Poll: Did Mike Portnoy ruin a generation of drummers?

mptot2When I worked at a music shop from 2006-2011, I had a really talented local musician as a co-worker. This particular musician was especially talented in the rhythm section of the various local cover bands he played in (and before that, original metal bands). He played bass like a champ, and was an incredibly solid and versatile drummer.

One day I mentioned to him that I like Dream Theater and Mike Portnoy’s drumming, and he snorted. “Mike Portnoy ruined a generation of drummers!” he told me.

His argument was that in the mid-’90s, Mike Portnoy became so popular among kids learning drums that they all tried to emulate him. But in doing so, they spent more time practicing tricky drum patterns and fills, expanding their kits with every little timbale, bell, whistle, and rototom, and neglected their most important job: keeping a beat. The result was a lot of kids in local bands throwing fills into every measure, losing time, throwing the band off, sounding like shoes in a dryer, etc.

In my friend’s opinion, if young drummers looked up to heroes like Phil Rudd and Jerry Gaskill (two of his favorites), they would put all that effort into playing solid, flawlessly-timed back beats, and they could then move on to trickier things.

So what do you think? Does my friend have a point or is he full of it? Or something else?


  1. I don’t think your friend is full of it nor do I think he is accurate either. Bit of both. Anyone, young or old who is just learning an instrument will often be influenced to try and do what their musical heroes do naturally, I did when i started learning guitar and of course crashed and burned like a kamikaze in to the water BUT it didn’t stop me from trying. That said, you can and do tend to forget to learn your basics and just go for the gusto right?! So my guitar work has failed in many ways and succeeded in others. As for ruining a generation of drummers…. I don’t think so because at any given time another drummer will emerge and do something cool. Look at Tommy Lee of Motley Crue when his kit raised up and spun around in the 90’s, gimmicks really. Drummers like Nick Mason, John Densmore etc, they kept a solid beat but would add in jazz inflections to songs where it wasn’t spectacular but crafty and added flare to the song without going overboard. Phil Rudd, Jerry Gaskill, Bill Ward, Phil Taylor even, solid and straight forward but had their moments where they would and did give it that little extra. So Mike Portnoy, good drummer? Sure. Best drummer? To some. Ruined a generation? Doubtful. Spoiled some kids learning progress? Probably to a point for some but that will happen with a lot of other celebrity musicians where people try to emulate them and their style, sounds etc. So it’s a moot point really but I get it….to a point.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I disagree. I think all young musicians have to learn that important skill of tasteful playing. There are plenty of adults who need to learn that lesson too. Mike Portnoy definitely inspired me to play drums. His playing was technical, but it wasn’t impossible to play along to. It set a bar that many would surpass. I still count him as a major influence although I am not an enormous fan of his playing, just because he did inspire me to pick up the sticks and practice a lot.

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  3. I see the need for the ability to keep a beat, and can appreciate Thomas’ comment; but my issue is, and has been since I first starting listening to the radio, of drummers who *only* keep a very basic beat, playing like a metronome, and nothing more. I’ll take fills any day over solidity when it comes to prog, and have long contended that the drummer is the key element to band’s cutting it as prog, or not. Seventy’s Queen is a case in point, as is Journey with Aynsley Dunbar, compared to Journey without (per label demand): Steve Smith played like he hadn’t a creative bone in his body. It stifled them, and made the required hits.

    Of course, I need a longer thesis than that to make my point; but…Deerhoof, anyone? 😀


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