Monthly Archives: November 2017

Collaboration


One of the benefits of being a musician is the ability to collaborate with other musicians. Often great things come out of these creative partnerships. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with an exceptional player and producer named Attila Domos. In addition to being an author and athlete Attila is a gifted pianist, singer, and songwriter. As a child, Attila was a member of the world famous Vienna Boys Choir and as an adult he was a founding member of the immensely popular Pittsburgh-based band Big Bad Wolf. I had the opportunity to provide electronic and acoustic drum tracks for several of his solo projects. One of the results, titled “Water and Ice,” is embedded below. Attila’s latest album, 407.7, and his previous album Never Enough are available for purchase and download here: http://attiladomos.com/musician.html. (Photo by Crystal L. Fortwangler)

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Drumming makes kids smarter


A Harvard-based study released in 2008 found that young children who study a musical instrument outperform children in their same age group with no instrumental training—not only in tests of auditory discrimination and finger dexterity (skills honed by the study of a musical instrument), but also on tests measuring verbal ability and visual pattern completion (skills not normally associated with music). The study’s published findings specifically stated that: “Studying an instrument seems to bring benefits in areas beyond those that are specifically targeted by music instruction.”

Both Rich and I are products of our respective school music programs. As students, we participated in a variety of music classes, clubs, bands and ensembles. As adults, we are able to see the benefits that we received from our musical education—both then and now. Here’s our takes on the subject:

Rich: “I started playing the drums in 1977 and was kind of an overachiever. At eight years old I was playing five-stroke rolls, flams and flam taps. I was reading and even playing the Joel Rothman books. I started taking lessons because my Dad was like, ‘Hey, do you want to learn a musical instrument?’ and I was like ‘No, I want to learn the drums!’ So, I started taking lessons and my first teacher taught me how to hold the sticks correctly, the importance of posture, reading and the rudiments. I got really involved with the music programs in school starting in the fifth grade. Concert band, marching band, orchestra, jazz band, the pep band – anything I could get my hands on and then always had projects outside of school as well… jam bands, rock bands, tribute bands. I just always wanted to play. I remained dedicated to learning as much as I could about the instrument and followed my passion all the way to a Master’s Degree in music. I definitely believe that music made me a better student. You could say I’m proof that music education works. I’m still learning every day.”

Michael: “I started playing later than Rich (in 1985) and continued taking formal lessons up until I was a young adult. I still take lessons via the Internet whenever I can. Music education was always an essential part of my life and I don’t remember a time growing up that I wasn’t involved with percussion teachers and ensembles both in and out of school. For me, I started out with a pair of sticks and a drum pad.  I had to take lessons in order to prove I was serious. Then my parents bought me my first kit (a Pearl Export) and that was all she wrote. My first gigs were as the drummer for the middle school choir band which later led to symphonic, marching, stage, pit and percussion ensemble bands. As I got older, I jammed with my friends outside of school and that gave me a sense of balance. Music lessons taught me discipline and a greater appreciation for all genres of music. As a parent of four, I am a big believer that activities such as sports and the arts enhance a child’s growth. All of my kids are perennial honor roll students and have had success as players and performers. I credit them and not myself.”

FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids is the culmination of our shared experiences and education. We represent a professional-player and a player-parent who both understand the tangible benefits of exposing children to music at a young age. Whether a child decides to pursue an instrument seriously or not, the skill set they develop will give them an edge in all aspects of education. This includes memory, creativity and enhanced reading and writing skills.

Plus learning and playing music is F-U-N and what’s better than that when you’re a kid?

Photo: My son Jackson’s photo shoot in 2013. Click image for full-size.

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Election Day

Modern Drummer has posted their ballot for the 2018 Reader’s Poll. If you feel so inclined, please consider writing our book FUNdamentals of Drumming For Kids in the Educational Product section. And don’t forget to vote for Rich as Best Country Drummer. Thanks for your continued support! VOTE HERE.

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Discovering Greatness

Let me begin by saying that I’m very ashamed to make this confession. As a drummer and as an educator, I can’t believe what I’ve done. OK, here is goes…until recently I have not given Max Roach any respect. It’s not that I don’t like Max Roach, it’s that I’ve paid little or no attention to the man. I’ve watched the occasional drum solo on YouTube. Max Roach is even included in my book when I list the most influential drummers by decade. That said, I never gave him much thought. I never understood the influence of his style and his contributions to jazz and bop drumming.

It was listening to Mike Dawson, managing editor of Modern Drummer, talk about him on the Mike and Mike Podcast that caught my attention. I felt it necessary to revisit Roach. Actually “visit” as in “for the first time” is more accurate. When I did, I found a drummer that made the drums speak. Roach used a theme that established the framework for his solos. His unique system had a beginning-middle-back to the beginning-and end. That approach has been copped by countless drummers today.

I’ve come to appreciate Max Roach and I am spending a great deal of time studying him. Every time I watch one of his solos I learn something more about composing with the drums. His ability to play smooth licks while integrating his remarkable chops makes for a complete piece. Roach isn’t just about solos. His significant skills when playing with other musicians also makes him extraordinary. He is a textbook well-rounded musician. Here’s one of Roach’s noteworthy solos that exhibits all of the above:

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Buddy Rich Pissed Off

Buddy Rich, considered to be THE greatest drummer of all-time, had a larger-than-life personality. A frequent guest on nighttime talk shows, his graciousness and sense of humor shined through. Looking at Buddy at face-value, it would seem he was loved by everyone who came in contact with him. This may have been true with his fans, but there was a much darker side to Buddy when it came to his band.

Always a perfectionist, Buddy set extremely high standards for those who accompanied him on the bandstand. They were expected to perform at the same level that he did. In many cases this was an impossible task. No one besides Buddy knew what he considered to be a “satisfactory” performance. Often his expectations changed from show to show.

Buddy was prone to have aggressive outbursts to his band members on the tour bus. In these instances he berated his players both as a group and individually. He threatened to fire them all on one or more occasion and even threatened them with bodily harm. We can assume that the musicians that worked for Buddy felt a sense of privilege to be a part of his band. Why else would they put up with such abuse?

Recently there has been rampant controversy over historical figures who acted in ways that are no longer acceptable. From explorers and presidents to military figures the legacies of these individuals have been tarnished. The complexity of their personalities and actions are being reevaluated. I for one, as a historian, believe these rash judgments are getting completely out of hand.

That said, perhaps Buddy Rich is also open to being reexamined. His persona on the bandstand versus his persona on the bus is as opposed as night and day. Is the latter justified? I will allow you to be the judge. Here are three secret recordings of Buddy losing his cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-ssZeOZkWU&feature=related

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FUNdamental Toms

In our book this exercise introduced the student to a part of the drum set that is often overlooked when teaching early drum set theory. Rich composed a series of examples that enabled the student to play around the toms and gain confidence and independence. The lesson has been linked here as a PDF in its entirety. Like many of the exercises in the book this application can help beginning students of all ages. As with all of the exercises it is broken down by each measure using our drum tablature. Teachers can incorporate this into their existing FUNdamentals curriculum. (NOTE: A FUNdamentals course syllabus is available here).

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U2’s Larry Mullen Jr.

I started collecting Modern Drummer magazines when I was in middle school. At the time, I never dreamed that one day I would have a book published by MD and be a contributing writer. My first issue was the August 1985 issue that had U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. on the cover. (There is a transcript of the entire Connie Fisher article here.) Larry Mullen Jr. is a drummer that usually slips under the radar of a lot of people. As the drummer for one of the most popular and influential bands on the planet, Mullen’s style has evolved over the years. From the marching cadence of the band’s first major hit, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and inventive backing on the critically acclaimed album Joshua Tree, to his current style that exhibits a newfound sense of maturity, Mullen is one-of-a-kind. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked Mullen as the 96th-greatest drummer of all time. He was also placed at #21 in Stylus Magazine’s list of the 50 Greatest Rock Drummers.

Mullen was born and raised in Dublin where he co-founded U2 in 1976. Since then he has recorded 13 studio albums with the band. In the early days of U2, Mullen’s contributions to the band were often limited to fills and drum rolls. Eventually he became more involved in the writing of the songs and his drum parts evolved into a more traditional role. Mullen is said to have an acute sense of rhythm. While recording he insisted that the click track was off and that he was on the beat. It was later found that Mullen was right and the click track had indeed been off by six milliseconds. Despite that revelation Mullen has criticized his own bass drum technique which influenced his style. In an interview he said:

“When it came to recording ‘Pride’ for The Unforgettable Fire album…I had some interesting ideas but here was a slight lack of focus. My kick drum technique was then, as it is now, completely underdeveloped and I never got a chance to practice and learn like most people would. In the marching bands, I only used a snare and when I first got a kit, I never learned how to properly use all the elements together. So I went and listened to a basic demo of ‘Pride’ and tried to play a beat just using the kick and snare. But I couldn’t get the kick to do what I wanted, so I got a floor tom down and did what I’d done in the past, which was if I couldn’t physically do what was necessary, I’d find another way around it. I couldn’t do what most people would consider a normal beat for the song, so I chose alternatives.”

In addition to producing numerous hits U2 also broke into the film industry. In 1988 the album Rattle and Hum was released with a film of the same name. A box office hit, the movie sold more albums than ever for the group. Mullen’s drumming is showcased on the album and in the film. Over the years U2 has performed some of the largest and most creative tours in history. During live performances Mullen often walks around the stage, playing to the song with a large djembe strapped around his waist or a standing snare drum. He also uses drum machines to emulate the drum sounds that are found on U2’s records.

Mullen and U2 have won many awards including 22 Grammys. His success with both U2 and solo projects puts him among the top earning drummers in the industry. His net worth is currently estimated to be $150 million. Not bad for an Irish kid who started his band in a kitchen in Artane, Ireland. Showing no signs of stopping Mullen and U2 are continually producing new singles and albums. His instinctive drumming is, and will continue to be, a major contribution to the U2 sound.

(Mullen uses Yamaha drums, Paiste Signature cymbals, Brady snares, Promark drumsticks, REMO heads and Latin and Toca Percussion)

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