Theme Ride Thursday: International Drum Month

May brings us International Drum Month, a perfect follow-up to April’s International Guitar Month! 

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, Sheila E, Meg White, and many others. Some songs 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.

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. 

Drums come in many different sizes and shapes. The most common are the acoustic drums found in modern musical groups from rock to pop to indie to jazz. There are conga and bongo drums of Afro-Cuban origin, and 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 numerous songs from various cultures including African, Brazilian, Cuban, and others. However, it consists primarily of more well-known rock, pop, and indie groups that work well in the cycling studio. 

For the creative minds who have a committed group of riders who like to be exposed to something different, you may even want to add a famous jazz song like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (those soft snare drum strokes are hypnotic!) or even a symphonic classic such as Ravel’s “Bolero.” In the 15 minutes it takes to perform “Bolero,” the snare drummer plays 4,050 beats, all within a repetitive, unchanging pattern repeated 169 times that gradually but slowly builds to a crescendo. When I played “Bolero” in my cycling class, it was a truly amazing experience, but it requires a dedicated, patient group of riders who trust you. I don’t think you could pull it off with a group of riders who don’t know you well.

I invite you to pull out my ready-made drumming profile, “Pedal and Percussion: Climbing to the Rhythm.” It was a massive hit with my riders when I first introduced it, and I can’t wait to use it again this year. Using this profile will save you hours—much of which (if you’re anything like me) would be spent lamenting that you only have 60 minutes (or 50 or 45) and have to limit the amazing drumming songs you can use!

Before I give you the bucket playlist with over 180 great drumming songs, let me share with you some of my favorites.

Let’s get the most obvious song out of the way, one that I am 99.99% sure you will put in your drumming celebration playlist. Of course, it’s in my Pedal and Percussion playlist!

In The Air Tonight, Phil Collins, 5:36, 96 bpm
Experience the iconic drum solo that sends shivers down your spine. Let the anticipation build as you ride in silence, waiting for that defining moment to unleash your energy. When the first note of this song comes on in your cycling studio, smiles will spread across your riders’ faces; you might even see a hand pump or two or hear a resounding “YES!” emerging from the group. Ask your riders to dissociate from the beat and ride between 60 and 80 rpm; suggest they stay seated until that moment.* Then they can stand as desired for as long as desired.

*The drum solo starts at different times depending on the version you’re using. 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
Celebrate the prowess of female drummers with Tori Castellano’s energetic performance. The tempo and energy of this track encourage a higher-cadence 80 rpm effort at a high intensity.

Tom Sawyer, Rush, 4:36, 88 rpm
Incredible band with incredible drumming—which is why I’m posting it here—but IMHO, it’s 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 if rock is your jam. Especially if you are from Canada.

Tusk, Fleetwood Mac, 3:30, 90 bpm
This track is the quintessential song for the cycling studio. My preference is to use it for a seated high-cadence interval. Here’s some fun trivia…did you know the band in the recording is the USC Trojan marching band? They recorded it live at Dodger 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
Feel the driving force of the drums propel you through intense intervals, courtesy of the legendary Steve Ferrone. I often use this track for short FTP tests or VO2 max (ouch!) intervals. 

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—from that point forward, ask your riders to surrender to the beat. (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 
Great drums for a recovery song of just over 2 minutes. (Make sure to dissociate from the beat.)

Below you will find a few more suggestions of some of our favorite drum songs (including my all-time favorite) and what to do to them in your classes, plus our drumming bucket playlist with ~180 songs perfect for your drumming-focused ride.


  1. 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 !)

    1. Author

      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.

      1. I have that same dump file, lol. I even have one labeled “looking for a spot” Haha!

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