Category Archives: Drums and Drumming

As someone who co-authored a successful instructional drum book for kids I’m always on the lookout for educational products geared towards children. The folks at drumeo have come up with a dynamic training tool that takes teaching rhythm to kids to a whole new level. Seeing the need for more online instructional videos for younger players Jared Falk and Carson Grant worked together to develop “drumeokids.”

Their first app, titled “The Rhythmic Adventures Of Captain Carson,” is available for download on any electronic device such as a phone or tablet. This makes it perfect for morning shows, road trip entertainment, or wherever your kids have time to clap and dance. There are three approaches used: Clap-Attack: clapping to various rhythms, Boot-Chick-Cat: vocally responding to real drum beats and Dance Party: dancing along to drum beats with their favorite characters. This is an entertaining way to introduce children to drumming through fun shows that will capture their attention. To download your first lesson for free go to:

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Blood Drums

This weekend I took my family to “The Haunt,” a special Halloween event that takes place at Kings Dominion Amusement Park each year. We are Season Ticket holders so we love going to the park which is only a 30-minute drive from our house. This year we saw an amazing drum corps show put on called “Blood Drums.” You can figure out that the show was ghoulish looking street drummers beating the hell out of 50-gallon trash cans, steel drums, buckets, bongos, a double bass drum kit, and even a washer which they used grinders on. They never stopped playing for 15 minutes straight and their chops and endurance was very impressive. Adding to the mystique was a scantily clad girl spinning various fire objects in time with the rhythms. Blood Drums won “Drum Ensemble of the Year” by Drum Magazine. They have teams performing shows around the country at various amusement parks from now until the beginning of November. If you have the opportunity to see this show I cannot recommend it highly enough. “Blood Drums” will get your heart pumping blood. For more information visit their website.

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Enhancing Education

FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids is the culmination of the collective experiences and educations of a professional player (Rich Redmond) and a player/parent (yours truly) who both understand the tangible benefits of exposing children to music at a young age. Whether or not a child decides to pursue an instrument seriously, the skill set he or she develops will provide an edge in all aspects of education. This includes memory, creativity, and enhanced reading and writing skills. Drum teachers and parents can both use this book to capture a child’s attention. Once they have their interest they can use the teaching aides to explain all facets of the instrument. The book provides a well-rounded study that starts with the history of drums and ends with the child playing along using a special tablature system that interprets written music in an easy and understandable way. Best of all this book/DVD makes learning fun. Get your copy over on Amazon.

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Viola Smith Activist

Perhaps the oldest living drummer today is the female phenom Viola Smith. Starting out in her family’s Smith Sisters Orchestra and later playing in the all-star female band The Coquettes, Viola made a name for herself as not only the best female drummer, but one of the best drummers of her time, period. Now she is 106 and was still actively drumming in a band called the Forever Young Band. Viola’s extraordinarily long career has spanned the entire length of modern music from swing, to jazz, to rock n’ roll.

During World War 2 Viola wrote a controversial article in Down Beat magazine titled, “Give Girl Musicians a Break!” Always being an activist for women musicians Viola challenged bands to replace their missing musicians who went off to war with females. She argued, “In these times of national emergency, many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted. Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their place?” The article initiated a nationwide discussion about the role of women in the music industry and the prejudice that they faced at the time. Viola continued to campaign for women musicians throughout her career. Her tenacity was an inspiration to many women who stood up for themselves.

Viola commented on the dilemma that faced females, “Girl musicians used to have trouble getting any work at all. You had to prove yourself. You had to be heard, but how could you be heard if nobody gives you a chance to be heard? This was the situation for years and years. I always had a job, like the Coquettes, which was an offshoot of the family orchestra. We had some very important dates for the band in big theatres around the country. But this all happened naturally because I came from the family orchestra. The work was just laid out for me. I didn’t fight for it. But all the girl musicians outside of that had a problem, a real problem.”

Pictures and Videos of Viola

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Getting Mad

This week I’m reviewing drumsticks from the Mad Hatter Stick Company. Owner, designer and drummer for Goats of Belmont, Anthony Mills sent me two pairs of their “Flintstone” sticks. These custom hardwood sticks are truly the most unique ones I have reviewed to date and easily the strongest and most heavy-duty.

The first thing you’ll notice about these sticks is that they are blunt on both ends. This gives them more durability. The sticks are also longer than the standard stick giving them an extended throw. They sent an 18” Hickory@.560 and a 17.5” Oak/Hickory Combo@.570. Both sticks feature their latest stick wrap design.

I took both pairs to task on a Carmine Appice Brass Signature Snare, the heaviest snare in my collection, and they performed very well. The usual chipping that would occur with a less durable stick did not happen and it took a significant force to induce any type of fraying that commonly occurs with rim shots. I gave up when my hand started to hurt.

You would think that sticks like this would affect one’s ability to play with a lighter touch and perform clean rudiments but I was able to do both fairly well without much effort. Each pair of sticks was wrapped nicely with black grip tape and tipped on the handle. This ensured a tight hold that was necessary when playing hard with sticks of this length. These sticks would work especially well for drummers in the punk and rock genres.

The Mad Hatter Stick Company’s philosophy is simple: They are “turning the art of drum thumping into a whole new level.” and “for the proud hands of a drummer comes a stick worthy of your blisters.”

If you’re a hard-hitter looking for a stick that can stand up to abuse look no further than the 18” Hickory or the 17.5” Oak/Hickory Combo sticks from the Mad Hatter Stick Company. Their unique design and durability can stand up to whatever damage you can dish out.

For more information, call 503.320.6678 for 24 hr. info and consultation. Also see #madhatterstickco #flintstonesticks or msg Anthony Mills on Facebook at They ship anywhere in the U.S.

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New Toy

This week I got a Yamaha DXTplorer electronic kit. I haven’t had this much fun practicing in a long time. The multiple kits that it comes with keeps things interesting and the sound quality is exceptional. The 5-piece set features high-impact rubber pads with natural feel and rebound, a kick pedal, hi-hat controller module, and rack. At the heart of the DTXPLorer is its compact trigger module, with a 16-bit/32-note tone generator that produces amazingly realistic voices. You can choose from 214 drum and percussion sounds, 22 preset songs, and 32 preset drum kits covering rock, funk, jazz, reggae, and Latin styles. An array of onboard digital effects let you tweak your sound to your liking. You can also create and store up to 9 custom kits.

The module also includes the Groove Check practice feature, a multifunction metronome, backlit LCD display, and simple plug-and-play connections. Auxiliary inputs and MIDI outputs expand the kit’s versatility, allowing you to connect to a PC or other device. The headphone output allows quiet practice too. My new drum room is very quiet but not quiet enough to allow for late night practice sessions. The DXTplorer enables me to play at any hour of the day or night. I plan to post a video of me playing some cool grooves using the hip-hop feature. Stay tuned. (Special shout out to Alvin Sonny Fuchs who gave me the set. Sonny plays in an original band named “The Secret Ingredients” and a cover band called “Hold My Beer.”)

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South and North

It’s been a while since I posted anything on Civil War drummer boys.

Above is a portrait of Confederate drummer boy Charles F. Mosby who served with the Elliott Grays of the 6th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment and Henderson’s Heavy Artillery. Son of a southern, pre-war widow named Sarah Brumfield Mosby from Manchester, Virginia, Charles seems to have entered army life on the shortly after the start of the war. He was only 13 at the time. While still 13, Charles had seen the Battle of Bull Run and at 14, the battles of Antietam and Malvern Hill with the 6th Virginia Infantry, Mahone’s Brigade. Charles mustered out in 1862 and reenlisted in Henderson’s Heavy Artillery. He survived the war and mustered out in 1865.

Above is a portrait of the Union drummer boy Johan Christian Julius Langbein of the 9th New York, Hawkins’ Zouaves who received a Medal of Honor for voluntarily providing medical aid to a wounded officer “under heavy fire.” Langbein joined the 9th New York Infantry from New York City in May of 1861. On April 19, 1862, during action at the Battle of Camden, Lieutenant Thomas L. Bartholomew was hit in the head by shrapnel. Langbein brought the officer to a nearby home and then snuck him into the wagon of other wounded headed to the federal hospital on Roanoke Island. Because of Langbein’s actions, the officer received the medical care that enabled him to recover.

For more, download The Long Roll.

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E-Street Setup

Max Weinberg’s setup has always been simple, mostly consisting of a snare drum, mounted tom, bass drum and floor tom while his usual cymbal setup consists of two crash cymbals, a ride cymbal and a pair of hi-hats, with an occasional third crash: “I’ve got four drums, he says, “Anything more is redundant. Besides, I tend to trip over things.”

  • Drumset: DW with white pearl covering
    • 6×14 Edge snare
    • 9×13 rack tom
    • 16×16 floor tom
    • 18×24 kick drum
  • Cymbals: Zildjian
    • 14″ A Mastersound hi-hats
    • 17″ A medium crash
    • 21″ A Rock ride
    • 18″ A medium crash

He also uses Remo heads and Vater drumsticks, notably the 5A Nude wood tip model and Wire Tap brushes.

Back in the legendary Power Station (Avatar Studios) where “Born In The U.S.A.” was recorded, Max shares some insight on the drum sound behind the classic track.

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An Argument

Today I got sucked into a controversial discussion, more like an argument, over this meme featuring a quote from Tony Royster Jr. If you follow Tony like I do you know that he currently serves the role as Katy Perry’s touring drummer. That’s a sweet and probably lucrative gig. Playing for superstars like this requires a strict adherence to the requirements of both the star and their musical director. It also varies according to the style of play. A sideman on a country gig has to play with a different approach than say a sideman serving a pop artist. No doubt Tony has to fit into Katy’s sound and contribute to her live show according to her tastes. Now there were some different understandings to this meme. Some people thought Tony was simply saying that ghost notes are prohibited. Some, like me, think he is referring to the possibility of them misfiring while trying to do ghost notes. Here is part of our discussion:

Playing for an artist as big as Katy Perry means you do whatever she wants. That’s what a sideman does. That comment means he is following orders.

No way is he doing what he wants. I’m surprised he would even take a gig like this when it prevents him from showing off his blazing chops.

Playing for an artist as big as Katy Perry means you do whatever her music director wants. That’s what a sideman does.

I’m not sure but in my place, ghost notes are a must for drummers in most of the genres. I hate that he doesn’t use them. Where is the solid beat that pumps up your heart rate?

IMO, these gigs require the highest level of ability and responsibility from a drummer. Tony is providing a service to a client. She just happens to be a huge pop star.

Katy’s drummer can be replaced by a computer. And, ghost notes are crucial. Her music is not. Besides, she’ll fire you simply for upstaging her.

Its simple. Tony uses triggers and they don’t handle ghost notes well. Anyone who has ever used them knows that.

Can’t you set the trigger sensitivity/threshold on this shit? Doesn’t he have the best gear money can buy?

I am actually glad she uses a drummer. She can use a recording very easy! Many pop stars like Pink and Carrie Underwood have awesome bands backing them.

So what are your thoughts?

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Stickman’s Philosophy

A few weeks ago I found myself involved in an online chat discussing the problematic habit of developing blisters while drumming. I got into a back and forth with one of the participants and this led me to their video which I found incredibly interesting. The video was that of a drumstick manufacturer who passionately declared that it was not his sticks that made the drummer but the drummer himself who was responsible. This led me to ask the individual if he would answer a few questions here on Off Beat to share his refreshing philosophy.

Hi Michael,
Thank you for the shout out and interview. It’s a real pleasure to be here with you and all your readers.

Fabulous questions Michael, thank you. You ask. “Why, as a drum manufacturer, would I place less emphasis on the stick and more on the work ethic?” Because you’re right. It’s a bit of a quagmire for a stick manufacturer to promote this kind of thinking. Because drum sticks aren’t just tools. They aren’t “simply extensions” of our limbs. Let’s face it. If music is an expression of our souls, drums must be the expression of our beating hearts. Which means there needs to be finesse, feel and soul. There needs to be a cognitive connection between our minds, our hearts and our brains flowing through our veins before our sticks ever hit the brass or the skins. Ultimately, sticks won’t tap out a groove all on their own. So for me, work ethic weighs in over stick choice every time.

As for how my experience has shaped my philosophy might be as simple as going back to the early 70s when I started playing and understanding the limited selections of sticks a drummer had to choose from. Because that’s where you’ll find the original 7A’s, 5A’s, 5B’s and the 2B’s and very little more. So! Stick choice wasn’t truly an issue when I was young and learning. However, later on thru the 80’s and 90’s as music genre’s started meshing and evolving, gear manufactures found their niche and absolutely flooded the markets with crazy varieties of products for playing louder, wilder  with more color and designed for more technically proficient players.

On the flip side, stick manufactures, not so much. Even today, they still pretend to put out a wider variety of sticks. Pretending it’s new by adding colors or logos. Offer sticks that are a pinch thinner, or longer with a slightly different tip or fulcrum, but still counting on artist endorsements for sales. Not much change to speak of. And with so little change it makes me wonder how they do it. In fact! If you’re buying your sticks at a local brick and mortar store, you won’t even know what inch diameter your 5A sticks are much less its weight or length. You just pick out the shortest, smallest, fattest or longest, hold them in your hand and if it feels okay… you buy them.

Mad Hatter Stick Company, while continuing to pay homage to the North American hickory, we equally celebrate all other hardwoods around the world that share its same strength and dependability. Allowing us to combine these hardwoods, mix, match and innovate. Lending to the industry fun, provocative, great looking, handcrafted, and durable sticks with longer lengths, more accurate sizes while bringing awareness to today’s drummers more viable, killer options than ever before. And we do it all with the same passion as the drummers who play them.

We truly are making a difference. Choosing to concentrate on blunt ended sticks is one way we are doing that. If you’re playing style requires you to play with a tipped stick, there are companies out there for you. But for us here at Mad Hatter Stick Co. And those thousands of players who don’t need them, we provide a solid, great looking, longer stick with amazing balance, bounce and attack with more comprehensive options of width weights and lengths than the leading competition. Because we can.

Lastly, you asked me if these sticks are an extension of my own work ethic. And the answer is Yes! Michael, most definitely. Everything about these sticks came from my own needs as a drummer. And only when I realized there were other drummers that had the same needs, did I decide to move into making and designing them for others. From my shop to your hands. Turning the art of drum thumping into a whole new level of loud.

Thank you Michael for your time with me today. I’ve really enjoyed this interview with you and look forward to more in the future.

t. mills

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