As a drummer and music lover, I’m always amazed by the power and creativity of a killer drum solo. From Keith Moon to Neil Peart, these solos can captivate and leave a lasting impression.
Drum solos have long been integral to musical performances, showcasing drummers’ talent and unparalleled skill.
These electrifying moments allow drummers to take center stage and demonstrate their rhythm, speed, and control mastery.
Over time, numerous drum solos have captivated audiences and made a long-lasting impact on the world of music, shaping the evolution of drumming and inspiring countless aspiring musicians.
Drum solos encompass various techniques and styles, with thunderous beats and complex polyrhythms to rapid-fire double bass and intricate limb synchronization.
Some drummers are known for their distinct playing style, while others are revered for their unique approach to solo composition.
My favorite drum solos of all time
These are my favorites, but there’s plenty of awesome performances on this list—and they’re not ranked in any particular order.
|"Drum Duet/Los Endos"
|Phil Collins & Chester Thompson
|"A Night in Tunisia"
|The Jazz Messengers
|"A Tribute to Miles"
|Miles Davis "Second Great" Quintet
|"Long Distance Runaround"
|"The Black Page #1 and #2"
|Zappa Plays Zappa
Drum solos have roots in jazz
The origin of drum solos can be traced back to the jazz era. Gene Krupa performed one of the first notable drum solos in Benny Goodman’s 1937 song “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
Krupa’s drumming was innovative, incorporating extended solos, highlighting his technical skills and precise timing.
The jazz tradition of drum solos continued with legends like Buddy Rich and Max Roach, who further extended the boundaries of jazz drumming.
The evolution of the rock drum solo
As rock music emerged, drum solos became integral to its evolution. The groundbreaking drum solo by Ginger Baker recorded on Cream’s 1966 track “Toad,” introduced the concept of drum solos in rock music.
Baker’s fusion of jazz and rhythm & blues influenced a generation of rock drummers, further popularizing solos in rock music. Some iconic rock drum solos include:
- John Bonham’s “Moby Dick“ from Led Zeppelin
- Neil Peart’s epic performance in Rush’s “YYZ“
- Keith Moon’s explosive style in The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again“
These drummers showcased their unique techniques and influenced countless others in the rock genre.
Notable live drum solo performances
Apart from studio recordings, drum solos have also been a significant highlight in live performances.
Drum solos evolved from jazz roots, gained popularity in the rock era, and have continued to be a significant part of live performances.
Throughout history, numerous skilled drummers have contributed to the evolution and enrichment of the drum solo tradition.
1) Phil Collins and Chester Thompson — “Drum Duet/Los Endos,” Genesis (1987 performance)
Phil Collins and Chester Thompson’s joint drum solo during the 1985 No Ticket Required tour is an iconic moment in live drumming history. But I must mention another moment from their performance of the ‘Drum Duet/Los Endos.‘ in 1987.
This duet showcases the incredible talent and synchronization between these two drummers. One unfamiliar with drums might believe it to be one drummer—they’re that tight.
The performance starts with both drummers grooving on the toms, with each adding accents and rhythmic melodies back and forth.
Before each section changes, Phil Collins uses a memorable tom melody to cue the next part of the solo.
Chester Thompson adds his own dynamic and intricate drumming style as the solo progresses. The chemistry between Collins and Thompson is evident as they seamlessly trade off fills and create a mesmerizing rhythm section.
The drum duet culminates in an explosive finale, with the band returning, leaving the audience in awe of their skill and precision. This performance is a true testament to the prowess and musicality of both Phil Collins and Chester Thompson.
2) Michael Shrieve — “Soul Sacrifice,” Santana (1970)
Another memorable live drum solo is Michael Shrieve’s performance in Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA.
The brilliance of Michael Shrieve’s drum solo in ‘Soul Sacrifice,’ Santana’s iconic 1970 performance, lies in its electrifying energy and captivating rhythm.
Shrieve’s mastery of the drums is evident as he effortlessly navigates complex rhythms and seamlessly transitions between solo sections.
What’s incredible, too, is he was only 24 at the time of the recording.
The sheer power and intensity of his playing are awe-inspiring, leaving listeners in a state of pure exhilaration.
Shrieve’s impeccable timing and dynamic control shine through as the solo builds, captivating the audience’s attention until the very last note.
It’s a testament to his skill and artistry that this drum solo continues to be revered as one of the greatest of all time.
3) Art Blakey — drum solo (1959)
Art Blakey’s drum solos are a remarkable display of his explosive and dynamic drumming style.
In the performance of ‘A Night in Tunisia‘ by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Blakey’s drum solo captivates with its Afro-Cuban influences and powerful syncopation.
The solo starts with mallets, creating various dynamic flavors, before transitioning to sticks and unleashing thundering crashes.
Blakey’s playing showcases the evolution of the modern drum solo, highlighting his immense skill and musicality.
4) Sheila E. — “Solo de Bateria” (2011 performance)
Continuing the exploration of remarkable drum solos, let’s delve into Sheila E.’s electrifying performance of ‘Solo de Bateria‘ in 2011 on David Letterman.
Sheila E., an underrated drummer known for touring with Prince, delivered a stunning mixture of Latin and metal textures in this solo.
From the beginning, she unleashed a flurry of fills that showcased her speed and tightness on the drums.
Letterman’s house band vamps during the beginning of the solo, accenting various hits with Sheila, before dropping out to let her rip.
What made her performance even more impressive was her ability to execute rolls and double bass playing with precision, all while wearing high heels.
Sheila E.’s ‘Solo de Bateria’ is a testament to her incredible skill and versatility as a drummer.
5) Danny Carey — “Chocolate Chip Trip,” Tool (2019 performance
Danny Carey’s captivating performance of ‘Chocolate Chip Trip‘ with Tool in 2019 is one to remember.
The solo begins with Danny playing a modular synthesizer next to his drum kit. He then sits at the kit and plays alongside the electronic syncopations.
This drum solo is in 7/8 and showcases Carey’s incredible talent for creating dynamic and complex rhythms. The song incorporates electronic beats and funky accents, adding a unique flavor to the performance.
Carey’s technical playing is reminiscent of his drumming influences, such as Neil Peart. He skillfully utilizes double bass and crashes to add intensity to the solo.
6) Carter Beauford — intro to “Say Goodbye” (2011 performance)
The captivating intro to ‘Say Goodbye’ by Carter Beauford from Dave Matthews Band’s live performance in 2011 is well worth a watch.
Carter Beauford, the energetic and joyful drummer of the Dave Matthews Band, showcases his signature sound in this mesmerizing solo.
The solo begins with Carter using timpani mallets before swapping to regular sticks while holding one of the sticks in his mouth.
With masterful use of accents and a wide dynamic range, Beauford creates a musical tribal-style solo that’s truly captivating.
As the solo progresses, we hear Jeff Coffin accompany Carter on the flute, adding various textures, trills, and quick rhythmic scales.
Carter’s unique kit setup, including splash and china cymbals, enhances the syncopated rhythms and adds a distinct flavor to his performance.
Beauford’s intro to ‘Say Goodbye’ is an exceptional display of his talent and creativity as a drummer.
7) Gene Krupa — “Lover/Leave Us Leap,” (the 1940s)
The drumming prowess of Gene Krupa in his captivating performance of ‘Lover/Leave Us Leap‘ during the 1940s is one of the first video-recorded drum solo performances.
Gene Krupa is considered the first rock drummer and was known for his flamboyant and spectacular solos.
Krupa showcased his skills in this performance with loud, booming fills and little dynamic restraint. He also introduced innovative techniques, such as using the splash cymbal, which added a unique texture to his solos.
Gene Krupa was influential in developing drum solos, inspiring future generations of drummers with his energetic and dynamic playing style.
His performance of ‘Lover/Leave Us Leap’ is a testament to his lasting impact on the world of drumming.
8) Tony Williams — drum solo (1992)
Tony Williams delivered a mesmerizing display of skill and creativity in A Tribute to Miles at Estival Jazz in 1992.
Tony was part of a tribute to Miles Davis featuring himself, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Wallace Roney.
His performance showcased his mastery of the drums and his ability to push the boundaries of jazz drumming.
With lightning-fast speed and impeccable precision, Williams mesmerized the audience with his complex rhythms and intricate patterns.
His use of dynamics and seamless transitions between different solo sections added depth and complexity to his playing.
Williams’s solo highlighted his technical prowess and his unique musicality and improvisational skills. It’s no wonder that he’s considered one of the greatest drummers in jazz history.
9) Bill Bruford — “Long Distance Runaround,” Yes (1989 performance)
During Yes’s 1989 performance of ‘Long Distance Runaround,’ Bill Bruford showcased his versatility on Simmons electronic drums, blending a range of global sounds.
Bruford created a unique and diverse sonic palette with his openness to experimenting with electronic percussion.
He seamlessly incorporated traditional tom sounds, Middle Eastern drums, and other global percussion instruments, adding depth and texture to the solo.
The performance was a masterclass in fusing different musical styles, combining elements of prog, tribal rhythms, and even orchestral sounds.
Bruford’s groundbreaking use of Simmons electronic drums during this solo set a new standard for drummers and highlighted the potential of these instruments in a live setting.
10) Billy Cobham — “Tenth Pinn” (1974 performance)
While watching Billy Cobham’s 1974 performance of ‘Tenth Pinn,’ I was captivated by his fluidity and speed.
The solo begins with soft snare drum rolls and tom hits, eventually building energy and setting the stage for what was to come.
As the solo progresses, his band comes in. Billy’s playing is so fast and unhinged during this section that it’s hard to tell what he’s playing, but it’s incredible!
Cobham’s use of the entire drum kit was masterful, seamlessly transitioning between the snare drum, toms, and cymbals with incredible dexterity.
His dynamic range was impressive, effortlessly shifting between thundering tom patterns, crashes, and delicate, intricate syncopation.
11) Ginger Baker — “Toad,” Cream (1968 performance)
Ginger Baker’s drum solo in ‘Toad,’ performed by Cream in 1968 at Royal Albert Hall, showcases his exceptional skill and creativity on the drums.
The solo is a masterclass in musicality and technique, as Baker effortlessly navigates complex rhythms and fills with precision and flair.
His command of the drum kit is evident as he seamlessly transitions between different drums and cymbals, creating a dynamic and captivating performance.
What sets Baker apart is his ability to infuse his solos with a unique blend of jazz, rock, and African rhythms, resulting in a truly his own style.
His use of polyrhythms and his innovative approach to drumming continue to inspire and influence drummers today.
12) Terry Bozzio, “The Black Page #1 and #2,” Frank Zappa (circa 2008 performance)
Continuing the exploration of exceptional drum solos, let’s delve into Terry Bozzio’s mesmerizing performance of ‘The Black Page #1 and #2‘ during Zappa Plays Zappa’s 2008 performance (video embed is disabled on external websites, so click the link above to watch).
Bozzio, known for his massive drum set, technical proficiency, and complex drumming, brings his A-game to this challenging composition.
The Black Page showcases Bozzio’s ability to navigate intricate rhythms, impressively utilizing polyrhythms and syncopation.
With every beat and fill, he demonstrates his instrument mastery, leaving the audience in awe.
“The Black Page” drum solo is a legendary and challenging piece of music composed by the iconic American musician Frank Zappa.
It first appeared on Zappa’s 1976 album “Zappa in New York.“ The title refers to the densely notated, intricate sheet music that resembles a “black page” due to the multitude of notes.
This drum solo is renowned for its complexity and is considered one of the most demanding pieces ever written for drums. Its rapid, ever-changing time signatures, intricate rhythms, and intricate dynamics characterize the composition.
Performing “The Black Page” requires exceptional technical skill, precision, and a deep understanding of music theory.
This drum solo is highly regarded as one of the best in fusion music, and rightfully so. Bozzio’s performance is a testament to his skill, precision, and musicality, solidifying his place among the drumming greats.
13) Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart — “Drums,” Grateful Dead (1989 performance)
Now, let’s delve into the performance of ‘Drums‘ by Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart during the Grateful Dead’s 1989 performance.
The performance of ‘Drums’ was a highlight of the Grateful Dead’s live shows, allowing Kreutzmann and Hart to explore rhythmic landscapes and create intricate patterns using various percussion instruments.
Their synergy and telepathic connection on stage were truly remarkable, as they seamlessly shifted between different rhythms and textures, stunning the audience with their grooves and polyrhythmic explorations.
The performance of ‘Drums’ by Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart showcases their mastery of percussion and ability to create a hypnotic and unforgettable musical journey.
14) Steve Gadd — 1990 solo in Montreux
Steve Gadd’s 1990 ‘Spain‘ drum solo with Al Jarreau is a testament to his exceptional skill and musicality on the drums.
This solo, performed during a live recording of Chick Corea’s ‘Spain,’ showcases Gadd’s ability to blend technicality with groove seamlessly.
His signature licks are all over this solo, including six-stroke rolls between the snare and crashes, polyrhythms, tom triplets, and more.
From the beginning, Gadd captivates the audience with his impeccable groove and precise execution. His use of dynamics and tasteful fills adds depth and complexity to the performance.
15) Neil Peart — “O Baterista,” Rush (2003 performance)
Neil Peart’s mesmerizing drum solo in his 2003 performance of ‘O Baterista‘ showcases his technical proficiency and mastery of time signatures and speeds.
The solo covers various drumming styles, telling a story of percussion worldwide—everything from western drumming, African patterns, big band and jazz, marimba, and more.
The solo begins with an intense marching snare pattern complete with electronic sample hits on various Roland V-Drums pads.
Peart then moves to his iconic “The Drum Also Waltzes” section—a hat tip to late jazz drummer Max Roach. Neil includes
Peart’s drumming in this solo is nothing short of extraordinary. With intricate patterns and relentless energy, he navigates through complex time signatures, seamlessly transitioning from one tempo to another.
His precision and control are evident as he executes lightning-fast fills and mind-bending polyrhythms.
Studio Drum Solo Masterpieces
Some of the most memorable drum solos have been recorded in the studio, making an indelible mark on music history.
16) John Bonham — “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin
One such example is “Moby Dick“ by Led Zeppelin, where John Bonham showcases his unmatched stage presence and drumming techniques.
While the album version of the solo is just around two full minutes, in concert, Zeppelin would extend this solo, sometimes giving John upwards of twenty minutes.
The solo’s climax features a pattern known as “Bonham Triplets.” This group of three notes became a hot lick many rock and jazz drummers utilize to this day.
Moby Dick is an instrumental off of Led Zeppelin II, released October 22, 1969. Personal and composers of the song include John Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page.
17) Neil Peart — “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
A compositional drummer by nature, Neil Peart is not shy in feature sections. His drumming is technical, busy, and purposeful.
The breakdown in ‘Tom Sawyer’ features a 7/8 section followed by a lavish drum solo that follows the chord changes of the intro.
Like Bonham’s triplets, this song utilizes an almost identical rudiment called quads. The hands and feet syncopate thirty-second notes across the toms and kick drums.
Tom Sawyer’s drum feature is emulated to this day by thousands of drummers worldwide; popular rock-pop act Imagine Dragons once covered the song on an arena tour.
The song was included on the studio album “Moving Pictures,” released in 1981. Songwriters on the track include Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, and Pye Dubois.
18) Peter Charles — “Black Betty” by Ram Jam
For those unaware, the song ‘Black Betty’ was not written by the 70s band Ram Jam. The song is a 20th-century African-American work song credited often to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, though early recordings are not him.
Ram Jam’s iteration became a smash hit. The instrumentation on the song is a bit spastic, yet organized strangely. Drummer Peter Charles rips near the end of the song as the band cuts out. This tune is definitely worthy of the list.
Ram Jam’s classic 1977 song, “Black Betty,” is one of the most beloved rock anthems. This bluesy tune was written in the 1930s, and Ram Jam made it their own with their own gritty interpretation.
Peter Charles, Ram Jam’s drummer, does an incredible job laying down a thick groove that is as energetic and dynamic as it gets. His beats strike a perfect balance between lightheartedness and intensity, making it a great example of why he’s been called one of the best hard rock drummers.
19) Phil Collins — “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
I can hear the sound of gated drums as I type this roundup. While “In The Air Tonight “may not have a full-fledged mad drum solo, it does feature one of the most iconic drum fills all time.
Phil Collins’ 1981 hit “In The Air Tonight” not only captivates with its smooth blues-tinged rock groove but with the iconic drum fill that occurs at the end of the first verse and bridge.
Phil Collins was responsible for songwriting and drumming duties, giving him complete control over every aspect of this masterful creation.
As one of the most iconic drum fills in rock history, Phil Collins holds his place in pop music for creating such a gripping effect with a simple but powerful beat.
20) Neil Peart — “YYZ” by Rush
Neil’s back at it again with the solo section. This time it’s YYZ, an instrumental based off the rhythmic morse code of Toronto’s airport location identifier.
Rush’s “YYZ” is a masterful musical composition, showing off the musical artistry of the Canadian rock group. Neil’s drumming performance throughout “YYZ” is incredible – sounding crisp and clear while providing distinct patterns and beats.
His raw skill and power can be felt through each bar of music, driving home Rush’s iconic sound with his outstanding rhythmic excellence.
The song features Neil’s “signature ride pattern” as well as a rippin’ solo trade between Neil and Geddy followed by a guitar solo from Lifeson.
21) Alex Van Halen — “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen
It’s a common misconception that the beginning of Hot For Teacher features a motorcycle idling. Alex Van Halen layered two double bass drum parts together. The reason the first bass drums sound different is that they are EQ’d differently.
No matter your opinion on Van Halen, you have to respect the groove and playing of Alex Van Halen on Hot For Teacher (and in general).
22) Steve Gadd — “Aja” by Steely Dan
There’s no way I would forget the wonderful playing from Steve Gadd on the song ‘Aja’ by Steely Dan.
Throughout most of the song, Gadd’s playing is somewhat reserved. Around the three minute mark, things kick up a notch.
The solo begins at 4:41 alongs’ide a sax who plays a melody while Steve plays intricate patterns between the band’s offbeat chord changes.
Near the end, the same theme returns with the offbeat chord changes. Steve’s ride groove as the song fades is out of this world.
23) Ron Wilson — “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris
The Surfaris’ Wipeout is a classic rock ‘n roll instrumental enjoyed across generations since its release in 1963.
Wipeout made its mark on several radio charts as it climbed to #2 on the Billboard Top 100 and topped over ten music charts.
It’s full of energy and adventure, thanks largely to Ron Wilson, who provided the song’s intense drumming.
If you’re a drummer and you didn’t learn to play Wipe Out, I feel bad for you. While I can’t say I enjoy surf music from this era, I annoyed everyone in middle school with this lick.
Wipe Out features one of the most iconic grooves to this day; the song is still used all over popular culture.
24) Mark Craney — “Brother to Brother” by Gino Vannelli
I owe it to my father; otherwise, I would not know about Gino Vannelli. Brother to Brother is an epic song featuring great melodies and impressive solo sections.
Mark Craney’s playing is spectacular throughout the song. The drums and bass begin trading off at 4:35 (similar to YYZ by Rush; Vannelli could have influenced them). Craney was also one of Jethro Tull’s many drummers.
25) Joe Morello — “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck
Another outstanding studio drum solo is Joe Morello’s work on “Take Five“ by Dave Brubeck, which is famous for its innovative use of the 5/4 time signature and intricate rhythms. This tune provided a significant foundation for my playing as I learned.
Its unique rhythm and distinctive melody immediately won over audiences around the world. Take Five has since been featured in numerous movies and television shows.
Despite nearly 60 years since its initial release, Take Five remains a contemporary favorite among jazz fans worldwide.
26) Kenny Aronoff — “Jack & Diane” by John Mellencamp
Aronoff’s drum solo in Jack & Diane is genuinely remarkable. It perfectly complements the catchy melody and showcases his exceptional skill and versatility as a drummer. The solo starts with a steady beat, gradually increasing in intensity and complexity.
Aronoff incorporates impressive fills and syncopated rhythms, creating a dynamic and energetic atmosphere. His precise timing and powerful drumming style make this solo stand out in the song.
27) Taylor Hawkins — “Rope” by Foo Fighters
During the bridge of the song ‘Rope,’ the band trades a riff with Taylor, allowing him to showcase his playing ability uncompromisingly. The song rocks, and the solo is no different.
From the moment the drum solo kicks in, Hawkins delivers a relentless and precise performance of sixteenth notes down the drums and triplet syncopations.
His drumming showcases power and finesse, with lightning-fast hertas, intricate patterns, and explosive off-beat cymbal crashes.
28) Scott Travis — “Painkiller” by Judas Priest
Regarding speed and intensity, Scott Travis’ drum solo in “Painkiller“ by Judas Priest is a true testament to his abilities.
Travis’ lightning-fast double bass drumming and powerful cymbal crashes intensify the song’s aggressive nature.
Live Album Legends
Captivating live performances have often featured drum solos that stand the test of time. One of the most celebrated live drum solos is the open-handed mastery and control displayed by Billy Cobham in the song “Tenth Pinn“ during a 1974 concert.
Neil Peart’s “O Baterista“ performance is another example of a legendary live drum solo, with Peart playing different time signatures and speeds.
Incorporating various techniques, styles, and artistic expressions, these iconic drum solo recordings continue to inspire both seasoned musicians and new learners, solidifying their place in the annals of music history.
Techniques and Styles
Many of the best drum solos showcase the drummer’s incredible technical skills, such as speed, control, and ability to play complex patterns.
For example, Neil Peart of Rush demonstrated his ability to play different time signatures and speeds with all four limbs in the composition “O Baterista.”
This skill level allows drummers to create intricate and captivating solos that challenge the listener’s understanding of rhythm and timing.
Some drummers, like Billy Cobham, have been known for their pioneering open-handed approach, which allows for increased speed and control, as showcased in his solo during the song “Tenth Pinn” in 1974.
Aside from technical prowess, many drum solos stand out due to their unique and innovative styles.
Keith Moon of The Who exhibited a wild and inventive drumming style in his solo featured in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.“ The solo comprises energetic rolls on the snare drum, contributing to the fast-paced, energetic vibe of the song.
Simon Phillips, known for his incredibly tasteful and distinctive musicianship, masterfully uses the full range of tonal options on his drum set. He is a true melodic drummer powerhouse, as seen in his performance at the UK Drum Show.
Innovative styles can also be heard in John Bonham’s iconic performance of “Moby Dick“ by Led Zeppelin. His impressive stamina and technique, combined with a focus on the heart and soul of the music, make this one of the most memorable drum solos of all time.
Jazz drumming has always showcased a wide range of incredible talent and creativity. Buddy Rich was a highly influential jazz drummer known for his unbelievable speed, impeccable technique, and powerful solos.
Other notable jazz drummers include Gene Krupa, who pioneered the modern drum set and played a significant role in popularizing swing music.
Max Roach, often hailed as the father of bebop drumming and known for his innovative and melodic approach played with jazz legends such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Rock Drumming Pioneers
Rock drumming has had its fair share of trailblazers, as well—Keith Moon of The Who was recognized for his wild and innovative style.
John Bonham, drummer of Led Zeppelin, is renowned for his epic “Moby Dick” solo, showcasing his powerful grooves and thunderous rhythm.
Another titan of rock drumming is Neil Peart of Rush, whose complex and highly technical solos have inspired generations of drummers.
Modern drumming continues to evolve, with many contemporary drummers pushing the boundaries of conventional techniques.
Mario Duplantier, drummer for the progressive metal band Gojira, delivers jaw-dropping performances and is known for his live solos, displaying his unique blend of power, agility, and precision.
Thomas Lang, a versatile drummer with a background in various styles, has made a name for himself through his skillful performances, innovative approach, and best-selling educational materials.
Another top-notch contemporary drummer is Jojo Mayer, known for his seamless fusion of electronic and acoustic drumming elements, which has transformed how many drummers approach their instruments.
The world of drumming is vast, and these influential drummers and countless others have helped shape the art form and push the limits of what percussion can achieve in music.
What are some of your favorite drum solos? I’d love to add your suggestions to the list. Please leave a comment down below and share the article on social media if you enjoyed reading it.
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