Drums and Music, Take Two

Friends,

Hello, and welcome to my web page. I've started this page with the purpose of sharing tips that I learn along the way as I rediscover the world of drums and music. My hope is, that as this page/site is built it will help the beginning drummer negotiate some of the obstacles they may be running into.

My first exposure to acoustic drums happened around 1955. My parents took me to a local parade in a small fishing town in Massachusetts. When the drummers marched by it sent chills through my body. From that moment on I knew I was going to play drums. I got my first drum set ten years later.

I didn't start playing until I joined the high school band, but once I started it was a daily activity. During my high school years we formed a garage band and played at teen recreation centers, high school dances, and where ever we could. In my late teens I played at Gazzari's on the Sunset Strip on a regular basis. The Beatles "White" album had just come out to put some perspective on the time line.

Churchill Downs at Gazzarri's on the Sunset Strip, 1968.


Just when I thought we were on our way I was drafted into the military. It would be over two years before I'd play rock again.

I tried out for the Army band, but my music reading skills weren't up to par. A few months later I became a drummer for our company which kept me from pulling KP and guard duty. We would play cadences as we marched from place to place during Medic School at Fort Sam Houston.

I separated from military service on March 31, 1971. A couple of months later I joined a band formed by one of the guitar players I had played with in the late sixties. The band quickly became popular and we signed with Columbia Records. We recorded our first and only album during February of 1972. The group was called Boones Farm. Jim Messina of Logins and Messina produced the album.


For the next year or so I jammed with local musicians living, in part, off the money I had made with Boones Farm. I played with a couple of groups giging at local clubs. From there I hooked up with a local band called Rockit. Two of the members had played with the Grass Roots. While the musicianship was strong the constant turn over of band members took it's toll and eventually the band broke up.

That path led me to a group called Wolf Gang founded by guitarist Steve Plunkett of Autograph fame. We toured the country for several years. While we worked on a continuos basis we never got the "big" break. I was pleased to learn the Steve did eventually make it big. The group broke up after the bass player left the group. The truth be told we were all pretty burned out from years on the road.

I was in my late twenties with no where to go. I ended up back with my parents with my drums and a few clothes. Not much money, no car, and a broken spirit.

My parents pressured me to get a job and I did. Talk about culture shock. I did have a couple of opportunities to get back into the music industry that year. I declined. Having money, a nice car, and a decent place to live seemed more important than going back on the road. After a couple of years I sold my drums.

I regretted that decision many times over the years that followed. I desperately missed the music, but not the life. I often wonder if I had passed up the big break I was looking for. Well, I guess I'll never know.

I sat in with bands for a couple of songs at weddings and that type of thing a couple times over the years and that made me miss it even more, but the industry had left a bad taste in my mouth. I was past the point of no return.

In June of this year I jammed with a neighborhood garage band and found to my surprise that I could still hold a groove. At least some very basic ones. So, I bought a drum set. The decision was rather spontaneous and somewhat out of character for me. It's like I was being driven or guided by a unknown force. The set I purchased was very similar to the set I played before. Scaled down a bit, but the same natural maple finish that I had come to love in my youth.

I discovered that something has been missing in my life all these years and that was my love of drums and music. The road back will no doubt be a long one, but this time it's all about having fun and enjoying the instrument.

The more I reflect on the past years without music in my life the more I realize how important it was to me. Being able to play a musical instrument is a gift and should never be taken for granted. Like any art form it exists to be shared and appreciated. I intend to seek out other like minded musicians and hope to share that gift to any and all that will listen.

Day one - Initial practice set up 7/25/05


Setting it up.

Something that I've found to be a valuable tool in many pursuits is to experiment. Don't be afraid to change things around. In the end you can always change it back. The drum kit should be comfortable to play. While sprawling kits look cool, Over reaching for distant drums, cymbals, and other percussion instruments will quickly lead to muscle strain and fatigue. Keep it simple, keep it comfortable, and keep it relaxed.


Practice

Some claim that the more you practice the better one will get. Perhaps, but here is a concept from another endeavor that I think applies to music as well. Perfect practice makes perfect. With that said, I try to have a plan about what I'm going to practice before I practice. Thus far I have been working with practice pads for the hands and bass drum. Living in an urban environment and working full time limits my time on the kit, but I can use the pads 24/7 without worrying about the neighbors.My time on the kit is spend on week days when most folks are at work.


Using the pads I've been able to work out a few grooves with the correct sticking and bass drum rhythms. Once the groove is solid playing it on the kit is nothing more than a verification that the groove was worked out correctly.

I've also found that by using head phones it's tons of fun to play along with favorite CDs and tapes. Sometimes I play the drum part as recorded and other times it's my interpretation. Both methods have yielded good results. Using an electronic metronome has also been very useful both on the set or on the pads.


Adding cymbals 8/17/05


Fine tuning the set up 8/26/05.

During the past month I've tried a number of different drum/cymbal positions. My goal was to place all of the instruments within an easy and comfortable reach while staying centered behind the kit.

The Gibraltar rack was both my friend and foe during this phase of experimentation. The rack facilitated a wide range of instrument placement, but in the end the cymbal arms were too far from the centerline of the kit.

After some brain storming I decided to shorten both of the rack's cross bars by about a foot. Using a hack saw I cut about a foot of the cross bars. This tightened up the cymbal placement considerably. The racks uprights index off the bass drum spurs and the set up is very consistent and repeatable.


Replacing the rack with DW 9700 stands and dog bones. 9/4/05


Two months into journey I've been able to locate a few of the musicians I used to play with. Some are still playing, but on a part time basis working regular jobs to pay the bills. It would seem that the music industry has changed a great deal. Some have left the industry and have menial jobs like driving trucks. Considering the talent they had I find this rather sad.

In retrospect I think I made a sound decision to get out when I did. Something else that I discovered in the short term is my ability to learn. Perhaps it's maturity or just life experience, but I am much more open minded than in my youth. I am making noticeable progress every week. In the end, I now know that I do not know and coming to grips with that concept allows the doors of learning to open.

The practice pad has become my best friend. I work out on it daily on it and have probably logged more time on the pad in the first month than the entire time I played in my younger days. This time it's for fun and enjoying the instrument. There'as no time table, no urgency, no pressing dates, and moreover, no pressure from peers.

My gear inventory is increasing weekly as well. While gear will never be a substitute for skill it has been rewarding trying different drum, cymbal, and gear set ups. I probably have more gear than I need, but I do learn from experimentation with different set ups and sounds. IMHO, remaining fluid will enable one to achieve greater versatility.

Fred Darling, AKA "Steady Freddie"