Monthly Archives: May 2016

Welcome new visitors

Greetings one and all. I assume you discovered this blog after reading my article on Drummer Boys in the latest issue of Modern Drummer. Off Beat is a blog that focuses on drums and drumming and covers a variety of subjects that range from history to technique. If you are interested in reading past published articles and interviews visit the Books-Articles page (above) on this blog. If you are interested in additional information on my latest book FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids or if you wish to purchase the book/DVD in either print or ebook, visit I hope that you will take some time to browse past postings and will make Off Beat one of your usual stops. Thank you.

In order to fit this feature across three pages some of the content had to be removed or adjusted. Here are three stories that did not make my final draft: (*click photos for full size)


Robert Henry Hendershot

Perhaps the most photographed drummer boy of the American Civil War, Robert Henry Hendershot, was known as the “Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” His nickname supposedly came from his reputed heroics at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December of 1862. Hendershot enlisted in Company B, 9th Michigan Infantry in March of 1862, and was taken prisoner that July at the Battle of Stones River. After his release, he joined the 8th Michigan Infantry, although he suffered from regular seizures.

While awaiting discharge for epilepsy, Hendershot arrived on the banks facing Fredericksburg where the Army of the Potomac was preparing to attack the city. The Army of Northern Virginia was waiting on the banks of the Rappahannock River, defending the city while pontoon bridges were being built. The delay enabled General Robert E. Lee to move the Confederate army into a formidable position. When the Union engineers arrived, they came under attack from rebel sharpshooters, so on December 11, 1862 the 7th Michigan Infantry volunteered to cross the river under enemy fire and drive the rebel sharpshooters from their nests. According to an account of the events:

[Hendershot’s wanderings had taken him to the riverbank that morning. He later claimed that he helped push off the first boat, slipped when he tried to climb aboard, and made the voyage across the river while clinging to the gunwale. A dispatch from the scene describes “a drummer boy, only 13-years-old, who volunteered and went over in the first boat, and returned laden with curiosities picked up while there.” A correspondent for the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune wrote that the boy belonged to the 8th Michigan Infantry. Reports of the episode appeared in the press.

The young hero remained nameless until late December, when Hendershot visited the offices of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit Advertiser and Tribune, claiming to be the “Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” Hendershot’s story was repeated in national papers, including the New-York Tribune. Its publisher, Horace Greeley, presented Hendershot with a silver drum. For the next eight weeks Hendershot performed at the P. T. Barnum museum, and then spent a few weeks more in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the Eastman Business College, which had rewarded his heroism with a scholarship.]

Many historians have questioned the story of the “Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” The only ones who knew the truth were the witnesses who were present at the boat’s launching and Hendershot himself. Following the war in July 1891 Hendershot posted a letter to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) newspaper, the National Tribune, restating his claim to the title “Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock,” as well as that of “youngest soldier.” He was by then one of the best known veteran drummer boys in the country. Despite the ongoing controversy Hendershot always stood by his claims before dying of pneumonia on December 26, 1925.


William H. “Willie” Johnston

Most people are unaware that the youngest soldier ever to receive the Medal of Honor was a drummer boy named William H. “Willie” Johnston. Johnston was a drummer in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. During his service he participated in several events including the Seven Days Retreat in the Peninsula Campaign where he was said to have served in an “exemplary” fashion. During this event Johnston was the only drummer in his division to come away with his instrument during a general rout. His superiors considered this a meritorious feat, when his fellow soldiers had thrown away their guns. As a result, he received the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of his division commander, thereby becoming the youngest recipient of the highest military decoration at 13 years of age.

Johnston had enlisted at the same time as his father in June of 1861 and was assigned to a regiment that was camped outside of Washington. He was present for duty but was originally denied pay due to his age. Muster rolls from that time describe Johnston as being 11-years-old and five feet tall. His first engagement took place at Lee’s Mill in Virginia on April 16, 1862. His father was shot and lost a portion of his hand while charging the enemy. Following his next campaign, the Seven Days Battles from June 25 to July 1, 1862, Johnston was cited for bravery. During a retreat many men threw away their guns and equipment to lighten the load. Johnston retained his drum and was the only drummer boy to bring his instrument off of the battlefield.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton presented the Medal of Honor award to Johnston on September 16, 1863. (It is said to have been directed by President Lincoln himself although no definitive proof exists). Following the Peninsula Campaign, Johnston served as a nurse in a hospital in Baltimore and was transferred to Company H, 20th Regiment of Veteran Reserve Corps, where he played in the regimental brass band as Drum Major.

In tribute a statue honoring Johnston was erected in Santa Clarita, California. Some of his memorabilia (to include drumsticks) is on display at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. A plaque was placed in his honor at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia in June, 2012 by the Vermont Civil War Hemlocks. The plaque reads: “At Harrison’s Landing on July 4th, 1862, Willie Johnston — age 11, 3rd Vermont Drummer Boy played for Div. review. For keeping his drum during the arduous 7 days battles, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by Sec. of War Stanton. He remains the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor. His gravesite is unknown. Dedicated June 2012 The Vermont Civil War Hemlocks.” (Harrison’s Landing is located at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia.)


Clarence D. MacKenzie

Clarence MacKenzie was a mere 12-years-old when he marched off to war as a member of Brooklyn’s Thirteenth Regiment. Tragedy befelled him in June of 1861 while he was encamped at Annapolis, Maryland. It was during a training drill that MacKenzie was accidentally struck by a stray ball fired by his fellow soldiers. As a result he became Brooklyn’s first casualty of the Civil War. MacKenzie’s body was returned home and buried in a public lot on the Hill of Graves at Green-Wood cemetery. He was later relocated to the Soldiers’ Lot which Green-Wood donated specifically for Civil War Veterans. His grave is marked with a striking white bronze monument forged in his likeness. The ornate pedestal carrying the statue stands approximately ten feet in height and is inscribed: “ERECTED BY THE DRUM AND BUGLE CORPS OF THE 13TH REGT. N.G., S.N.Y., IN MEMORY OF CLARENCE D. MACKENZIE, BORN FEB. 8, 1849, DIED AT ANNAPOLIS, MD., JUNE 11, 1861, AGED 12 YRS, 4 MOS, 3 DYS.”

Regular visitors to this blog may recall that I have posted before on the history of the drummer boy. As a Civil War and American Revolution author and historian I relish the opportunity to combine both of my interests. (See past posts on the subject: Major A.H. JohnsonHistory of Drummer BoysThe Long RollOnline Photograph CollectionDrummer BoyCivil War RudimentsRevolutionary Drummers)

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Kings and Queens

One of my favorite drum parts is in the Thirty Seconds to Mars’ song “Kings and Queens.” In addition to being the finale of their live shows, “K&Q” represents the band’s exceptional lyrical and instrumental content. Shannon Leto’s powerhouse drumming drives the piece from beginning to end and the song’s accelerating and decelerating segments are an excellent example of effective dynamics. As the song opens Leto forcefully rides the crash while accenting the sequence with off-beats. He then tempers off to a tribal tom arrangement that rolls directly into a marching-like pattern on the snare drum before returning with a crescendo back to the epic opening. The song is a roller coaster ride from beginning to end and Leto’s drum parts propel the song forward. Too often forgotten Leto is known for his energetic live performances and his ability to blend traditional and experimental drum techniques. His talent for marrying acoustic and electronic drums is exceptional. “Kings and Queens” is a prime example of this drummer’s brute strength and tasteful touch. Here is a transcript and video:



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Learning from the Master


No one has produced more valuable educational materials on rudiments than George Lawrence Stone. Born in South Boston, Stone held the titles of percussionist, teacher and author. After he joined the musician’s union at age 16 as its youngest member, Stone played solo xylophone on the circuit. He also served as a regimental drummer, and played with several Boston area orchestras. In 1933 he was one of the founding members of NARD, the National Association of Rudimentary Drummers. When he was not playing Stone lectured, taught, and judged drum competitions. His books represent some of the all-time best sellers in the field of percussion. In 1997 Stone was added to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. (Full bio here) Here are his most noteworthy titles:

Military Drum Beats: For School and Drum Corps- Including Individual Exhibition Beats and the Original 26 Rudiments of Drumming – by George Lawrence Stone

This compact reference book begins with the original 26 Essential Rudiments of Drumming. These are followed by 36 passages and pieces based on the rudiments, all useful for the drum corps teacher and/or player. Military Drum Beats is the perfect introduction to corps rhythms.

Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer – by George Lawrence Stone

In the words of the author, this is the ideal book for improving control, speed, flexibility, touch, rhythm, lightness, delicacy, power, endurance, preciseness of execution, and muscular coordination, with extra attention given to the development of the weak hand.

Accents and Rebounds: For the Snare Drummer – by George Lawrence Stone

The follow-up to the classic Stick Control, this book builds on the basics with accent routines and more advanced rhythms to improve the player’s finesse and control. This book includes sections on accented eighths, dotted notes, and triplets, as well as rebound control and more.

Buy on Amazon

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The GLO-Kit


A couple years ago I penned an article (Read Here) for Drumhead magazine on Steve Goold (Sara Bareilles, Owl City, Go Fish). Steve had become one of my favorite drummers after seeing a 15-part drum clinic that was posted on YouTube. (Watch it here). As a Christian I gravitate towards people who have found a way to incorporate their faith with their work. Steve is a master at this and works as both a session and performing drummer. His originality shines through in performances such as his version of “I Chose You” on Drumeo’s channel.

Another distinctive aspect of Steve Goold’s style is the unique drum sets that he routinely uses. The most renowned of these is the ‘GLO-Kit,’ (See here) which was created by the incredibly innovative folks at Risen Drums in Minneapolis. Keith Anderson, founder and master craftsman at Risen started the company 14-years ago as a hobby, first building and playing the first eight Risen kits himself. In an email interview with me, Keith explained the story behind the ‘GLO-Kit’ and the customer-service philosophy that has enabled his company to thrive.

“Most of what we do here today is based on trial and error,” he said, “and lots of study of sound waves and wood types. My dad always said, ‘passion runs the world,’ and we say that often here at Risen. Our mantra is a simple one: We love drums and that’s exactly why we do this. We also believe firmly in establishing personal relationships with all of our customers. For that reason we are a true 100% custom-drum shop.” He added, “We don’t build anything until it’s ordered and everything is designed and built one at a time. There is no way to buy a Risen kit other than right here in the shop in Minneapolis. So everyone who buys a kit from Risen talks to me. We are not interested in an assembly line or mass production. We are dedicated craftsmen, and every drum that comes out of our shop is a part of us.

Over the years we have been blessed to know and work closely with a lot of great musicians.” Risen artists include: Lester Estelle Jr. (Kelly Clarkson / Big ‘N Rich), Randall Harris (Need to Breathe), Brandon Commodore (Mint Condition), Adam Silverman (Lauren Alaina) and “the Bwack” (David Crowder Band).

The original concept for the ‘GLO-Kit’ was inspired by Goold’s daughter’s nightlight, which he and Anderson discussed one evening over a family dinner. “What I love most about the ‘GLO-Kit’ is how it came about,” Anderson recalls. “This was a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ kind of dream in Steve’s head, and we just had to try it. I love the relationship of that and the grass-roots idea that anything is possible. It pushes us to be more creative as drum manufacturers instead of mass producing clones.”

He added, “The drum shells on the ‘GLO-Kits’ are acrylic white, not clear, so they allow the colored light to pass through, but still remain relatively solid in their appearance. We lined them with LED strips to an XLR jack on the side of the shell, so there are no unsightly cords or anything hanging off the side. We installed coated heads on top and on bottom so the entire appearance is like that of a lampshade. These drums truly glow.” Anderson continued, “For Steve’s kit we added a specially designed brain-box that controls the lighting system in each drum. There are 34 presets for colors that the drummer can switch as he is playing. These lights can also be controlled by the front-house lighting techs. For other ‘GLO-Kits,’ there is a total flexibility and the lighting interface is unique to each drummer’s needs. Therefore every ‘GLO-Kit’ we do is always a bit different from the last one because every player wants to control the lights a little bit differently based on his setup.

The biggest difference with a Risen Drums ‘GLO-Kit’ can be defined by three main things: “First, we cut our own edges into the shell. This is a very tricky process because you do not want to melt the acrylic. You must cut the bearing edge differently than you would on a wood shell. We also want to maintain our own unique Risen sound, which always presents a challenge. Second, we use our own Risen lug system, which utilizes aluminum. This allows the shell to resonate more because aluminum is so light. Third, the venting system on acrylic shells is different than on wood. This is what I believe really sets Risen Drums apart.

We have studied sound waves enough to see a variance in different sized shells and different types of materials. We recognize that each drum needs to breathe differently. Acrylic doesn’t have pores like wood, so sound waves react inside an acrylic shell much differently than inside a wood shell. The shell needs to breathe differently, and we need to let more air escape out of an acrylic shell than any other material. This requires our unique Risen venting system and some innovative master craftsmanship.”

The result of Risen’s efforts is a spectacular drum set that stands out in any performance. For more information on Risen Drums or to order your own ‘GLO-Kit,’ visit

* Steve recently put the ‘GLO-Kit’ up for sale for one lucky drummer to carry on the name.

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Ergonomics of Drumming


Last week I read an interesting article posted over on’s blog. MD’s Educational Team weighed in on the Ergonomics of Drumming. Each member broke down their own preferences and why they chose them. This is a subject that I have often wondered about as my setup is a bit unorthodox. All of my drums and cymbals are set low and flat and I don’t even use a rack tom or ride cymbals.

I’ve had some serious back problems over the years resulting in four back surgeries so ergonomics are a subject that I take seriously. For me personally having my drums setup low and close together promotes less bending and simplified arm motions. I have a drum-line background so stick height is also an important part of my style. My signature Rich Sticks promote healthy hands. Some may say it is economy of movement that results in Ergonomics.

My base kit is a Ludwig Breakbeats that features a rototom and tambourine mounted in place of rack toms. My single crash and china cymbal sit just beyond that. The snare drum sits at belt height. My floor tom is lined up parallel and stands as close as I can get it without touching my leg. This enables me to play the kit without having to bend or reach. The only drawbacks are when I’m moving around the kit at a fast pace and accidentally hit more than one surface at a time. As I use ddrum triggers on all of my drums the sensitivity settings can be a curse at times.


Here are some suggestions from the MD Educational Team:

My suggestion is to first get your instrument set up in such a way that you feel it as an extension of your limbs. It is important to get the drums set up so that you can reach any single instrument without having the need to overstretch. – Florian Alexandru-Zorn

My recommendation is to start with the drums and cymbals placed so you don’t have to do any unnecessary reaching, be it upward or outward. A good idea is to base your setup on a four-piece kit, even if you play larger sets. You should be able to comfortably strip your kit down and develop it from there. – Jeremy Hummel

The goal is always clear: to achieve a place of comfort and balance from which we can go in any direction without feeling impeded in any way. The more aware we are of our mechanics, the easier it should be to figure out how high or low we should sit, as well as the the heights, distances and angles of the elements of our beloved instrument. – Marko Djordevic

I tell all my beginner students at their first lesson the most important part of the drumset is the throne. If it’s not set to a comfortable height and position, playing the drums effectively will be much more challenging and uncomfortable. – Jeff Salem

I think it’s very important for a player to experiment often with his/her setup to find what works best. What a player likes often changes and evolves over time. – David Stanoch

Ask a hundred drummers how to set up a drumkit, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. We are human beings, and as such, are in a constant state of flux. What works today on this gig may not work tomorrow on another. But that’s part of the journey of playing the drums. – Mike Sorrentino

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More Books


Due to my frequent posts on drummer boys, period drums, and battlefield rudiments some visitors have inquired about my books that focus on the American Civil War. Here are my best efforts:

Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy: This book recalls stories of rebellion, racism and reconstruction as experienced by Secessionists, Unionists and the African American population in Fredericksburg’s landmark churches during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Using a wide variety of materials compiled from the local National Park archives, author Michael Aubrecht presents multiple perspectives from local believers and nonbelievers who witnessed the country’s Great Divide. Learn about the importance of faith in old Fredericksburg through the recollections of local clergy such as Reverend Tucker Lacy; excerpts from slave narratives as recorded by Joseph F. Walker; impressions of military commanders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson; and stories of the conflict over African American churches.

The Civil War in Spotsylvania County: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads: From 1861 to 1865, hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides of the Civil War marched through, battled and camped in the woods and fields of Spotsylvania County, earning it the nickname ‘Crossroads of the Civil War.’ When not engaged with the enemy or drilling, a different kind of battle occupied soldier’s boredom, hunger, disease, homesickness, harsh winters and spirits both broken and swigged. Focusing specifically on the local Confederate encampments, renowned author and historian Michael Aubrecht draws from published memoirs, diaries, letters and testimonials from those who were there to give a fascinating new look into the day-to-day experiences of camp life in the Confederate army. So huddle around the fire and discover the days when the only meal was a scrap of hardtack, temptation was mighty and a new game they called ‘baseball’ passed the time when not playing poker or waging a snowball war on fellow compatriots.

Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall: This is a story about faith. A story filled with the kinds of heartache and hardships that would leave many of us questioning our own beliefs. It is a love story that is filled with sorrow, testimony, hope and despair. It is a story that reaffirms the power of prayer and that all things in Him are possible. Ultimately, it is the story of a man who suffered greatly, but chose to embrace the Will of his Savior as the foundation for a legendary life. Onward Christian Soldier presents an intimate portrait of Confederate General Thomas Stonewall Jackson. Unlike the countless military studies that have come before, this inspirational book focuses on both the spiritual and historical milestones in the life of this American icon.

View book covers for additional information:

Historic Churches of Fredericksburg

The Civil War in Spotsylvania

Onward Christian Soldier

Books available on

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Feature articles

Here are links to a couple feature-length articles I penned for Drumhead and Modern Drummer magazines. Both of these players have forged stellar reputations both on the road and in the studio. They were excellent interviewees and both shared valuable insights on navigating the music industry while managing sessions and performances.

Drumhead: Troy Luccketta Untold story of Tesla’s timekeeper

Modern Drummer: Dan Needham Nashville Challenger

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