So proud to have been featured
on the cover of Drums Etc!
See the video lesson series HERE:
“How you move is how you groove!”
I look forward to helping you achieve your vision to play drums building focus, confidence, and self expression, and let’s have fun doing it! Here’s to an AMAZING new year getting to your next level and moving forward on your journey!
When I was in school, I was a scrawny kid that didn’t fit in. I was too energetic to sit still, and spent time with the wrong crowd. Music gave me hope, focus, and self expression that made me feel special. Self esteem comes from confidence in our own uniqueness. Music gives everyone a voice, in all walks of life. This was what gave me the inspiration to be a self starter, to grow into my strength, and to learn how to help others on their journey.
Coming full circle, I am excited when I have the opportunity to bring inspiration, education, and motivation into the school arena. My LTR (life through rhythm) school events are for all ages and levels. This can be for the entire school, a group of students, or one on one, combining interaction, performance, and learning. I also enjoy working with the band directors and students individually, focusing on key challenges of the music ensemble such as reading and timing.
Invest in our next generation through the power of drumming to develop self expression, focus, and confidence! We all have heartbeats and live the power of rhythm no matter age, race, or appearance. Drumming is also FUN! Laughter and play has a profound affect on our health, energy levels, and mindset. Through my travels giving these events, I have seen the profound effect, whether it’s putting a smile on the face of a little girl undergoing chemotherapy, an autistic boy expressing himself in a new way, or seeing the synergy of a group of students learning to bond with those around them as equals. Keeping music and the arts alive and strong in schools grows self expression, focus, and confidence, and gives our youth the tools to thrive as they go forward in life.
‘One Day, One Lifetime’
One of the best things you can learn is to smile through adversity, to be comfortable being uncomfortable, to embrace the suck! Why would you want to run toward frustration, confusion, and pain when most people run away from this? Simple: your growth and potential lies on the path of most resistance.
‘The Obstacle Is The Way’
I’ve learned how I do the little things is how I do the big things. Small actions carry over to a lifetime; they are one and the same. One day, one lifetime. When you will look back on your life, you will see your biggest breakthroughs and lessons came from the biggest seasons of pain. I am inspired to study the lives of great people like Nelson Mandela and Viktor Frankl to keep me strong in facing challenges, realizing that if we view our challenges as teachers, we can become more and serve deeply.
‘Nothing Is Given, Everything Is Earned’
Sometimes I ask my students, what are the magic words? No, not please or thank you, but EARN IT. To claw and fight for something, with grit and perseverance. The expression when learning something new is always ‘Crawl, Walk, Run’. No one goes right to the running! Nothing is given, everything is earned. Even the things we find easy now, like riding a bike, we found difficult and may have even seemed impossible at the time. I can remember learning to drive a stick shift automobile and thinking, how the heck do people do this? It seemed like I would never enjoy a drive with the radio on taking in the scenery, but to have a frustrating future of stalled engines on steep hills. Now I drive without thinking about it, almost watching my body execute the action as I watch! I had to earn it.
I can remember doing a difficult pose during a hot yoga class I attended, which was a miserable uncomfortable pose to be held for 5 minutes straight. The teacher said ‘if you can smile through this pose, creating an eye in the storm, you will take this into your life’. The Navy SEALS call it getting cold wet and sandy, regularly being sent into the freezing surf, never getting completely dried and warm. The goal is mental toughness through adversity, which IS coming your way in the different seasons of life, and is guarantied when learning anything new. True growth is true challenge!
‘I Wish I Left A Bigger Footprint In The Sand…’
That is a sentence I heard from a senior, as I spent time talking with him about his life. A sentence you will often sadly hear from people close to the end of their lives is ‘I wish….’, and fill in the rest. REGRET is my biggest fear. Part of the ‘embrace the suck’ mindset is grasping the urgency of the moment, the power of the NOW. Bruce Lee said ‘do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one’. Pain IS coming your way, but it is our choice if it is the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret. I will always choose the first, because the second is the destructor of dreams.
So get cold wet and sandy, smile through the adversity, hug the frustration and confusion, and EMBRACE THE SUCK!
‘Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war.’ Spartan Warrior Creed
This is about taking a deep look at THE PRACTICE OF YOUR PRACTICE. The small acts you do daily can have a dramatic affect over a lifetime. These practice concepts are universal, and can be applied to any area you want to improve, from becoming a better drummer, businessman, father, golfer, or just living a deeper, more fulfilling life. LTR (Life Through Rhythm) is an attitude, an approach to life optimizing the connections between how we add value through our craft, and how we live everyday, merging our smallest actions to our larger vision.
What is the difference between a vision and a dream? Take a moment and think about the difference… is there a difference? There certainly is! A dream, although extremely desirable, is vague and cloudy. A vision on the other hand you can SEE clearly, experiencing it fully with all 5 senses, revealing a myriad of details. In his book ‘Think And Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill writes about the effectiveness of having a ‘chief definite aim statement’, clearly writing out the vision you see for your future self in extreme detail.
‘Time is not on our side, but our choices are.’ Dom Famularo
What will get us there, is the quality and consistency of our daily practices. The actions that result from our choices and habits we do every day, can make or break our vision. During a long flight, a pilot never makes any drastic changes that would endanger the plane. Throughout the journey the plane is actually never precisely on course, but instead endlessly making tiny course corrections that eventually get the plane to its destination / landing on time. We are the same with our small daily actions, and these come from our habits. Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10.
Practice is an inner journey where we can grow into our untapped potential, overcoming challenges as we leave our comfort zone. We embrace the humbleness through what we see we don’t know, and confidence in hard earned skills forged slowly over time.
AWARENESS – MEASURE IT
The things that are easy to do, are also the things that are easy NOT to do. Measuring builds awareness, and awareness leads to better choices. One tool I’ve found to be extremely effective is keeping a practice journal. It only takes a few seconds to review the days plan, and to take a note after the practice of what I worked on, and my impressions. Because this is also easy not to do, this can get neglected, but over time this habit can build awareness, dramatically altering your destination. Recording yourself during practice and observing your movements with a mirror is also an easy step to skip, but if done consistently will deliver huge results! It can be a little painful to see so clearly what you are not good at, but this also builds awareness, and awareness over time leads to big results. You will also see what you ARE good at, and this will build confidence!
HABITS – THE 3MIN RULE
Take advantage of the massive power of the COMPOUND EFFECT. We don’t at first notice small increments done daily over time, but in the long run this can move mountains! In fact, mountains were created in this very way, sculpted over stretches of time from the slow shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates, and currents of water corroding rock over millions of years. Determined as you are, it is not your willpower that will tap into this power, but the momentum from your daily habits. Willpower is a well that runs out, but habits once installed are automatic, and over time actually become harder NOT to do, like brushing your teeth.
‘Don’t break the chain. Your only job is to not to break the chain!’ Jerry Seinfeld
When asked how he works on his craft, comedian Jerry Seinfeld responded he writes at least one joke a day, every day. Even if he doesn’t feel like it, even if he feels extremely unfunny. Every day means without missing a day, like building links to a chain. The job is not to come up with brilliance every day, or to carve out a huge amount of practice time, or to be perfect; the job is just to be consistent, to not break the chain. I call this the 3 minute rule; my goal is to not let a day go by without at least 3 minutes spent improving my craft. I really want to get 1 to 3 hours of focused practice in, but life gets in the way! This creates a lot of pressure, and pressure creates fear of failure, and fear turns into procrastination. Our brains are pleasure seeking machines, and we always want to work WITH nature, not against. By playing this game with myself (our brains also love games!), I am insuring that I will connect DAILY with my instrument. By firing those neurons every day, big things happen over a lifetime compounded. I used to think conversely ‘if I can’t get a good hour of practice in today, it’s better to wait until tomorrow when I have more time.’ The demands of the day quickly sabotage my good intentions, and I put it off some more… ‘the weekend is coming, I’ll have more time then’, and the perfect moment never materializes. The 3 min rule also ‘tricks’ my brain. If I’m tired or just don’t feel like practicing, there’s just no excuse: ‘I can do 3 minutes.’ But once I am behind the kit, sticks in hands, butt in the seat, a funny thing happens: the energy flows and the inspiration comes. Study the best in the world, and it’s a pattern that the work come before the inspiration, not the inspiration before the work. The 3 minute rule insures you will practice when you don’t want to, and after time this solidifies to habit. You have mastered yourself, and this is life’s most challenging endeavour.
FOCUS – DELIBERATE PRACTICE
The smartphone has a lot of great apps for musicians, but the best feature is the OFF button! Go into isolated tight focus. This is tough to accomplish for our novelty seeking brains because real practice is BORING, so get good at being bored. Kobe Bryant won’t leave the practice gym before sinking 300 shots, three HUNDRED. Going slowly over the fundamentals again and again, getting frustrated, feeling what we don’t know, making barely noticeable incremental progress, seemingly taking 5 steps back for one forward; this is not fun! The F Word is FOCUS, and it is a muscle. What are your goals, your vision for your future self? What are you setting out to accomplish today? These questions are from a place of deliberate practice, relentlessly zeroing in with laser focus on the essentials.
‘Play with Relaxed Intensity.’ Jim Blackley
Our STATE when we practice with intention is essential. Our brains record what we do repeatedly, whether it is correct or not. Practicing from the ego in a hurried, controlling way will actually SLOW DOWN the learning process, which has to be coaxed and romanced with patience. This is Power vs Force. There is great power in patience and surrendering to the process. It’s almost adopting an attitude of ‘not caring’, even though we care so much. This is the ying and yan, being so passionate about our craft that we have to let go of the result, which will get us closer to the result. Confused? I know! One of the many paradoxes of the journey. Don’t wait until the end goal to be happy, be happy first and you will get to the end goal a lot quicker! I think kids have got this a lot better than adults, so beware of becoming an ‘adult’! Kids have fun making mistakes, and have fun NOT knowing something. Playing in a rushed, anxious, angry, impatient state will only imprint this onto our muscle memory, and greatly slow down the learning process. Imagine going out to a garden and after tending the soil, watering the seeds, and yelling ‘grow!.. GROW!’ at the seeds! I love this short Zen story: ‘A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”’
DELETING – PRACTICE LESS
‘Make a choice, make it big, keep it tidy.’ Mark Bowden
What!? Practice LESS? We live an an age of more more more! All the information mankind has ever accumulated over thousands of years is now a screen’s touch away. By necessity, learning in the past was slower, and more focused on a single point. Our brains are just not designed to absorb an overload of information without processing it. I can remember attending the international percussion camp KOSA, with about 20 teachers and 80 students from around the world. I was inspired by all the styles I was seeing, Cuban, Indian, Jazz, Metal, Electronic, and more. I came back with tapes, books, notes, videos… I was hungry! I had a great plan to work on a different book every day of the week, to learn it ALL. This went nowhere fast! Working too hard on too much at once, actually SLOWS DOWN the learning. I love Bruce Lee’s quote, “I fear not the man who practices 10,000 different kicks once, but I do fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Working on less with a laser like focus, will forge a new version of yourself that you can only imagine. Saying yes to everything, means you are saying no to your vital few, becoming average at many things and great at nothing. I find that by practicing a maximum of 5 things over a 3 month period, this reels me in from my frenzy to learn everything all at once, which can actually slow down my learning. A passion to reach mastery can be a double edged sword. We need to find balance this need for growth with a paradoxical ‘not caring’ of the result. Drumming is just hitting things after all!
The practice of our practice is not only on our craft, but our life as a whole. This is our inner journey, which shapes our outer world. Let’s have fun in the process everyday, and get the most out of every moment. Don’t compete, create!
Be in no hurry; remember it’s not a race, it’s a lifestyle.
I first met Steve Smith at KOSA 1999. I had no idea who he was, but going by the buzz and anticipation of the other attendees, this was a big deal. Steve empowered everyone there by sharing many stories and lessons from his teacher Freddie Gruber, and many other valuable insights that continue to serve me to this day. Besides having a great haircut (I had to go there), his artistry and spirit of character have had a big impact on me. Here are 4 game changing ideas that have helped me immensely.
EFFORTLESS MASTERY / RELAXED INTENSITY
To study drumming is to study movement. How you move is how you groove! Let’s work with nature, not against. As Steve expressed recently about rejoining the powerhouse group Journey after 33 years, “I left as Hulk Hogan, and came back as Bruce Lee.” To watch Steve in 1983 and then compare him playing the same songs today, the difference is profound. If Steve had continued playing like the Hulk, he wouldn’t be getting better with age, but instead be plagued with injuries. The only way to constantly improve is to work with nature, not against. As the Jedi teach, ‘Use The Force’! Play with effortless relaxed intensity. This way we will get even better as we age, not steadily worse. Steve once said, “people often ask me how I do this or that, and the answer is always the same: Effortlessly.”
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” Isaac Newton
To go boldly into the future, you need to have a deep understanding of the past. Questlove is a drummer that because of his encyclopedic knowledge of music (with a collection of over 60,000 records!), when he plays just simple time (boom .. schmack .. boom .. schmack) it has so much more DEPTH to it. With this spirit, Steve has taken an exhaustive journey into the history of the drumset, tracing it as far back as to the roots of African American slavery. In his DVD Jazz Legacy, he analyses playing from some of the great masters of drumming over the last century, and demonstrates how they impacted his musicality. Don’t borrow, steal from the best! Steve also consistently surrounds himself with those that push him to be the best version of himself both musically and personally, including Victor Wooten, Hiromi, Mike Stern, and many others.
Steve is undoubtedly a voracious practicer. There’s a great story about Stanton Moore dropping by Steve’s hotel room and was surprised to find Steve inventively practicing on a makeshift drumset using the hotel’s ironing board, playing on it with brushes! Steve has mastered the art of DELIBERATE PRACTICE. This form of practicing has 3 essential ingredients: Focus, Consistency, and Patience. One reason we all find practicing hard, is because we come face to face with what we DON’T know, and this often sends us back to playing self medicating licks that make us feel better about ourselves in the moment, while learning nothing new in the process. We need time during practice where we go to the absolute edges of our abilities, exploring and testing our limits. Scientific research shows the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity. I have never personally seen Steve practice, but I can tell you he’s NOT checking his Twitter and Facebook feeds at the same time! Laser-like focus is essential. Slow, relaxed, and consistent repetition of flowing dance like motions on the drums, leads to effortlessness in playing. Practice the movements slowly and easily, the same way you would chant a mantra. Be in no hurry; remember it’s not a race, it’s a lifestyle. Check out the work of Anders Ericsson for more on developing the skill of deliberate practice.
This is not something that Steve merely does now and then, but more deeply it’s a way of life. Take advantage of the compound effect of habits and consistency. Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in 10. Stay the course, and you will be amazed at the momentum you create!
THE ETERNAL STUDENT
Masters never see themselves as masters, only as eternal students. The learning never stops! If eternal students have one thing in common, it’s that they are constantly reinventing themselves. This is the concept of Kaizen, meaning ‘constant and never ending improvement’. A good example of this is Steve’s journey of studying Indian rhythms beginning in 2002, further invigorating him with new drumset possibilities from this ancient rhythmic vocabulary. Steve, along with Dan Weiss, John McLaughlin, and many Indian drummers like Zakir Hussain, inspired me on my own path into this world, taking me all the way to India to study with the great Swapan Chaudhuri, vastly expanding my awareness of the power and depth of rhythm.
Bruce Lee used to tell his students the ancient story of an overzealous student, who when approaching his teacher to learn, spoke on and on without interruption only about himself, not listening at all to the great master. The teacher regarded him patiently while pouring the eager student a cup of tea, but continued to pour long after the cup was full, spilling tea everywhere. ‘What are you doing?’ the surprised student exclaimed, ’the cup is too full!’ ‘Ah, you are right’, the teacher replied, ‘for to taste my tea, you must first empty your own cup’. Even with Steve’s long list of accomplishments, he still has a beginner’s mind. He will be the 95 year old at the back of the room, raising his hand to ask questions!
Meeting your heroes can be daunting, as you never know what someone is really like face to face. All that inspiration can be shattered in an instant, when being snubbed by someone you look up to. The character we develop is as important as the artists we become, and I am grateful to Steve for being extremely patient and giving with his time, and for all he has taught me. As Steve now embarks on a 2 year tour with Journey, I continue to be inspired by his work and dedication to his craft. Thank you Steve!
‘We All Have Something To Offer’
I have a poster in my studio wall called ‘The Top 25 Drummers Of All Time’. At first, you might think this poster represents ‘the best’ being the same as sports stats, these drummers having reaching the top because of untouchable records and inhuman practice regimens. This is just not true, music isn’t a competition! What really inspires me is that with in a few seconds of listening to Tony Williams or Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich or Elvin Jones, John Bonham or Steve Gadd, you know without a doubt who you are hearing. It’s amazing to me how we can so quickly feel the personality of who these people are as they are expressing themselves. How do you find you own voice, both in the drums and in life? The good news is, you can’t help but sound like yourself… you have always had it!
It is safer to sound like someone else, and not be vulnerable in taking a risk expressing your own unique ideas. To copy your heroes is a necessary step when first learning, but don’t get stuck there. Jojo Mayer said it took him 10 years to sound like Tony Williams, and another 10 years NOT to sound like Tony in searching to find his own true voice.
Effortless relaxed technique on the drums will help your voice to shine. Tension is the enemy that will block your true voice from being heard through the instrument. Constantly recording yourself will show you the truth of what is bringing out your sound, and getting in your way. One of the ways I think Steve Gadd developed his sound was the incredible amount of time Steve spent in recording studios listening back to his playing under a microscope, as it related to the song he was enhancing with his drumming. Authenticity is also connected to simplicity. Anything unessential just gets in the way. If you cannot passionately justify it, get rid of it! I find the more I play this instrument and live life, it’s not what I am adding, but what I’m taking away.
Have you ever recorded your voice? We all usually hear it back and say ‘that can’t be me’! You have a speaking voice truly your own. As a baby you tuned into your mothers unmistakable voice even before you could see. Your fingerprint is one of billions that is completely unique, the only one like it in all the universe. Make your life goal to make your instrument sound as distinct as your own true voice, and to speak your honest truth in life. Can I make the drums sound as unique as my voice sounds?
You can’t help but sound like YOU, even when you try not to. I once saw an experiment where 10 drummers lined up behind a drumset, each to play 4 bars of time, then passing the sticks to the drummer behind them to continue the groove without stopping. No adding fills and no changes, only playing simple time with the same drums, same heads, same sticks, same dynamics, same everything. I couldn’t believe what I heard… everyone sounded different! This is what makes you, YOU. Your own individual SOUND is not in the drums themselves, but in your mind, body, and spirit. Expensive gear doesn’t make your sound, it only enhances it. There’s a great story about John Bonham bringing his son Jason to a friends birthday party, and getting on the kids drumset downstairs. As he played, the owners dad remarked ‘that sounds like.. Led Zeppelin!’ He still had his signature sound even when playing on a child’s toy set.
A mantra I use is ‘Don’t Compete, Create!’ If you’re going to compete, it should only against the previous version of yourself.
FIND YOUR VOICE BY:
1) Stripping away the unessential
2) Having relaxed technique: Tension is the enemy!
3) Record yourself regularly
4) Steal from all areas and influences in life
5) Expand what makes you unique
These areas are all interconnected and compliment each other, as one improves so do the others. I will go into each of these areas in separate articles, as there is so much to say about each one. The best way to improve and the see where you need the most work, is to record yourself as often as you can!