Monthly Archives: September 2015

Learning The Moeller

Lately I’ve been challenging myself to take my rudimental playing to the next level. This includes improving my precision and speed. In order to accomplish this I am expanding how I approach rudiments and opening myself up to trying new methods. I primarily use matched grip and go back and forth between German and French grip. Therefore the obvious choice to increase my chops is to use the Moeller Method. In a nut shell the Moeller is a percussive stroke method that combines a variety of techniques with the goal of improving hand speed, power, and control while offering the flexibility to add accented notes at will. The technique uses a specific whipping motion that allows gravity to do most of the work, allowing the drummer to play faster, by staying relaxed. Jim Chapin does an excellent lesson on the Moeller technique that shows the amazing speed and control that can be developed. Here is a study guide that presents simple techniques that can be used to learn the Moeller Method. I have a long way to go but like anything the more you practice the closer you get to achieving your goal.


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Bonzo’s Best (IMO)


Today marks the 35th anniversary of the death of John Bonham (May 31, 1948 –September 25, 1980). As a result people are posting tributes to the drummer all over Facebook. Many of them are asking readers what their favorite Led Zeppelin song is in regards to Bonham’s drumming. Of course there are the obvious answers like Moby Dick, Fool in the Rain, and Good Times Bad Times. These are all great choices but for me, the best Bonham track is hands down Poor Tom. Originally recorded for Led Zeppelin III, it was added to the CODA song list following Bonham’s untimely death. Poor Tom incorporates all of Bonham’s gifts: a great shuffle feel, strong bass drum patterns and some nifty snare combinations. In the song, Tom finds out his wife is cheating on him and shoots her. It is highly atypical for a Zeppelin song: jug-band, acoustics, and harmonica. More of the skiffle than the Hammer of the Gods here, albeit still unmistakably Zeppelin. Bonham starts the track with that neat snare-bass drum combo then carries it through the entire composition. (Listen:

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Drum Battles


In the chronicles of drumming history, no two names resonate with more respect than those of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. These two musicians literally redefined their instrument and have inspired generations of drummers who still look upon them with a sense of wonder and worship. During their era, big-bands ruled the airways belting out swing, jazz and bebop numbers. At the time, it was the drummer who towered above all other soloists on the bandstand. Krupa and Rich were at the top of the heap, performing magnificent as individuals and divinely when brought together to “battle” one another.

It was during these “drum battles” that one could clearly see the dazzling similarities and differences in the playing styles of the participants. Krupa, clearly a dancer’s drummer, furiously worked the toms, creating a tribal backbeat that was accented with a brilliant use of the splash and cowbell. Rich, a tremendously technical player, played ridiculous rudiments at a speed that was virtually incalculable and incorporated stick tricks that left his peers shaking their heads in disbelief. To watch Krupa and Rich go at it must have been like watching Babe Ruth pitch to himself.

Unfortunately there are only a few of these epic engagements that have been captured either on audio or film. “The Original Drum Battle,” as it came to be known, took place at the kick-off of what was the 12th National Tour of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic. That show took place at Carnegie Hall on September 13, 1952 and has become one of the most revered live recordings ever captured. There are also two meetings of Gene and Buddy on film, both from television shows broadcast in 1966 and 1971.  

On November 1, 1956, both drummers went into the studio with a group of JATP All-Stars, recording an LP called “Krupa and Rich.” Strangely, Gene and Buddy only play together on one tune, with the rest of the tracks featuring one drummer or the other. Although there is no recorded documentation, there is evidence that Buddy and Gene continued their drum battles from time-to-time through 1957. In a 1956 radio interview with the Voice of America’s Willis J. Conover, the two drummers spoke of how they felt about the battles, as well as an upcoming JATP show where they were both set to appear. When asked about setting up these challenges, Rich explained the intentional spontaneity of them:

“…they never will be because then it would get kind of stiff, boring kind of thing. I think we get up on the stand every night and we look at each other and you listen to all the comments that come at you from the audience. Naturally, they’re partisan groups and they’re all shouting for their favorites, and we sit down at the drums and we laugh, and some nights Gene’ll start a tempo or other nights I’ll start the tempo. And we just start to play. And some nights it’s great, and other nights it’s laughs, and other nights it’s boring, because that’s what makes-anything that’s spontaneous is a-it’s a free feeling. We get up there and play just exactly what we feel like that particular night. When we play places like Carnegie Hall where the places are sold out we know that the people are listening uh, we play good. We play other places where we don’t think there’s too much interest-rather than listening-I think that people would rather be heard themselves-so we let them scream and we play under them.”

In 1966 Sammy Davis Jr. played host to the mighty two on a broadcast of his ABC television program. The last, on-camera meeting between Krupa and Rich that we know of took place on October 12, 1971. The occasion was a Canadian television special hosted by their friend and fellow percussionist Lionel Hampton. Rich came out at the very end of the program to participate in a four-way drum duel featuring Hampton, Krupa, Rich and Mel Torme’. After Krupa passed away in 1973, Rich continued to battle other drummers off-and-on until his own death in 1987.

Today, over five decades since Krupa and Rich first took the stage to duel, musicians and music lovers alike are still amazed and invigorated by these incredible performances that have not been duplicated or witnessed since.

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Music Matters


In my past life as a historian I wrote seven history books, co-produced one documentary film, and penned a dozen or so articles for history magazines and periodicals. My favorite historical figure to study was, and still is, Thomas Jefferson. I possess many books on T.J. in my collection and I have made multiple trips to his beloved Monticello, a mere two hours away. I am fascinated by Jefferson’s renaissance-like approach to life that made him a man of many talents and occupations. One aspect of Jefferson’s life that transcended all of these roles was his love for music. Music was a staple in the Jefferson household whether it was at home in Virginia or abroad. A musician himself, Jefferson had a diverse taste in music and referred to it as “the passion of his soul.” He also instructed his daughter to “Never neglect your music. It will be a companion which will sweeten many hours of life to you.” To improve the state of music in America, Jefferson encouraged its practice, and music played an important role in the life of his family through the generations. Nowadays as a music educator writing books about drums I must concur with Jefferson, even more so than before, of the importance of music and the inherent benefits of it. Music does not only provide us with pleasure, it can also improve our comprehension skills. It is equal parts art and science and it enriches our lives as Mr. Jefferson so duly noted. I often look at the drums as not just an instrument, but also as a teaching tool and concur that we should never neglect our music.

Here’s some of the Jefferson-related pieces that I penned some time ago:

Race and Remembrance at Monticello

The Jefferson Project

Jefferson and Religious Freedom

Jefferson in Black and White

Slavery at Monticello

TJ Book Project Synopsis

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FUNdamentals Review

Here’s a great review of our book:

One of the biggest challenges facing teachers today is getting children excited about music. As more and more schools cut their budgets for music programs, instructors struggle to develop an interest in the arts. This is especially true for younger children who are at a ripe age to take up an instrument. Learning music accelerates educational benefits that improve comprehension skills such as reading and math. One book that is rising to this challenge by combining elementary school teaching techniques with basic music theory is FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.

FUNdamentals is a new step-by-step program geared toward introducing drumming to young children ages 5-10 and up. The book won Best in Show at 2014 Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and has been an Amazon Best-Seller in five different countries including the United States, UK, Canada, Italy and Spain.

The first thing you notice about this book is the overall quality of design and presentation. From the cartoon illustrations to the extensive photographs and typography, FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids delivers an easy to follow curriculum that builds upon itself. These exercises present drum theory in a fun and familiar way by using flash cards, counting exercises, clapping, and more.

Students begin by learning the history of drums, types of drums, proper technique, warm-ups, and basic note recognition. Next they execute counting and hand drumming patterns that later progress into sticking exercises. This evolution culminates in a specially designed music tablature that presents traditional music notation and corresponding sticking tables for three- and four-way independence exercises on the drum set. The specially designed activity book keeps the lessons fun and the hour-long DVD provides an intimate one-on-one lesson.

Best known for his work with country superstar Jason Aldean, Rich Redmond is a top session and touring drummer who also holds a master’s degree in music education. Michael Aubrecht is a best-selling author and drummer. Seeing a highly neglected audience, they decided to combine their talents to develop the FUNdamentals system. According to Redmond, “Sharing my love of rhythm is what this book is all about.” Aubrecht adds, “As a parent, this book is written for all ages and stages.”

If you are interested in introducing a child to the drums, look no further than FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.

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Paradiddle Permutations


Inverted paradiddles are a great way to transfer the paradiddle rudiment from the practice pad to the drum kit. These patterns represent permutations on the pattern which are created by displacing (i.e. starting from a different point in the bar). Instead of the standard R L R R L R L L you could start playing from the second note (the left hand) and get L R R L R L L R. Following that logic there are eight ways of playing the paradiddle pattern. Play a pulse on the kick drum or open-closed hi-hat to keep time. On the snare drum, play the standard paradiddle, then work your way through the other seven permutations. Next vary between the snare and toms and run through the patterns again while maintaining the pulse underneath. Remember to start out slowly then increase your speed as you become more comfortable with each pattern.

Here are all eight paradiddle permutations (displaced)

1. R L R R L R L L
2. L R R L R L L R
3. R R L R L L R L
4. R L R L L R L R
5. L R L L R L R R
6. R L L R L R R L
7. L L R L R R L R
8. L R L R R L R L

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Inside the Mind of a Genius

Words cannot even begin to describe Freddie Gruber. Monikers such as “outstanding drummer,” “brilliant teacher,” and “one-of-a-kind character” come to mind. Revered as one of the most sought after drum teachers to the stars, Gruber left behind a legacy that is channeled through the drummers that he educated. Vinnie Colaiuta, Neil Peart, Steve Smith, Daniel Glass, Dave Weckl and Bruce Becker are just a few of players that experience Gruber’s tutelage. On January 15, 2011, Gruber was honored at the NAMM Show with a lifetime achievement award for educational excellence throughout his career. It was an award that was very much deserved. Perhaps the best way to communicate Gruber’s contributions is by sharing a brief tribute that presents his unique philosophy. Neil Peart did an outstanding job penning Freddie’s biographical obituary following the drummer/teacher’s death in 2011 (see below), but the best way to introduce one to Freddie is to let him speak.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Freddie Gruber grew up in the gritty exuberance of New York City in the 1930s and ’40s. As a young man, he was inspired by the creative ferment of that era’s jazz music, and by the late ’40s he was emerging as an exciting and important new drummer. 

 A story about him in Downbeat magazine in 1947 bore the headline, “The Shape of Drums to Come,” and the writer praised Freddie’s innovative polyrhythmic approach to jazz drumming. One notable highlight of those years was being the drummer in the only big band that would ever feature the revolutionary alto sax virtuoso, Charlie Parker.

In those vibrant times in New York City, the postwar boom in both commerce and artistic exploration, from abstract expressionism to be-bop, Freddie’s life intersected with many important characters in music and other artistic fields, like Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Larry Rivers, and Marlon Brando. He became a close friend to the drum legend Buddy Rich, and their relationship continued right up to Buddy’s passing in 1987. 

In the course of Freddie’s long and eventful life, he seemed to cross paths with “everyone who was anyone” — not only in the world of drumming and jazz music, but in the entire bohemian culture of the late twentieth century. READ ON:

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Check out FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids @

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Treading Water

Today I would like to discuss a challenge that I struggle with from time to time. I call it “treading water.” This happens when you find yourself in a rut, unable to learn anything new while relying too heavily on things that you already know. It literally stops you in your tracks and stifles growth. This happens more often than I like to admit and interferes greatly with my practice sessions. I am not alone. The problem is that we question our abilities and expect too much too soon. Instead of rising to the challenge and practicing until we have the necessary chops and muscle memory we are impatient and not willing to put in the time. This results in us referring back to what we can do instead of working on what we can’t do. Lately, I have caught myself frequently treading water. This has spread from the pad to the drum set and has resulted in a lack of development and disappointment. Here are some common exercises that I’ve come upon used to curb this problem:

    1. Meditate. Take a deep breath, relax and remind yourself that you are here to learn.
    2. Keep a diary next to your drum set where you can record what works and what doesn’t.
    3. Have conversations with yourself. Ask the right question and you’ll get an honest answer. Can I do this? What do I need to do in order to do this?
    4. It’s all cerebral, stuck in your head. Remind yourself of this and think through it.
    5. Be willing to sound bad. If you sound good all the time, you’re not learning anything new.
    6. Switch it up. Play music from a genre you don’t usually play, use a different grip, rearrange your drum set configuration. These changes will make things seem fresh.
    7. Talk to other drummers. Seek advice from your peers. They may have some helpful suggestions.
    8. Start slow. Really slow. Build up speed as you begin to grasp it.
    9. Take a break and go for a walk. This is a great way to curb your frustration.
    10. Know your limitations and strive to reduce them. It’s well worth it

Whenever you feel you’re stuck in a rut, look within to see where you’re not being totally true to yourself. By using these tips, you’ll be able to reconnect and push past treading water.

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Sweat Gene Sweat


In the dictionary of slang, the expression “by the sweat of his brow” is used to describe the route whereby an individual’s hard work and diligence are rewarded. In a culture that was founded on the premise that one earns his keep, sweat, in American ideology, represents a physical manifestation of the price that one pays for expending exceptional effort while achieving success. Sweat therefore equates to an element of a performance worthy of our respect.

Naturally, one would assume that “sweat” is a suitable noun to be used when praising the efforts of an athlete on the playing field, but what about those of a musician on stage? Does the sweat resulting from the physical activity of playing music under the lights necessitate the same type of commendation as playing a sport? Obviously musicians perspire, but is that a notable measure when discussing their appeal as performers?

According to the legacy of one legendary musician, the answer is a resounding yes.

That musician is none other than the big band maestro Gene Krupa, who is considered by both drummers and non-drummers alike to be one of the greatest virtuoso performers ever to top the bandstand. Like myself, prior to penning this piece, most folks are probably unaware of the fact that sweat has played a prominent part in the legacy of “The Ace Drummer Man.”

As a drummer, historian and Krupa devotee, I have spent many hours with my nose buried in yellowed newspaper articles, reading dusty eye-witness accounts and faded press packages that examined the impact of this amazing drummer, not just on music, but also on the popular culture of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Surprisingly, the common description that keeps coming up again and again when reading about the life of Gene Krupa is “sweat.”

In fact, from what I can interpret, perspiration appears to be more prevalent in Gene Krupa conversations than that of any other musician of his era. It is as if the raw physicality of Krupa’s performance was, and is, just as revered as the musicality of it, and that is what makes the “sweat of Krupa’s brow” particularly fascinating.

Back in the day, musicians of Krupa’s caliber often published press manuals that were provided to potential promoters in advance of bookings. As predecessors to today’s media kits, these instructional guides outlined everything from a musician’s background and personal tastes, to their specific stage set-ups and equipment requirements. They also included a series of press-ready article templates that could be filled in and used for event promotion.

Gene Krupa’s official MCA press manual from the late 1930’s was titled “The Ace Drummer Man, Gene Krupa and his Orchestra: Publicity-Advertising-Exploitation.” On page 12, there is a very peculiar template titled “Changes Clothes Often.”

It states: Gene Krupa, drummer-bandleader, who is scheduled to appear at ____ on ____, through arrangements with Music Corporation of America, drums so strenuously that he needs an entire change of clothes at every performance. He carries a wardrobe of more than thirty suits which, although specially waterproofed, must be changed after each stage show or forty-five minute jam session. Despite the terrific pace Krupa’s supply of energy is inexhaustible, for he never tires of his drums. At a recent theater appearance the maestro-drummer made thirty-five changes of clothes during the week, five changes a day.

This is the first time, in my research, that massive perspiration, necessitating multiple wardrobe changes, was used as a marketing tool for a jazz performer. Two other sections of the manual reinforce the apparent brutal toll of Krupa’s drumming. The first piece, titled “Drummer vs. Athlete” correlates Krupa’s musical performance to that of a sporting contest:

“When it comes to beating the drums, Gene Krupa, is generally considered to be the fastest man in the business, and according to health authorities, he expends as much energy in working as do athletes in pursuing strenuous sports.” It adds that: “James Davies, health and exercise authority measured Krupa’s exertion during a ‘jam session’ and declared his drumming required as much energy as almost any other human motion. Davies compared the drumming with a five-minute handball game at top speed, a 14-foot pole vault, a six-foot high jump or a 24-foot broad jump. Two swing numbers in a row as Krupa plays them are more enervating than a mile run or four line plunges on a football field.”

The next section in the narrative is titled “Loses Weight Nightly” and states: “Medical authorities have explained the phenomena of Gene Krupa, world’s greatest drummer, who never tires during his workout, although he almost ends his nightly dance sessions in total collapse, by explaining that his physical system in now hardened to this serious strain – and is put back in shape by the five hearty meals which the drummer eats daily.”

Looking at this analysis strictly in terms of swing-drumming, one can only imagine the physical exertion that speed-metal drummers of the modern era are expending over the course of a show. That in itself makes Krupa’s skill set even more delicate as the style of music he perfected required much more diversity and finesse than that of a thrasher.

At the time of this publication though, there was no speed-metal. Popular music, more specifically swing music, wasn’t gauged by the physical requirement of the arrangements. It was gauged by the intensity experienced by the audience while dancing to it. The taxing efforts put forth by the musicians performing it went relatively unnoticed – except when discussing Gene Krupa.

My point is that I’ve never read an article about double bass-virtuoso Dave Lombardo that compares him to Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt; nor do I believe that Slayer’s press kit specifically uses as a ticket teaser, the buckets of sweat that Lombardo produces while performing. The sweat that is most notably recalled at a Slayer concert is spent in the pit, by the crowd.

So what was it about the ferocity-induced sweat of a Gene Krupa performance that stood out so significantly that it became symbolic of his exceptional efforts? And why was this so unusual during his era?

No doubt anyone who witnessed Krupa laying down tribal beats on such hits as “Drum Boogie” and “Sing Sing Sing” would agree that his stamina was remarkable. In his book The World of Gene Krupa: That Legendary Drummin’ Man, Bruce H. Klauber showcases the percussionist’s epic perspiration as an example of the intensity of his playing. He writes, “Krupa made a visual impact, what with his…sweating…with hair flying and sticks twirling all the while under the light strobe.”

In a 2003 Joe Levinson article titled Benny and Gene! Together Again! musician Dave Frishberg recalled how Krupa’s energy didn’t stop once he left the bandstand, even when he was soaked to the bone and obviously spent:

“Gene stood behind the bar and signed every damned picture,” he writes, “He even signed special requests: ‘Can you write “To Sidney from Gene Krupa? Would you dedicate it ‘To Mary from Gene Krupa’? Make it to my granddaughter: ‘To Gwendolyn from Gene Krupa.’ Gene was a real gentleman. He autographed every picture standing, sweating, tired, and holding back his anger.”

The only conclusion that I can draw from all of this is that Krupa was the first, and more importantly, the best sweater on the bandstand – meaning that he performed at a level that eclipsed the efforts of his peers, as indicated by his sweat. In fact, Krupa sweated so much that it literally became his calling card.

This evidence inevitably proves that the energy expended when drumming can equal that expended in a sport. Gene Krupa was absolutely an athlete in terms of physical exertion, and he obviously excelled in his field. Most impressive is the fact that Krupa’s physical flair did not overshadow, but ultimately accented his brilliant musicianship.

And that is what made Gene Krupa’s sweat more significant and noteworthy than anyone outside of the music scene could probably comprehend. If respect can be measured by sweat, then it’s fair to say that Gene Krupa sweated…a lot. Best of all, he earned every drop of that sweat, every time he sat behind the drum kit.

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