Monthly Archives: September 2022

Veteran Drummer

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any history on the blog. Today I’ll share the story of one of the oldest veterans ever to survive the Revolutionary War, Alexander Milliner. Too young at the time of his enlistment for service in the ranks, he was enlisted as drummer boy; and in this capacity he served four years, in George Washington’s Life Guard. He was a great favorite of the General who used to frequently, after the beating of the reveille, come along and pat him on the head, and call him “his boy.”

Milliner was at the battles of White Plains, Brandywine, Saratoga, Monmouth, Yorktown, and some others. The first of these he describes as “a nasty battle.” At Monmouth he received a flesh wound in his thigh. One of the officers came along, and, looking at the young drummer, said, “What’s the matter with, you, boy?” “Nothing,” he answered. “Poor fellow,” exclaimed the officer, “you are bleeding to death.” Milliner survived the wound and continued to serve, suffering with his comrades at Valley Forge.

After the war Milliner maintained his affections for his Commander-in-Chief. In an interview published in 1864 he recalled:

“One day the General sent for me to come up to headquarters. ‘Tell him,’ he sent word, ‘that he needn’t fetch his drum with  him.’ I was glad of that. The Life Guard came out and paraded, and the roll was called. There was one Englishman, Bill Dorchester; the General said to him, ‘Come, Bill, play up this ‘ere Yorkshire tune.’ When he got through, the General told me to play. So I  took the drum, braced her up, and played a tune. The General put his hand in his pocket and gave me three dollars; then one and another gave me more – so I made out well; in all, I got fifteen dollars. I was glad of it: my mother wanted some  tea, and I got the poor old woman some.” (His mother accompanied the army as washerwoman, for the sake of being near her boy.)

In all, Milliner served six years and a half in the army. The following is a copy of his pension certificate:
This is to certify that Alexander Milliner, late a drummer in the Army of the Revolution, is inscribed on the Pension List Roll of the New York Agency, at the rate of eight dollars per month; to commence on the 19th day of September, 1819.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the seal of the War Department.- JOHN C. CALHOUN.

Milliner lived to be 104 and died in 1865. A drum belonging to him is on permanent display in Rochester, New York at the Hervey Eli Chapter House, which is maintained by the Irondequoit Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

For more on Drummer Boys, see The Long Roll. This exclusive 50-page eBook presents the history of the Civil War Drummer Boy. DOWNLOAD HERE (PDF, must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view)

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Ringo Starr was born a lefty, but—as with many left-handed children born in a certain era—he was taught that a dominant left hand was incorrect. His grandmother “converted” him to write righty, though he still preferred his left hand for most other tasks. Having to adapt to right-handed equipment and instruments is a part of what made his drumming style so unique.  The reason his drum fills usually include a pause between high hat and toms is because he needed time to get his left hand in position. It’s hard to listen to Beatles songs like “Come Together” or “Tomorrow Never Knows” and not be astounded by Ringo’s drumming. In both cases, the beats make the songs instantly recognizable.

So why didn’t Ringo ever adjust his kit, especially after the Beatles made it big? It might have been because, after years of playing drums with a righty set-up, he became proficient leading with his left hand despite the challenges. The backward playing also helped give him a signature sound. That different sound and feel contributed to some signature drum riffs, such as his mini-solo early in the Abbey Road song “The End.” Ringo’s “backwards” playing style emphasized feel over technical virtuosity. This influenced many drummers to reconsider their playing from a compositional perspective.

In an interview on Conan O’Brien’s show:

“I was born left-handed, and my grandmother thought that was not a good sign, and so she turned me right-handed. So, I write right-handed, but anything else I do left-handed; golf and whatever. So, I have a right-handed kit, but I lead with my left. It makes it weird because I need time to do a fill … [Conan’s drummer] can roll from the snare to the tom-tom to the floor tom, where I can’t do that because I’ve got to come under [my right hand] all the time. I can go this way [to my left] really good.”

Ringo had that old school backbeat. Consistent and deep sounding, it anchored the Beatle’s biggest hits. With the signature left-handed fills and licks, you know he was the right man for the job.

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New Video

Check out a new Amazon Video from Modern Drummer for FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids

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Nothin’ to it but to do it

If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of commitments in your life between your family and your work that ultimately affects your time and ability to practice the drums. My practice life couldn’t get any easier as I am fortunate to have a drum room in my house that is located downstairs and is virtually soundproof. I have an acoustic kit and an electronic kit to choose from and I am spoiled for sure. So, what do I do? I ignore the drums in favor of life’s responsibilities.

I still think about the drums. This blog and Facebook posts keep my mind sharp on the subject, but my chops suffer due to a lack of muscle memory. I’ve posted before about my Practice Notebook. I have a notebook sitting right next to my drums that I record my practice session in. I write down what worked, what didn’t work, and what I need to work on. Not only does this tell me what I need to do, but it also holds me accountable. It’s been a while since I’ve had to record anything. So, what are some ways I can get off my butt and get back in the saddle? Here’s some suggestions:

  • This is an important one and may help solve my problem: Set aside a regular time for practice and stick to it as much as possible. Consistency is key.
  • Don’t try to learn too many things at once. Master one thing before moving on to another.
  • Practice with a metronome. Always work on developing a sense of timing and rhythm.
  • Listen to music. Give yourself ideas for things to try in your own playing.
  • Try using a 5/5/5 rule: five minutes of rudiments, five minutes of independence, and five minutes of jamming to a backing track. (Add more if you have time.)
  • Remember that ten minutes of genuine, focused practice is way better than twenty minutes of scrolling Facebook.

So, there you have it. Now I don’t have any excuses. I just need to get off my butt, get in the drum room, and get to work. Some practice is better than no practice. It’s time to knock the dust off.

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