The Legendary Drumming of Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl is a legendary icon in rock and grunge, the drummer of Nirvana, frontman for Foo Fighters, and also referred to as the ‘nicest guy in rock’.

Before we get into it, check out this great video by Drumeo about the genius of Dave Grohl:

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What Bands did Dave Grohl drum in?

Long before Nevermind catapulted Nirvana to worldwide acclaim, Dave Grohl was nervously twitching his thumbs as he waited to audition for the Scream, a local DC band that was on the up and up in the late 80s.

His impressive drumming skills and an innocent fib (he lied about his age because he was only 17) are all it took for him to make the cut. He went touring with Scream for four years before he auditioned for Nirvana and joined the band’s lineup in 1990.

While everyone knows Dave’s history with Nirvana, few people are aware that Grohl continued to play and perform as a drummer despite being heartbroken by the suicide of Cobain in ’94. That same year, he played session drums alongside Thurston Moore to record the music for a movie called Backbeat. The Backbeat OST won the BAFTA for Best Film Music that year.

Shortly after, he was invited to record drums for a track on Mike Watt’s debut solo album Ball-Hog or Tugboat. That album was a mish-mash of the who’s who of music, and it featured some big names like Eddie Vedder, Frank Black, George Clinton, Flea, Henry Rollins, and Pat Smear.

But in late ’94, Dave Grohl was trying to reinvent his life after the tragic departure of Cobain, and he fell back on some original material he had recorded as a demo called ‘Pocketwatch’ while touring with Nirvana in 1991.

He assumed the duties of guitarist/vocalist and got together with Pat Smear (guitars), Nate Mendel (bass), and William Goldsmith (drums) to record the material for a debut self-titled album under the moniker of Foo Fighters. The rest, as we know, is history.

While Foo Fighters was touring the world and busy selling 12 million albums, Grohl managed to form a supergroup called Them Crooked Vultures. The band features Josh Homme (the founder of Queens of the Stone Age) and the legendary bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. Their single New Fang from the debut (and only) self-titled album won the 2011 Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.

His other notable contributions on the drums include recording for Tony Iommi’s self-titled solo album and touring with Queens of the Stone Age in 2002 and recording for their album Songs for the Deaf.

What is Dave Grohl’s drumming style?

Based on his self-confessed motto of “Louder is always better”, Dave Grohl’s drumming style is heavy-handed.

He is the kind of drummer who makes a statement with his unbridled passion, without trying to outshine the musical context. Though bands like Slayer, Motörhead, Minor Threat, and Led Zeppelin played a big influence on Grohl’s drumming, he has gone on record to state that Dale Crover, of The Melvins, is the reason he picked up drumming.

In an interview with Modern Drum magazine, Grohl credited his pillow as the reason for his powerful single-stroke rolls. In his younger days, before he owned a drum set, he would practice rudiments on a pillow. The lack of resistance made him lean into the single-stroke rolls, which went on to become his signature ‘machine gun’ styled fills.

Grohl’s drumming can be classified as assertive, aggressive, and bold. He plays with a lot of passion and power with strong hits and loud strokes that drive the sound of the power-packed bands he has been a part of. But loud doesn’t imply he lacks dynamics. He uses silence, accents, breaks, and syncopation to create dynamics. Not to show off his skills, but to add depth or punch to the framework of the song.

In his drumming with Queens of the Stone Age, his signature snare power-hits cut right through the mix. In No One Knows (QOTSA), you can hear how the whole band latches on to staccato-styled drumming and locks with him in the intro and outro. His intro from Nirvana’s Breed is equally impressive and the band would often start their live concerts with that song.

“Play less and play it more” – summarizes Grohl’s penchant for powerful playing.

Since Dave Grohl started as a drummer, many of the songs he has written are centered on the drums. Most songwriters play a melodic/harmonic instrument, which yields songs that are based around the melody, chord changes, or rhythmic/melodic motifs. Grohl uses key drum phrases and memorable fills between these phrases that are haunting and axiomatic to the music.

Perhaps this ‘drum-oriented’ composition, even though he now sings and plays the guitar, is just his subconscious familiarity with the instrument leaking into his creative process. Everlong, one of Foo Fighter’s best-known songs is a good example of this process. Even though you see Taylor Hawkins on the drums in the music video, Dave Grohl has recorded the studio drum track.

He is a drummer that has a natural feel, exemplary power/stamina, and an affinity for groove/rhythm. His style/technique, influences, choice of gear, tuning, etc. pass through a prism of his creative field and fuse into a single rousing ray of prodigious feel and expression.

Why did Dave Grohl stop playing drums as his main instrument?

It seems incredulous that a young lad who shot to international fame as the drummer of a cult band like Nirvana would go on to completely change tracks and stop playing the drums. After a lot of speculation over the issue, Dave Grohl came clean in an interview regarding his decision to stop playing the drums and start performing as a guitarist and singer for Foo Fighters.

He stated that the death of Kurt Cobain led to an abrupt end of Nirvana and jostled him into a year of soul searching. Therein, he felt he could no longer continue as a drummer because it would be a constant reminder of Nirvana for him and others who watched him. He didn’t feel comfortable with that image and decided to forge a new identity that could reflect his passion for songwriting and represent him in a new light.

Is Dave Grohl a better drummer or guitarist?

In his own words, Dave Grohl has gone on record to state that he is a better guitarist and songwriter than he is a drummer. However, many of his fans are split right in the middle when it comes to making such a choice.

However, it is hard to not notice how happy and natural his body language is when he gets a chance to play the drums.

On one hand, he has been behind the drums to drive home the punch in some unforgettable records. On the other hand, his work as a guitarist/songwriter/singer with Foo Fighters is the crowning glory of his career and an unparalleled contribution to the music itself.

This is the hallmark of a good musician – to have such a wholesome and undeniable affinity for melody/rhythm/harmony. He shines in every role from a bandleader to a drummer to guitarist to vocalist to a frontman; and even as a great human being.

Regardless of his conquest with an ax or drum set, the music he creates is a legacy that has enriched the lives of millions of fans across the globe.

How much is Dave Grohl worth?

At the time of writing, according to celebrity net worth, Dave Grohl is worth a whopping $320 million in 2020.

A majority of this value is because of the extraordinary success of his band Foo Fighters who have released 8 studio albums and 3 EPs and command a massive fan following across the globe.

As of today, Grohl has been in countless lists of ‘Most influential Rock Musicians’ and has exceeded all the expectations he had when he began drubbing rudiments on his pillow. In 2014, Grohl was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Nirvana’s first year of eligibility. The only other thing he owes us now is the second album of Them Crooked Vultures.

Dave Grohl’s on-screen career

Despite being an icon in the music world, Dave is also a big and frequent star on the screen. He has multiple appearances in numerous documentaries or rockumentaries, as well as tv series (music and non-music related).

Dave Grohl is usually himself on the screen as opposed to real movie roles or cameos where he’s actually acting or contributing his voice. The man is truly a staple of what it means to be an artist as he is involved with multiple projects all the time.

Most likely praised immensely for the role in Tenacious D – The Pick of Destiny where he plays Satan. He plays the drums, he sings, as well plays guitar in the movie, which fans worldwide appreciate and respect hugely.

Today, you can still see an active Dave Grohl in the horror movie Studio 666 where he plays himself and you can catch him on the shot Hot Ones. Still active and still rocking life!


Dave Grohl is a musician who has achieved great success in both his drumming and guitar playing careers. He is most well-known as the frontman of Foo Fighters but has also played drums for Nirvana.

Grohl is considered one of the most influential rock musicians of all time and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has also starred in multiple documentaries and tv series. Grohl is a talented musician who has a passion for creating music that touches the lives of his fans.

Featured Image by Craig Carper / CC BY 

Mike O'Connor
Mike O'Connor

I've been playing drums for over 18 years. I work as both a session drummer and a drum teacher, and I love to share my knowledge and tips on this site. You can also find me on the Electronic Drum Advisor YouTube channel.

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