Buddy Rich's Secret Solved

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Buddy Rich's Secret Solved

SKF NOTE: I cannot remember a time in my life when this Great Music Mystery wasn't unsolved: How did Buddy Rich become the world's greatest drummer without taking drum lessons?

I grew up, like a million other aspiring drummers, being told I had to learn the 13 Essential Drum Rudiments. And I had to learn how to read music. Why? Because these were necessary for becoming a successful drummer.

And all the while I was struggling with paradiddle variations and ratamacues, and the often mind numbing task of converting notes on drum charts into music -- there was the World's Greatest Drummer. He never took a drum lesson. He couldn't read music. If Buddy Rich could be as good as he was without lessons and reading - why couldn't I? Why couldn't other aspiring drummers?

What was Buddy Rich's secret?

I came across a letter written by drum teacher Stanley Spector, published in the March 7, 1968 Down Beat that -- lo and behold! -- solves the Great Music Mystery. At least to a large degree. I've posted a photo of Mr. Spector's letter below. But here's the part of Spector's letter that caught my eye:

Buddy Rich is reported to have stated that he never took a drum lesson in his life, that he took to drumming like a fish takes to water, so to speak. Really? If one understands Buddy the R and his special background, he probably had more man-hours of the only relevant drum instruction available in his time than any other drummer who ever appeared before the public.

In face, you could say that his childhood was one perpetual drum lesson.

As I understand it, Rich's parents were in vaudeville and toured the country with son Buddy in tow. Master Rich had the opportunity, the time and the interest to sit in the front row of theaters and take daily drum lessons by watching and talking with every first rate pit band drummer in America.

Apparently when your total environment has been a drumming school the tendency is not to take notice that you ever attended classes. Does the fish notice that its environment is water?

About one year later I came across podcast, a 1981 BBC Radio Show, Desert Island Discs, hosted by Roy Plomley with Buddy Rich as Mr. Plomley's guest.

Mr. Plomley asks Buddy about the Great Music Mystery. Buddy's answer, which I have transcribed verbatim, confirms what Stanley Spector suspected 13 years earlier in his Down Beat letter.

Roy Plomley: Had anybody ever taught your drumming? Or are you entirely self-taught?

Buddy Rich: I think that at the age of 2 it would be very difficult to teach. And because I pay attention to things I listened to so many pit drummers, at my early age, who played great vaudeville shows, that I learned a great deal from them. But I've never beent to a school. I've never had a particular drum teacher.

And so, as I got older, my talent evolved and I suppose I got better. I don't know how much better, but I think I got a little better.

RP: Who among jazz drummers influenced you most?

BR: I think everyone I've ever listened to. From Chick Webb, Krupa -- and I could go on and name a hundred drummers -- Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, a couple of drummers over here [England] who were.... I was very impressed by Ronnie Verrill. One of my very good friends today is Kenny Clare.

There are many guys that I've admired and listened to a great deal, but finally, when I decided that that's what I wanted to do, I think I evolved into my own personality.​

It makes sense, doesn't it? And yet, these answers to one Great Music Mystery create another: All the times I've read or listened to Buddy Rich interviews, I never recall Buddy being asked, or volunteerubg to speak, about his childhood experience learning from the world's greatest pit drummers. That seems such a loss, such a missed opportunity.

If Buddy Rich's experience studying pit drummers does exist in print or audio -- I would love to read it or listen to it.

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals


Platinum Member
Surely we all watch other drummers, that's probably why most of us started playing? That, and listening, are the two greatest learning tools we have as musicians.

Matt Bo Eder

I believe it. Being able to see and hear working players and picking their brains (if they were nice enough to let you) is invaluable. Teachers are great, but having a teacher take you out to see really good players is even better.


"Uncle Larry"
So don't try and teach your 2 YO, just take her to see drummers up close everyday is the message I'm getting.


Silver Member
So essentially he was watching and playing since 2 yrs old? This reminds me of something at work. I sell violins by day, where the Stradivari secret is a big deal. I've heard them all by now, but only one that made sense to me, spoken by a current American violin maker: "Strad's secret? That's easy. Spend your life making violins."

Buddy's secret? Spend your life playing drums.


Platinum Member
I grew up in a musical family with a guitarist father. I never took academic guitar lessons. I picked up my dad's guitar at 4, and by 15 I could play pretty much whatever I wanted on the instrument.

Looking at today's guitarists on youtube (Chapman for example), I'm both impressed and unimpressed. They can blaze scales and do complicated things with great ease. I'm a bit envious of their mechanical ability. At the same time, they all sound lacking to my ear, and their ability to emote with the instrument sounds seriously compromised. There are exceptions (RJ Ronquillo), but most of them sound quite uncanny to me.

Intuition and ambition will get you pretty far when you're surrounded by instruments for 16h a day, and I'd rather listen to a sympathetic musician than a highly virtuous one.


Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I think if anyone is exposed to any activity enough something has to rub off. Buddy still had to have the talent or ability to play what he was exposed to but all of that watching would be like the golf pro whose son watched from the time he was three and just does better than the rest.


Platinum Member
Buddy obviously had a massive amount of natural ability, Some people are lucky enough to find there natural gift, he found his.