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Physiological demands of rock drumming: a case study

British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Annual Conference, September 2008, Brunel University, West London

Physiological demands of rock drumming: a case study



The physiological demands of different types of sport (Smith, 2006, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5, 74-89) and physical activity (Abdelhamid & Everett, 1999, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 125, 47-52) have been documented.
However, despite its worldwide popularity, rock drumming has received limited scientific enquiry.
This is somewhat surprising given the intensity, duration and number of concerts played by professional rock drummers during National or International Tours (Smith, 2002, In Blondie, From Punk to the Present, edited by A. Metz, Musical Legacy Publications).


The aim of this study was to investigate the physiological demands of rock drumming through a longitudinal study of a professional rock drummer.


With institutional ethical approval a longitudinal case study (1997 to 2007) was undertaken on Clem Burke, drummer from the rock group Blondie.

Physical characteristics during the data acquisition period were: (Age range: 42 to 52 yrs, Mass range: 79.5 to 84.3 kg).

Drumming performance was undertaken using a Premier drum kit (Premier, Leicester, England) recorded at 2 outdoor and 10 indoor venues in England.

The duration of each concert varied between 60 to 93 minutes.

Throughout each performance heart rate was measured at 5 second intervals using short-range telemetry (Polar S810i, Kempele, Finland, see Figure 1 below).

Blood lactate was measured 3-minutes post performance from a finger-prick sample (Lactate pro analyser, Arkray, Japan).


Heart rate:
Typical ‘live’ performance heart rate trace shown below in Figure 2 (Brighton Centre, 2004, selected songs in boxes). Also see research video recordings

Example data set (Manchester Apollo, 2007):
Concert duration: 82 min 7 sec
Number of songs played: 19
Longest song: ‘Rapture’: 10 min 7 sec
Shortest song: ‘Please Please Me’: 1 min 50 sec
Highest peak heart rate: ‘Union City Blue’
(range 144- 179 b.min-1, mean 155 b.min-1).
Lowest peak heart rate: ‘Screamin Skin’
(range 129-144 b.min-1, mean 135 b.min-1).
Concert mean heart rate: 145+13 b.min-1.
Peak blood lactate value: 3.6 mmol.l


It is evident that rock drumming may be classified as an intermittent activity.

‘Live’ rock drumming performance relies heavily upon the interplay between aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, supporting the work of Smith et al. (2008, European College of Sports Sciences, Stormily, Portugal).

Future research should focus on the physiological demands of energy supply to the leg versus arm muscles for different song tempos.


Authors:  Marcus Smith, Clem Burke: University of Chichester, School of Sport Exercise & Health Sciences, College Lane, Chichester, West Sussex, P019 6PE, UK. Email:, Steve Draper  and Chris Potter: University of Gloucestershire, Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Care, Oxstalls Campus, Oxstalls Lane, Longlevens, Gloucester, GL2 9HW, UK.