Andrew Niemann, a nineteen-year-old aspiring jazz drummer, dreams of becoming the greatest drummer in the world, surpassing even the legendary Buddy Rich. Despite coming from a non-musical background, with his father Jim being a failed writer, Andrew starts his first year at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music, the best music school in the United States.
At Shaffer, the best way to excel is to study under the guidance of Terence Fletcher, the intimidating and demanding conductor of the school’s jazz band. Andrew is thrilled when Fletcher invites him to join the band, initially as a substitute drummer. However, he soon realizes that Fletcher operates through fear and intimidation, never settling for anything less than perfection from his students.
Being the best in Fletcher’s mind not only requires playing well, but also knowing that you are playing well and if not, what you’re doing wrong. Fletcher’s modus operandi creates an atmosphere of fear, with everyone in the band constantly on edge. Nevertheless, Andrew works tirelessly to become the best. He must figure out his priorities in life and what he is willing to sacrifice for greatness.
The question becomes how much emotional abuse Andrew can endure from Fletcher in order to achieve that greatness, which he believes can only be attained through the paths paved by Fletcher.