.
Don Henley, The Eagles
Don Henley is a talented guy and there are many examples of him singing and drumming at the same time on stage. Not only this but he’s also a songwriter, and can play the guitar and keyboard too. Check out this YouTube video of The Eagles performing “One of These Nights” live to see Don in action.
Levon Helm, The Band
Levon Helm fronts “The Band” and has both sang and played played the drums on several of their most famous songs including “Up on Cripply Creek”. Levon has stated on several interviews that he actually thinks that playing the drums at the same time as singing makes it easier!
Brian Chippendale, Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt consist of two band members and have a very experimental style. Brian Chippendale plays the drums and is the band’s vocalist and Brian Gibson plays the bass guitar primarily.
Karen Carpenter, The Carpenters
The Carpenters were made up of two band members who are also siblings. Karen Carpenter was both a drummer and lead singer, and her brother Richard Carpenter is best known for playing the keyboard and being the harmony vocalist.
Drummers are Usually Backing Vocalists
Given the challenges that drumming and singing at the same time presents, particularly when performing live, it’s more common to see a drummer performing as a backup vocalist.
This creates less issues with the sound quality but also allows the drummer to actually focus on the drums much more. This is much more practical particularly when either the drums or vocals for a song are particularly challenging.
Playing lead/ rhythm guitar and being the lead singer is much more common. This is because playing the guitar and singing at the same time is not as physically demanding or mentally draining as drumming. Some lead singers also play the keyboard and bass guitar for the same reasons.
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