BEFORE YOU BEGIN: It has come to my attention that WordPress inserts advertisements on their blogs that use the free subscription option. I want to make it clear that I have no control over what ads popup nor do I necessarily endorse what they are advertising. I can only invite you to scroll down past each one and enjoy the blog’s content.
Read Exclusive Interviews written for Drumhead, Modern Drummer and Off Beat: Troy Luccketta – Steve Goold – Daniel Glass – Garrett Goodwin – Steve Smith – Dan Needham – Kelly Keagy – Scott Pellegrom – Brandon Scott – Mike “Woody” Emerson – Ben Barter – Rich Redmond – Sean Fuller – Jason Hartless – Robert Sweet – Keio Stroud – Tommy Taylor – Frankie Banali – Bobby Z – Danny Seraphine – Dino Sex-(Next up: David Abbruzzese)
Like many of you my first musical performance came via school bands. The one band that stands out in my mind is Marching Band. No other ensemble had the same level of precision and performance as the drumline. The camaraderie that existed between the members of the drumline was exceptionally strong. Although most of the drumline participated in other school bands, there was something special that happened when we were in formation on the marching line. We practiced all the time and performed in halftime shows, band competitions, band festivals and parades. We were The Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles Marching Band.
My first year as a member the school purchased all new equipment. I remember they were Pearls with a chrome finish. They looked cool but it was a polishing nightmare. The percussion instructor they hired was exceptional and he had us crushing our rudiments and playing his original cadences in no time. The first two cadences we played were called “T.E.” (his initials) and “Africa,” a tribal piece that gave us white boys some street cred’. We also performed a cadence called “D.C.” which apparently was a school tradition. I have no idea what it stands for but it was a jam.
I played on the snare line each year. My second year we traveled to Nashville to participate in a national band competition. I think we came in second place. I was made a co-captain my senior year. I was picked to participate in Pitt University’s Senior Day where we performed the half-time show with the Pitt Drumline. Those dudes were mind-blowing. I never saw a paradiddle used in so many ways. I remember we played a medley of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. I failed and tried to keep up.
That was the good stuff. I also remember performing in sweltering heat, marching in the rain and mud, freezing my ass off in the bleachers, having burning blisters and bleeding knuckles, dodging horse shit on the parade route and hours and hours of monotonous practice to make it all possible. The title of “band buddy” topped it off. Regardless of all that, we were the coolest section of the band, maybe next to the tubas, but it was close.
After graduation I attended an art school so my marching days were over but for others it had just begun. Music majors continued their time on the drumline well into their secondary education. Take my co-author and friend Rich Redmond (pictured above with me). Like me, Rich played snare for four years in the J.M. Hanks High School Marching Band. He was also a captain for three years. Upon graduation Rich became a member of the Texas Tech University ZIT drumline. There he played snare for three years and instructed the fourth while writing all of the drumline’s music. I asked Rich what the drumline meant to him. He said, “It was a great period of time to develop my rudimental playing and chops. That time created muscle memory that will never go away.”
This proves how valuable playing in the drumline was to both of us. It shaped my high school years and Rich’s college years. It inspired us as drummers and sparked many musical memories. Today, the drumline continues to influence me as a drummer. Many of the tom fills I do around the kit can be attributed to the drumline. I often approach the kit almost like a set of quads, playing front to back instead of left to right. I still practice my rudiments although they are nowhere near where they should be. I’ve even entertained the thought of buying a marching snare or a Kevlar drum pad. I do have a huge pair of marching sticks with rubber ends that I use to practice on hard surfaces from time to time.
With that said I want to thank my fellow Golden Eagles: Eric, Tim, Keith, Gay, Chris, April, Freddie, Jason, Josh and Gina. We kicked ass.
This week marks the 155th Anniversary of The Battle of Fredericksburg. I live in Fredericksburg and I am surrounded by the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness. I’ve written multiple books and articles on the subject and posted here about The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock. Today I want to share a documentary that I co-wrote, co-produced, and appeared in titled “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” This story tells of a unique event that has become the face of The Battle of Fredericksburg.
I’ve posted here promoting my book, program and philosophy. I’ve taken that one step forward and developed course curriculum (see above) and training aids. I’ve presented samples of practical instruction and I’ve shared other teaching techniques from other educators. One controversial issue I hear is that drum lessons are a waste of time, especially with kids.
This response usually comes from drummers who have played for years with no formal training. Many drummers play cover tunes in bar bands and learn songs by listening. I respect that. I also understand that rudiments and reading music are not mandatory to being a good drummer. My comments here are directly in response to the criticism I received in an email challenging my opinion on drum lessons, specifically for kids.
I will start with my own experiences. I started taking drum lessons at the age of 12. It was mandatory if my parents were to purchase me a drum set. They wanted me to prove that I was serious about learning the instrument. I started out on the drum pad and a year later I got my first kit. My passion for learning resulted in me participating in a number of in-school and out-of-school bands. This included garage bands, marching band, symphonic band, stage band, choir band, jazz and percussion ensemble. All along I took lessons to improve my playing.
In garage bands I listened to cover songs in order to learn them but my education helped me do that in a more efficient way. When we wrote original music my contributions to the song were based upon my skill set. I didn’t just arbitrarily make things up. I put thought into it. The lessons I took as a kid blossomed and I became a well-rounded drummer. No matter what the situation, I was better prepared for the performance. I played better. I sounded better. I was better.
Why would anyone not want to be better at what they do? Mike Dawson, managing editor of Modern Drummer magazine, editor of FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids and a life-long student of the drums summed up my feelings. He said, “I find zero validity in any argument that states that striving to understand more about what you’re saying, doing, or creating is a waste of time. Especially with kids. The more you know, the more you know.”
So to the individual who emailed me I say thank you for taking the time to contact me. That showed an effort on your part. I receive thousands of hits but I don’t receive a lot of email here. My response is this. I believe that kids are far better students than adults. I believe that the earlier you start teaching a child something, anything, the sooner they will pick it up and enjoy the benefits of their knowledge.
UPDATE: Here are some great sources:
Our friend Francesco Vecchio over at Francesco’s Drumming Blog has developed a wonderful book that contains 42-pages of Jeff Porcaro grooves. The book includes eight transcriptions of some of his most memorable performances, playing with artists such as Toto, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan and Michael McDonald. A biography on Porcaro introduces the reader to his extraordinary career. The transcriptions that follow are Lido Shuffle, Lowdown, Hold the Line, Gaucho, Africa, Rosanna, I Keep Forgettin’ and Georgy Porgy (Live).
You can view a 15-page preview of the book here.
Mike and Mike’s Modern Drummer Podcast is holding a contest for the opening drum intro for an upcoming episode. Here is my submission. I wanted to come up with something different than what I believe to be most other submissions. The toms sequence was done via an Alesis sample pad with the acoustic drums layered on top. Both tracks were combined using Garage Band and then boosted in Audacity.
While going through some photographs I noticed that these drummers from yesterday and today play(ed) with an extreme slant on their snare drums. As they use(ed) traditional grip it makes sense for them to use this approach. Most other drummers I’ve seen using traditional grip play on a standard flat snare.
The two living examples above discussed their unique snare drum placement. Both reference their sitting positions.
In an interview with Drum Gear Review Daru Jones explained his reasoning behind his slanted snare: I’m always experimenting with my sound and the look of my set-up. I started playing the snare drum tilted…I like to dominate the drums so I sit really high and come down hard.
Garrett Goodwin explained his philosophy to us via text: “My snare has evolved into a slant. I don’t play traditional grip. I don’t have some cool reason why I do it. I lean forward over the kit in an aggressive stance when I play, so it’s just where my ‘throw’ lands, it’s comfortable.”
Do you use a slanted snare or know of someone who does? (Pictured: Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Daru Jones, Garrett Goodwin)
Today I experienced something I haven’t experienced in a while…criticism. An individual on Facebook was struggling to come up with teaching material for his 6-year-old student. After 140 comments I jumped in and suggested our book FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids. His response, “Yes I got that but didn’t work for me sorry. Not fun enough.”
At first I was taken aback as the only negative critique we have received to date was posted over on our Amazon page. The comment was “Not impressed.”
I think it was the Facebook statement “Not fun enough” that caught me off guard. Not fun enough? That’s what the book is about. Granted there are some explanatory parts meant to be read by the parent or teacher, but the exercises are meant to inspire kids to want to play the drums.
After I pondered this comment for a while I came to the conclusion that it was exactly what I needed to hear. Constructive criticism sparks the motivation to do better. Without criticism what desire do we have to improve? It’s very easy to rest on your success, living in the past without striving for the future. So I say thank you Gary Leach. Your opinion has inspired me to do better as a drummer, a blogger, an author and an educator.
Special thanks to all of our most recent interviewees (2016-2017): Kelly Keagy, Frankie Banali, Robert Sweet, Danny Seraphine, Bobby Z, Scott Pellegrom, Jason Hartless, Ben Barter, Keio Stroud, Dino Sex, Tommy Taylor and my friend Rich Redmond. Many more to come in 2018 to include David Abbruzzese and Marisa Testa. (To access past posts search for “Exclusive Interview”).
Today’s post is about mental atrophy. It is the theory that if you don’t use it you lose it. I have found this to be true. One issue in particular for me is reading music. Back in school I read music all the time. This included marching cadences, symphonic parts etc. Out of school I occasionally read transcriptions of songs that interested me. Then I took a decade off from reading. When it came time to read or write music again I was at a disadvantage. When it came time to author our book I wrote all of the narrative and Rich wrote the music for our exercises. I understand the exercises using our tablature system but I never could have composed them.
Every week I am inspired by the Mike and Mike Modern Drummer Podcast. The advice that I hear over and over is learn to read music. In my situation it’s re-learn to read music. It’s like knowing another language and then forgetting how to speak it. In order to get my mind back in shape I’m going back to the basics. The first book that comes to mind is Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer.
This book presents a concise lesson on reading drum notation and applying it. It was voted second on Modern Drummer’s list of 25 Greatest Drum Books in 1993. Modern Drummer’s Teachers Forum has a great lesson posted on implementing Reed’s theories of syncopation. (Read here)
I’m a subscriber to Modern Drummer and Drumhead magazines. (I’ve also written for both). Each month there are exercises included in the back. To me it’s all gibberish and I would love to be able to use these notations to improve my drumming. I have to learn how to walk again before I can run. I’m excited about this process as it will also help keep my mind sharp. This is not easy stuff. In fact, it will be pretty hard. I suffered a serious concussion that severely affected my memory. My neurologist suggested I learn a new language and this fits the bill. I’ll share my experiences here from time to time as I progress.