She Marches to the Beat of Her Own Drum: Inside the World of Female Drummers

Drumming. It’s a movement. A rebellious one. It’s a spiritual connection that transcends languages and speaks to the soul. A percussive journey. And who better to lead the revolution than female drummers? No longer are women allowing the confinement of the glass ceiling and the shadows of their male counterparts.

Winifred Tan, 33, from Singapore, was a finalist in the 2019 ‘Hit Like a Girl’ contest.

However, as she recalls, breaking into the industry was not easy.

She said: “I’ve faced backlash from family and other musicians who thought I shouldn’t play because I’m an Asian woman.

“Comments about how music can’t make you money may be true sometimes, but it doesn’t make it any less discouraging to hear. When I was younger, I felt like giving up, now it just makes me want to play more.”

Financial consultant by day and drummer by night, Tan works professionally to provide stability to pursue her other passion – the realm of rock music.

As well as a Bachelor of Science, she also has two Master’s degrees in finance and advanced portfolio management.

Tan also boasts over a decade of musical knowledge and expertise. Underscoring her musical mastery is her proudly earned qualification from the prestigious Trinity College London.

Tan’s first exposure to playing music was the electone, an electronic organ, at three years old. What started as a fascination soon evolved into a keen interest in drums.

It is now a rhythmic passion that has seamlessly accompanied her for more than a decade.

“The music industry in general can be tough for women anyway. It can be really hard to get gigs in fear people might value your appearance more than your skills.”

“My number one motivation is that someone out there is listening to our music, and they love it, and this is a good enough motivation for me to keep being creative, keep writing, and keep drumming. Sometimes when I post covers online people leave encouraging feedback and that motivates me too. All of these really make me feel like I have somehow added value to someone else’s life, which is my main goal as an artist.”

She added: Feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or critical, is there to help you grow and become more resilient. I attest that’s why I’m in my current position today. I still have a way to go and doubt myself at times, but it’s been a hell of a journey.

“Never let any situation hold you back. If you dream of something, try to make it come true, even if it takes years. Find people you can trust along your journey because you don’t want to walk alone. If all else fails, keep doing what you’re good at, and surprise the people who have doubted you. That’s a great feeling.”

Her band, Altoduo, explores the scene of ‘math rock’ – indie rock infused with lo-fi hip hop and jazz. Identified by its complex rhythmic structures and extended chords, Altoduo’s sound is nothing short of psychedelia. For her, the best part about being in a band is the synergy wherein improvisation leads their musical venture.

Being criticised for pursuing drumming as a woman is something that Ciara Hurding, 25, from Sheffield, can also relate to.

In the vibrant musical scenery of Sheffield, Ciara Hurding shares her mastery across three bands: Speed Dating, Django Jones and the Mystery Men, and The Sea Monsters.

Guided by support of her family, Hurding began her drumming journey at the age of seven. She quickly evolving into a prodigious drummer and joining her first band at just 12 years old.


She said: “Starting at a young age came with patronising comments from older people about the technical sides of drumming. They didn’t believe I was capable due to my gender.

“There were also a lot of adults who made me improve and showed me the best way to do things.

“Although it was frustrating when sound engineers would only talk to my dad, who knows nothing about drumming, and never to us in the band.”

A 2022 snapshot survey conducted by the Musicians’ Union found that many women expressed their expectation of encountering misogynistic as an integral aspect of their careers in the music industry. This stark revelation highlights the deeply ingrained ideology that the world of music is inherently perceived as a male-dominated profession.

Hurding said: “Feeling underrepresented is definitely a big obstacle for women in music. It can be so intimidating, especially if you’re starting young, to join something that is predominantly male.

“There’s also the undeniable aspect of people often expecting you to not be quite as good, especially in the rock scene. They want girls to be pretty little pop stars, but I’m so bored of that.”

She added: “I’ve had people say things like ‘Wow, you’re actually good for a girl’, but you have to prove them wrong.

“My main advice is to just give it a go and start some lessons.

“Don’t feel like you need an expensive kit or anything as well. It’s such a great thing to do and a really good outlook for creativity.”

“It also helps with letting out frustration so it’s a great asset for your mental health.”

Reflecting on her musical journey, Hurding recalled her formative years, where she found herself constantly playing against boys. Even after she transitioned into the professional realm of music, the landscape remained predominantly male-dominated, with many of the bands she played against being composed of mainly male members.

“This was always a motivation. More recently I’ve experienced younger people coming up to me asking about how I started out, and this feels like such a full circle moment for me and really motivates me to want to keep doing it despite what some close-minded people might think”, she adds.

Yet, the male-dominated industry is not always considered an obstacle by other female drummers.

Salin Cheewapansri, 31, a Thai-born drummer and producer, shared that she believes that the main obstacle for female drummers is cultivating their confidence.

She said: “As long as you have confidence and know that you’re worthy of success, no one can hold you back.

“Don’t ever strive for perfection. You’ll likely never reach it and might as well die trying. Strive for grooves that feel good. Something about playing from the heart feels so good. It’s out of this world. It’s hard to grow as an artist , but at least you’ll have way more fun in the process.”

Cheewapansri began her drumming journey by busking in the streets of Thailand.

She then to North America to pursue her ambition at age 19. Defying genres from funk to metal, she earned her place on the stage by playing in clubs alongside other artists.

Her most cherished and rewarding aspect of drumming lies in the power to bring people to dance.

“The ability to communicate with people through music is magical. It allows me to enter another realm outside of my physical state. The harmony between people makes it worthwhile.”

She added: “Practicing and playing are two different things. Practice the techniques. Play from the heart. You do them separately. When you play, don’t think about the techniques. 

“Most importantly don’t sweat over your mistakes. Just like anything in life, you learn from it and move on. Analyse them, see why you did wrong and be patient with yourself.”

Cheewapansri said: “You can acknowledge your weaknesses during practice but when you’re playing, just smile and keep moving. Like I said, confidence is what matters most.”

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Written by: Charleigh Sharp