Student of the Drums – A Life Long Journey
Playing drums and providing high-quality drums lessons has been a big part part of my life, past and present. Over the past several years, I have really amped up my own personal private lessons and have been taking anywhere between 2 to 3 lessons a week, each with a different professional drummer. That’s 2-3 hours a week of advanced drum lessons, and I have no intention of slowing this process down. To me, there is always room for improvement. And I am always striving for that next breakthrough moment. Thankfully, my current instructors know what it takes to get me up to, and past, those hurdles.
For private lessons, in the Westchester, NY area, please see http://musiccollectiveonline.com to learn more about my rates and teaching methods.
Here’s a little bit of history…
In 1965, my parents signed me up for private drum lessons once a week. The instructor was a cool guy; halfway between a beatnik and a hippie, but more probably a beatnik since the term hippie had not yet been coined.
At the time, I wasn’t that committed to the instrument but my instructor was very knowledgeable and well trained and I got as much out of each lesson as I put in. Isn’t that true of anything in life? But I was too busy being 10 years old.
Looking back, my drum teacher started me off on the right track with all the right books including George Lawrence Stone’s “Stick Control”, Carl Gardner’s “Progressive Studies for the Snare Drum”, Buddy Rich’s “Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments”and Roy Burns’ “Elementary Drum Method”, and many more. I still use the Stone book but, as you may imagine, I have graduated on to other more demanding books. All 3 of my drum instructors are still blown away by all the handwritten annotations and dates that were scribbled into these books by the stable of drum teachers I’ve had through the early years.
While poring through these book, we noticed something had happened. The annotations stopped. The dated notes were no longer present after a certain point in my lessons and development as a drummer. Essentially, it was clear that I stopped “learning”. Lessons ended and that was that, only after four years of private lessons. Perhaps it was financially motivated by my parents, or maybe my instructors were frustrated with my progress. Or maybe I told my parents I was no longer interested. But I don’t remember why the lessons stopped. But I didn’t stop being a drummer. I continued to play everyday, joined countless bands, competed in a lot of local battles of the bands, and played in a lot small venues, schools, and auditoriums.
I’d like to say I was a great student early on, but that’s not the truth. Sure, I excelled in some areas and was deficient in others. Aren’t we all that way in some regard? I mean, I always struggled with my rudiments, single stroke rolls were my nemesis. And due to the weak left hand, my doubles and paradiddles weren’t too great either. Again, I was only 10 year. I could never breakthrough that brick wall we all hit at certain points in our development as drummers. That left hand of mine has always caused me grief and frustration and I suspect I gave up as a result. At least that’s what I can figure happened. I know, however, in my heart of hearts, that had I persevered, I could have broken through and continued to progress as a drummer, but something stopped me.
I continued playing for years and years thereafter – right through college and into adulthood – but I wasn’t really practicing my lessons. As a result, I was always insecure about my chops and it showed. I could never nail the breaks and fills to my liking. I knew I let my band mates down, but more importantly, I left myself down. Heck, at 17, I was summarily dismissed from one of the best bands because I could not nail Bonham’s “Stairway to Heaven” break. As simple as the timing appears to me now, I never spent the time to learn it back then. I never owned a Led Zep album either, so how could I really learn the song. Boy, was that a mistake. All the drummers I knew were surpassing me in talent and skills in those days because I would not spend the time to woodshed anything.
By the early 70’s, I decided it was time to get back into it, find another private instructor and start over to learn it right the way – AGAIN!
I signed up and studied with Charles (Charlie) Perry. Some of you know him as the author of the seminal “Rockin’ Bass Drum” series of books, and his “Introduction to Drum Set” books. Please read the tribute page I wrote in this blog. Many of his students have found this blog and provided some their comments and memories. Please read them.
I was 17 and I could drive to his house in Rockville Center, NY and we’d spend an hour a couple of times a week. He would always says that my arms and wrists were too tight and to loosen up when I play. That was always my problem and I know why. I never dedicated enough time to practicing on my own to break through that brick wall. So, what happened? I quit learning, again! But I continued to play throughout college.
This is not to say that I didn’t get anything out these lessons with Charlie Perry. On the contrary, I learned a lot about playing the kit and building 4-way independence. We’d go through charts together and study performances, but something prevented me from really progressing.
It was then time for college.
After a couple of days on campus at the university, I walked into town and discovered a small music store and so I posted a “Drummer Available” note on the bulletin board. A day or two later, I received a call from a local resident, Ray, who was a local guitarist and a young newlywed living in a trailer with his wife on his father’s farm. We met and discovered we had similar tastes in music and decided to have a go at this band thing. I put out flyers around campus seeking a bass player and another guitarist and quickly received numerous responses. We auditioned all of them and decided on a couple of players from the university.
The problem was that my drums were back in Long Island along with our bass players gear. And so, as a group, we piled into ours cars and drove home for an extended weekend to pick everything up.
One bonus, however, was that Ray’s uncle, Frank Ippilito, owned Professional Percussion in NYC and, on our way back upstate, we stopped off at Professional Percussion in NYC so I could replace some old hardware and purchase some new drum heads.
As a band, we rehearsed as often as we could and started getting local gigs. I remember one gig at a local high school, the spade holder on the rail consolette holding my small tom to the bass drum snapped off the drum and one of our roadies had to stand there holding the small tom in place so I can continue playing.
Then, everything stopped after my first semester. I was unhappy at school (and my chosen major) and decided to transfer to another school under a new major. It was really too bad because the band was gaining traction and we had booked a couple of gigs around town and on campus for the second semester. But I was conflicted. I loved playing the drums, but I had to concentrate on earning a college degree in a profession where I can earn a living – because drumming was not going to do it for me.
I thought drumming was going to be a footnote in my life. But I could not let that happen. I still had a lot to learn. There is always room for improvement. There are always new musical genres to explore. More people to play with. More to experience as a musician.
So, as you may imagine, I could not stay away from the drums for too long.