Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drums and Drumming

6/8 I started drumming in 4th grade. I picked up a pair of sticks and started counting 1 + 2 and, blah blah blah, hitting the wooden seat of the chair in front of me in music class. I was pretty good at the one and two ands, understood the whole note, half note, quarter note concept, but then I got walking pneumonia and missed a week of school. Sometime during my week of illness, the sly old coot teacher had moved on to sixteenth notes and suddenly I was lost counting and kind of sunk off the old stool and out of music class.
12/8 Looking back, I find it hard to believe my music teacher didn't take the extra five minutes to explain (or as Bernard Purdie would say, "splain...") what had happened while I was gone.

4/4 During that week at home, I read my first book cover to cover. It was a little chapter book about a pony. Don't remember much about it other than the pony was nice and the kids in the book were happy. Anyway, I digress. Seems the little slip up at the 4th grade level kind of set the tone for me not really understanding counting and note values for some time to come. But I continued to hit things with my drumsticks, only at home now.

5/4 As I got older and into junior high, my dad bought me a used Japanese drum set. It was awesome! The cymbals were cheap and would dent, crack and bend when I hit them, and the drums were out of tune, but I didn't care. I was in heaven!

7/8 As I got into high school I bought a pro level set off a classmate for a whooping $200.00. A nice blue onyx Rogers Holiday set, with a 22 inch Zildjian sizzle ride and an 18 inch crash. Heaven thy name is drum!

15/8 I listened to records and tried to play along. School band was out of the question. They had too many notes. I was determined to teach myself how to play. Only thing I really didn't know about drumming was how to do it. Oh, sure I bashed and moved and soon my hands and feet were flying. I used to listen to Gene Krupa and try to imitate his sound. Soon I was listening to Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker.

7/4 Eventually, I learned to play a pretty mean drum solo. Only problem was I could not hold a steady beat. Nor did I have any concept of "time." Little did I know all those "notes" had to be played in time and had so many beats per measure at a particular speed. I just thought drummers played and that was it. Kind of like an embellishment on the music.

9/8 Well, anyway, a few thousand drum lessons later, I was in a band, but still, the notion of keeping "time" was just lost on me. I didn't know what a time signature was, nor did I have any concept of playing notes as a drummer. Oh, sure, I kind of learned my rudiments and kind of could count out notes, but the concept of time...?

12/8 I got into music school by enrolling in a correspondence class from Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was 19 and had just been asked to leave a band because I couldn't play in time with the music. I was determined to show them the genius I truly was by going to school. Eventually, I got into the Berklee by lying about my past experience and about which "required" drumming books I had mastered. Ah, yeah, kind of a huge mistake.

15/8 I met "monsters" at Berklee. Huge one eyed Cyclopes that ate whole villages for breakfast. Those were the kids that had been practicing, with books and a metronome, for 12 hours each day since 4 th grade. (Like I should have.) These were the kids that absolutely blew people away with their skill and dedication. Me? I kind of faded into the shadows as much as possible.

3/4 I did okay, though. I got a 3.5 my first year and did very well in everything but sight reading for my instrument. Again, 4th grade came back to haunt me.

5/8 Anyway, even now, as an "old man", I am still learning. Each year as I progress, I marvel at what I pick up. Listening to music is like a dissection to me now. Sure I hear the piece as a whole, but like a painter looking at another artists work, I see the work that went into that painting. I see the strokes used by the brush, the composition used, the layout, the points of interest.
16/8 I listen to a piece of music now to be thrilled, not so much by the sound, but by the skill of the artists involved. And the more I listen and learn and imitate, the more I love and dissect and appreciate virtuosity in a player or group of players. I appreciate more and more the genius that is in all of us, if only to be nurtured and developed by curious and loving hands.

7/4 I love drums! I love to look at pictures of drums, cymbals, hardware, drumsticks. I have books on how to make drums, old drums, new drums. Show me a good drum and you will have my attention, and a smile. Sometimes I'll go into a music store just to look at the pretty drums...
4/4 Oh, and now I count everything. That that I have to anymore, it's just ingrained in my head.



  1. I am a fan of VERY LOUD drums. I like to buy little kids drum sets(their parents hate me, tis life..) I still appreciate a good Alex Van Halen drum solo ;-0.~Mary

  2. I have 1 frame drum and two djembe's, play in drum circles every chance I get.
    *** Coy ***