Anders Mogensen – New Album release and 20 Questions with a Master Jazz Drummer

Imagine you’re hiking through the Himalayas. You come upon a clearing and find a lone shack, with a man practicing martial arts in the front yard. His style is immediately fluid, dynamic, instantaneous. You easily recognize half a dozen classic schools in his movements, mastered and applied with no effort. He could hold his own with anyone in the world. Yet here he is, in the middle of the Himalayas…

Danish drummer Anders Mogensen is one such badass. A bonafide jazz drumming badass. He’s a time maker, not merely a timekeeper. There is no daylight between the start and finish of his flow. It’s seamless and as masterful as anything you’ve ever heard from American jazz drumming legends. In the true tradition of master artists, he’s a humble one, who lets his sticks and feet do most of the talking, and intelligently so.

While not quite as metaphorically isolated as our hypothetical mystic, Anders may not be known to a lot of drummers outside of Europe. Regardless, with over two hundred and fifty albums to his credit and serving as Director of Jazz Studies at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, Denmark, Anders has kept his plate full for many years, serving up master chef versions of diverse drumming styles that he’s also fused into his own unique voice.

I was contacted by his publicist recently and was asked if I’d be interested in doing an interview about his upcoming release as a bandleader, titled The Jazz Gallery. Normally I like to peruse the Interweb on my own, find interesting drummers out there, and then write short pieces about them to give them unexpected press and attention. But lately, the urge to offer more in-depth information is replacing the shorter pieces, so yes, I definitely wanted to share some background on this very talented drummer/composer/bandleader, not only to promote his hard work and efforts, but to hopefully inspire fellow drummers who want to dip their toes into the composer/bandleader world and shape their own destiny.

So let’s get right to it. Here are 20 Questions submitted to Anders Mogensen, a very musical drummer I hope you will want to learn more about. He is indeed an endless student of his craft and is clearly someone whose playing reflects the integrity of jazz in the spirit of the learned masters upon whose shoulders he has built his broad encompassing musical embrace.


  1. When did you first get into drumming, and what was your overall training path in your younger years?

“I was sent to a private classical teacher at the local music school in Holstebro, Denmark, at the age of six. When I was eight, I joined the local marching band. Soon I was playing with marimba orchestras, wind symphony orchestras, symphonic bands and brass bands. Where I grew up, the local music school was very strong with great teachers. So, my formal training was very, very good. Full focus on sight reading and technique.

“At the age of ten, I started to get classical piano lessons as well. Meanwhile my big brother, who played trombone in the various bands mentioned above, listened to Weather Report, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, VSOP etc., so I was very influenced from an early age about playing the drum set. At the age of 16, I started to gig professionally, playing in local variety/cabaret shows. That made it possible for me to enroll in Berklee at the age of 20. In Denmark, parents do not make a college savings for their kids, so I paid for that myself.

“At Berklee, I got my first real drum teaching. My teachers there were Ed Uribe, Joe Hunt, Ian Froman, and outside Berklee I took lessons from Bob Moses. When I returned to Denmark, I was fortunate to get a lot of work as a touring musicians, and I recorded with saxophonist Bob Berg and The Brecker Brothers.”

2. What tools do you use for composition? (home recording set-up and software)

“I use my piano. I studied classical composition and analysis, and I am still very interested in that. I use those tools to compose along my jazz composition background, mixed up with all the rhythmic knowledge I have. I use Sibelius for scores and lead sheets. If I need to compose a theme over a tricky bassline, I will use Sibelius as a sequencer.”

3. Who were some of your major influences as a drummer and as a band leader?

“Mainly Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. But I studied the whole scope of drummers, current as well as the legacy. I am also very influenced by Alex Riel (Denmark), Anders Kjellberg (Sweden), Audun Kleive (Norway) and Jon Christensen (Norway). I have also studied various drummers from Brazil, Cuba and Africa, and with tabla players from India.” 

4. When did you put together your first group? What was the configuration?

“My first group as a leader was a project that came out of my debut recording, Anders Mogensen – Taking Off (Storyville Records, 1995). 


“It featured two Miles Davis alumni on Saxophone, Rick Margitza and Gary Thomas; Ron McClure – Bass, and Niels Lan Doky – piano. Niels produced the album. With this release, I toured Northern Europe with a band with Rick Margitza, Ron McClure, and Swedish piano wizard Lars Jansson. That was my first project.

“My first real band was Anders Mogensen External Experience. We made two albums: 

Taking off Again (

and AM (”

5. What was your first record date? How many do you estimate you have to your credit?

“My first record date was with Bob Berg, Niels Lan Doky, and bassman Jesper Lundgaard. Unfortunately, it was never released, but it led to my record deal with Storyville Records and Taking Off

“I appear on approximately two hundred and fifty recordings. I am proud of all of the recordings but worth mentioning is Jerry Bergonzi Quintet – 7 Rays (Savant), Doky Brothers (along with The Brecker Brothers) (Blue Note) and lately The Modern Jazz Trio with Jerry Bergonzi – Standard Gonz


6. What were some of the biggest challenges for your first recording as a band leader?

“I was fortunate to have a producer, so when it came to the selection of music, we had great communication about that. I do not think I would have been that confident if I did not have a producer.  It was recorded in New York City, so I also had to travel – which I love.”

7. Are you involved with the engineering aspect of your recordings, or do you leave that more to the main engineer?

“I do not know anything about that at all. But I am very keen about how it sounds, and I have my favorite engineers that I like to work with. It is very important to trust your engineer, and it takes time to find the right one. Both for the actual sound and the actual personal behavior.” 

8. What are some of the production issues challenges you’ve learned about with respect to recording your own drums to produce your own exact sound?

“It is very important that the engineer knows that he is dealing with a jazz drum sound. Generally that means approximately 80% overhead and 20% support from the closed mounted microphones. If the engineer is good, he or she knows how to get my sound on track. If they are not capable of that, I will find another engineer.”

9. Does your live playing technique differ much from your recording studio technique? If so, can you characterize the differences?

“There is a bit of a difference. Live, I have to adjust to the acoustic volume in the band and the room. In the studio, I will also think about dynamics, but generally I can play louder.”

10. Do you have a regular practice routine any sort of physical conditioning to keep you in shape behind the drum set?

“When I am on the road, I have a practice routine on my practice pad for approximately 1 hour – that is usually as much as I would have time for.  I will do rudimental exercises and maybe focus on certain weaknesses I might have. To challenge myself, I often do rudiments in quintuplets or septuplets. 

“When I am not on the road, I will do a practice routine of about six hours. Here I will dig into Brazilian stuff, Afro-Cuban stuff, jazz coordination, technique and drum transcription. I will schedule my practice so that each topic will be on for forty-five minutes and then move on. I will always start with a serious warm up. Usually with rudiments played very slow.” 

11. In addition to being head of the jazz department at Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, what courses do you teach at the university, and how did you become affiliated with them?

“At Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, I teach drums, ensemble and a rhythm class (for all jazz students). I have been an associate professor since 1999 and Head of the jazz Department from 2004. I had kids when I was only 25, so I needed a steady income, but I have always been interested in teaching.

“I was recruited for this position, which I was and am very honored about. Being able to teach on the highest level of music keeps me in the loop for developing myself! My students are very good at practicing, so I need to practice as well to stay on the top of the beat!”

12. What sort of on-line training content do you offer, and how did you develop it?

“Since 2006, I have been doing DVDs and streaming masterclasses. I have made material for all levels, but within the jazz idiom. Latest I have made Weekly Drum Diary, available on Facebook:,  and YouTube,

“Every week I present a new 4-5 minute video with a corresponding pdf with the actual exercise in. I enjoy doing this format. I recently did two live masterclasses, which is also a great format.  Interested drummers can sign up for Weekly Drum Diary here:

13. What sets your latest recording (The Jazz Gallery) apart from your previous projects in terms of your own performances?

“The Jazz Gallery is with Ben Kraef (Tenor Saxophone), Andreas Lang (Double Bass) and me. Both Ben and Andreas are based in Berlin. Andreas is originally from Denmark and went to Carl Nielsen Academy of Music. During this pandemic, I started to think about what possibilities we have on the European Jazz scene. I contacted Ben and Andreas, since we have had plans for years, but we were never able to make some kind of gathering happen. We booked a Berlin studio and went in and recorded originals along with Billy Strayhorn’s immortal UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group). We are all very much inspired by the American jazz scene, and both Ben and I have lived in the US. So, it is interesting for me to hear how we, in Europe, play jazz with this kind of sound and approach.  

“It is also interesting for me to travel around and see where we have common ground, to create this kind of music. We all three love this setting (sax-bass-drums), and hopefully, it will remind the listener about Sonny Rollins trio or various bands around Elvin Jones. As a drummer, playing without chords gives one a vacant room where the chords from a piano or guitar would be. In other words, there is much more space for my snare drum and bass drum. Saxophone trios are always fun to play in!”

14. What do you enjoy most about playing with this particular piano-less configuration, and how do accomplish more with less in this case?

“Since this is a chord-less setting, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the drummer. It is very important that the drummer is on top with the form of the tunes to build up tension and release. I have been listening to so many sax trios that I feel very comfortable to record with this kind of instrumentation.”

15. Can you please comment on highlights of the individual tracks that stick out to you?

“‘Three for Elvin’ (Kraef) is a 3/4 swinging blues type of tune. It combines Elvin Jones’ world of triplets with a forward motion significant with the walking bass.

“‘Fredensgade’ (Lang) is a melancholic piece of music. Here showcased with the brushes. It reminds me of a black/white movie from the Fifties.

“‘At Stake’ (Mogensen) is a paraphrase/counterfact on Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates.’ I love to play ‘Stablemates,’ and I have practiced it for years on the piano. The melody comes out of my improvisation on the tune, along with using traditional counterpoint for the bass line in the A sections.

“‘Aswan’ (Mogensen) is inspired by African music. I read a book about Africans who came to the U.S. way before Columbus! A part of history that I did not learn about in school. But at least I am aware about this now. The groove could remind the listener of drummer Ed Blackwell and his mallet works.

“‘Tit er jeg glad’ (Nielsen arr. Mogensen) is one of my favorite psalms by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. I chose to change the chords into a more Nordic sounding piece of music and the time signature into 3/4 meter. The groove is definitely inspired by the Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen.

“‘Forever’ (Kraef) is Ben’s beautiful ballad. You can hear Ben’s love for American music but with his personal take on it.

“‘The News’ (Lang) Dark is groove and mysticism. I love this! I do not think the news for that day was too promising.

“‘Freshman’ (Mogensen) is an original of mine. It is a tribute to my son, Tobias, for when he started grammar school. New school, new friends, and it reminded of my own years when you entered new school and got new friends. I recorded it several years ago with Søren Bebe Trio feat. Marc Johnson on an album called Eva. I think this chord-less take is very nice. 

“‘UMMG’ (Strayhorn) is a medium tune. I do not understand why this tune is not being played more. It is a great composition – as everything Ellington and Strayhorn did together.

“Generally, the music on this recording is very strong! It is right down my alley! I hope the listener will appreciate it as much as I do!” 

16. Will current Covid gathering and travel restrictions in Europe allow you to tour with the group? Do you perform remotely using Zoom or other technology to offer virtual performances? If so, how has it been adjusting to the new performance reality?

“As soon as we can get out of this pandemic, we will be going out! I certainly hope that we will be able to travel anywhere. I love this trio! 

“I have made several recordings where I have recorded drums and then different other musicians has added their music to my grooves. I have been part of Michele Brangwen’s Dance Company in New York City. I recorded the drums in Odense and sent the tracks to trumpeter Tim Hagans, who composed music over it, or Tim had some grooves he wanted me to record to work further on. After finishing the music, Michele would make choreography for her dancers! That has been an amazing project to be part of. 

“Lately I have been working on a recording with saxman Walt Weiskopf (member of Steely Dan). We recorded piano and drums in Copenhagen, Andreas Lang recorded his bass in Berlin, and Walt is finishing the recording in Virginia where he lives now. Very interesting to do things like this, but it is a bit lonesome!” 

17. Is there any particular aspect of drum set study you wish you’d devoted more time to in your early years or through your career?

“This is a great question. There is no doubt that I wish I had studied harder in my youth (mid 20’s). When I came to Copenhagen after Berklee, I became the talk of the town. I played with everybody. If I could change anything, I would have loved to go back to the United States to finish up my degree at Berklee or take a Master’s at New England Conservatory. I do not regret anything, but when the question comes up, this is my answer: as I mentioned earlier, I had kids around the age of 25. I have four of them, and I love them above anything else. I have traveled and played jazz music all over the globe, so I cannot and will not complain, but when the question occurs, I would have loved to have worked deeper into the music.”

18. What do you feel are some of the most important pieces of advice you can offer young drummers who want to become bandleaders?

“First of all, practice, practice, practice. Read all the biographies you can lay your hands on – not only on drummers or musicians but general knowledge about all people who you admire. The drummers you admire the most, figure out where they came from. And study them. 

“Then check out the business side of music. It is a very diverse music world we live in. Be consistent. Believe in what you do. And do it 100%. Read and study business books – not only from a music perspective but from businesses in general. I know there is a lot of criticism of how nobody can sell CD’s now a days. But with all the streaming services, you can get your music out to a very broad spectrum of the world and reach your audience in a whole new way! 

“When you do have music to release, do yourself the service and play the recorded music for people you admire and respect. And tell them that you would like an honest answer on how the music is. I was fortunate to have a producer when I was young. That is not a possibility now a days. But you need somebody to judge your music before it is out there, because once it is out there, it will not go away! It stays there forever! You need somebody to be tough on you!”

19. What advice can you offer drummers in terms of developing a critical listening ear to, a) lock in step with the bass player, and b) contribute to the song as a whole?

“You need to record yourself constantly. To make sure that you develop the sound you have inside your head! I usually tell my students to record themself. Then buy a book with empty pages. On the left page, you write the negative critique, and on the right page, you write the positive critique. You do that with all the recordings you do. It is important to have negative critique, but it is also important with positive critique. After you do this many times, hopefully you will have less notes on your left page and more notes on the right page.  You do not need an advanced recording device, just your cell phone or Zoom. 

“Concerning a) and b): that depends on your level and the level of who you play with. As a drummer, it is always important to lock up with the bass player – you are the fundament of the music, the groove, the part of the music that makes people want to dance. When that is in place, you start to listen to the music as a whole piece. Not only a theme, a sax solo, a bass solo etc. It is a very good exercise to listen to music that way as well.

“Listen to a full track, for example, John Coltrane’s Quartet many times. Maybe twenty. Then try to feel how bass and drums build around McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane, and how it all connects.  That is just one band you should do this with. You can do it with all music that you enjoy. Listen, analyze and imitate.”

20. What’s the best performance advice a seasoned musician has ever given you?

“That is very interesting, but I never really got any – directly. In jazz there is a lot unsaid going on that you need to decode! That takes years to figure out. I always take it as a good sign, when you can keep going on the road with an established musician. If they were dissatisfied, they would probably say no to the offer to go on the road. So, I never really got any performance advice.” 


It really is true that jazz knows no borders, so if you want to hear what mastery from shores not native to the origin of this classic improv art form, give Anders a good, long listen on Jazz Gallery and check out his YouTube channel. There are lessons to be learned from his subtle and true voice, one that is a sure to inspire and educate the player who wants to refine their understanding of the art of minimal. You won’t need a parka and snowshoes to find him, but if you did, it would certainly be worth the hike and the listen.

Jazz Gallery is available on AMM records, findable with this link:



Robyn Flans: 20 Questions with The First Lady of Drumming Journalism

robyn flans media

Few names resonate through the world of drumming journalism like Robyn Flans. In a male-dominated industry since its inception, the drumming world came to know Robyn’s work through Modern Drummer for nearly four decades. She interviewed the top names of the day, and she helped shaped the fledgling world of drumming journalism by being in the right place at the right time with the necessary skills to capture the essential stories and voices of our drumming heroes.

Interviewing Robyn has been a project on my mind for some time. I thought that drummers familiar with her work would enjoy reading about how her craft evolved, and certainly, up and coming drummers need to know where the origins of deep drumming ink came from. I sent Robyn twenty questions and gave her unlimited length to reply. What follows are her responses to a wide variety of topics.

But before we dive in, gotta mention that Hudson Music is about to release Robyn’s much-anticipated biography of Jeff Porcaro, aptly titled Jeff Porcaro – The Man and His Music. It can be pre-ordered  from Hudson on their website (as of Sept. 15 2020 ) prior to release and is scheduled for Amazon release on October 9, 2020.

porcaro book cover

That said, let’s find out more about the first lady of drumming journalism…

      1. How did you get into drumming journalism? What was your first introduction to journalism in general?
      RF: I’ll take the second part of this question first and go way back in time. I always loved to write, and the Beatles changed my life. Engineering a meeting with Paul McCartney at the Beverly Hills Hotel at thirteen years old with a few girlfriends (that’s a whole other story) was a dream come true, and one of my friends and I actually turned it into a story for one of the teen magazines of the times. Don’t even ask me why! So, I was [first] published in 1968 in a  magazine called Teen Screen.
      robyn paul
      Then there was a teen magazine called Datebook that gave little credentials to teens and would publish their interviews. One particular night of that same year, a couple of members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were answering the phone lines at a local radio station, and I said to my friend out of the blue, ‘Let’s call and ask them if we can interview them.’ They told us who was handling their press, I called the next day, and we set up an interview for Aug. 9th backstage at the Hollywood Bowl where the band was playing with a bunch of other groups. We showed up with our tape recorder and interviewed them, and when the photos didn’t come out, we had to go back to their next concert.
      That became a friendship with [the] band that has lasted through until today. We would find our favorite groups like the Rascals, call up to their hotel rooms, and tell them we worked for Datebook, and when we’d show up at their hotel doors, lo and behold, we were very young. But then again, so were they back then. And we prided ourselves on asking pretty good questions.
      But as time went on, I followed my original dream and went to UCLA as a theatre arts major, although I did take some journalism courses and was in a creative writing group. When I got out into the real world, I found out I was not cut out for the emotional dealings of an actor and pondered how I could combine my love of music with my love of writing. And that’s how that began.
      In about 1980, I contacted an editor at Billboard magazine named Jean Williams and asked if I could do concert reviews. It was pretty ballsy since I had never done anything before, and she was so great to give this then novice a chance. She told me to bring in clips. I didn’t have any, so I went to some local clubs and reviewed some of the local acts. I met with her and she gave me a shot. The first gig she sent me out on was Chicago’s concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles after they changed labels to Warner Brothers and they had a huge party attached where they bussed press and VIPs up to the observatory for a Bacchanalian feast. It was an amazing first gig – but all that to say it gave me my next idea for your next question…to call Modern Drummer!
      flnas early modern drummer
      2. What was you first drumming assignment? Scale of 1-5, how difficult was it?
      RF: After that wonderful Chicago concert, I pitched Danny Seraphine to Modern Drummer. By then I had a few published concert reviews, and since MD was fairly new, they took a chance on me. And it became a cover story, too, I don’t recall it being terribly difficult, although I’m sure if I went back and read it today I would see that I improved vastly through the years. Danny obviously liked it because we became friends from that day forward, and he in recent years he’s hired me to do most of his bio writing.
      flans seraphine
      3. Favorite interview (s)?
      RF: Impossible to say! So so many of them. Obviously the two interviews I did with Ringo are a couple of the highlights of my life for Modern Drummer. But I have also worked for some other great publications such as People, Country Weekly, Mix and the Ventura County Star where I’ve had the opportunity to conduct some very deep, memorable interviews with such people as Linda Ronstadt, Criminal Minds star Joe Mantegna, Michael McDonald, and Vince Gill.
      flans ringo
      4. Toughest interview(s)?
      RF: Don Henley for MD because he was very unkind. He was extremely abusive to me – verbally and emotionally — and ultimately pulled the interview because I stood up for myself. Also Charlie Watts, only because when I arrived at the hotel in San Francisco for the interview, he had forgotten I was coming and had been up all night “with Mick and the boys” drinking. He was sloshed. And he continued to drink when we sat down in the lounge to talk and proceeded to test me as to whether I knew any of the old jazz drummers. He wouldn’t begin the interview and basically refused to talk about playing with the Stones. It wasn’t that he was intentionally mean like Henley; it was just the alcohol. In fact, after the sort of non-interview, he insisted on taking me to dinner in the hotel, and I complied since my flight home wasn’t for several hours.
      5. How do you conduct your interviews? Record verbatim, take notes over the phone? How do you conduct them now? What would you have done differently after so many years, if anything?
      RF: I’ve always used standard cassettes and recorders – even now. I had great Marantz broadcast recorders and little Sony handheld ones. Now they are very expensive because they are near obsolete, but it’s what I’m accustomed to.
      When I do phone interviews, I have a device that taps into the phone line,  which goes into the recorder and tapes the conversation. Old school. I never taped over any of them, so I’ve actually been able to digitize them and offer them as audio interviews on my website .
      Haven’t had a chance to put many up since changing websites, but people enjoy hearing the uncut interviews in real time, with people laughing, breathing, dogs barking, phones ringing, etc.

      6. Do you play drums? Any instruments? How long?
      RF: I played piano for a little while when I was young. And no, I don’t play drums. Just love them.
      7. Did you ever study with any known drummers? Any you interviewed?
      [Note: Answer intentionally left blank because of above answer to question #6.]
      8. How has the drumming world changed in your opinion from when you first started out interviewing people? Attitudes? Professionalism? Student-teacher interactions? Drumming education in general?
      RF: I don’t think anything has changed in the “attitude” department, because as Steve Porcaro wrote, it’s really about “Human Nature.” Or upbringing. It’s important to have a good attitude and be professional if you’re a drummer or a plumber, and whether you have a good attitude or are professional or are even in the game for the right reason is who you are as a person, not some world change. There will always be the ones who are in it for the love of the music and those who are in it for stardom or money; those who show up late to gigs and don’t show respect for the love of their job or the person who employs them, and those who know better, those who are cocky and those who are humble, those who are self- centered and those who are selfless.
      Drumming education, of course, has expanded due to the Internet and the incredible amount of resources available, both in web teaching and all the drum clips of prior performances that have surfaced. That can also be a negative if person-to-person teaching is replaced completely. I know my kids were truly inspired by their band teachers and private teachers and that the in-person experience can’t be gotten on a computer.
      9. Who do you miss the most of those drummers we’ve lost?
      RF: Oh Lord, don’t get me started. Jeffrey! His friendship, his groove, his laughter, everything about him, daily.
      robyn and jeff rick malkin
      My dear friend Eddie Shaughnessy. He became one of my best friends during the writing of his book Lucky Drummer [Hudson Music]. The last several years of his life, I happened to live nearby his home and helped him out a lot, and we spent a lot of time together. Then as things began getting tougher for him, I ran his errands and did whatever I could for him. He helped me out, too. I miss him every day as well.
      Larrie Londin and I were also very close friends. His passing broke my heart. I spent a lot of time with Larrie when he came to L.A. and also his family whenever I was in Nashville, and we gabbed on the phone so much that whenever I called the house and his wife Debbie answered, she would tease as she’d call him to the phone, “Larrie, your girlfriend is calling.”
      I truly have been blessed to have gotten close to so many wonderful people in the drum industry. While those are probably the closest who have left us, – two others come to mind that were also dear friends – Louie Bellson, who I first interviewed back in the ‘80s and continued to do so almost to his passing. And Earl Palmer who was one of the dearest people on the planet.
      flans bellson
      10. Who do you wish you could have interviewed?
      RF: Buddy and Keith Moon (although I count myself as very lucky to have seen Keith play live a few times with the Who).
      11. Why do you believe drumming journalism is important? What matters most? Is this happening in today’s drumming journalism world (print/on-line)?
      RF: Not just drumming journalism, but all facets of music journalism with all musicians. Guitar is just as important to the guitar players as drumming is to the drummers. It’s one thing to see them play on the Internet, but to hear what they are about, their techniques, philosophies, about their successes and failures, is important. I have always approached drummers as if they are more than just technicians. They are people, too. I think good drum journalism allows the reader a view into the person as well.
      12. Who inspired you as a journalist (in any medium)?
      RF: I’ve gone through phases. Mostly I appreciate broadcast journalists as far back as Walter Cronkite. Today I like Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper.
      13. How long were you with Modern Drummer? Why did you leave, and what did you do afterwards?
      RF: I was an independent contractor with Modern Drummer for nearly 40 years. When my editor Bill Miller passed away from cancer, a new editor took over, and we had some artistic differences. I continued and still continue to freelance. For a period of about six years I wrote quite a bit for a local daily paper called The Ventura County Star, covering local events as well as celebrity profiles and really enjoyed it until, like most publications, their budget cuts last year put an end to that.
      For a good while I was enjoying a podcast, first radio and then video, but after a few years, became weary of that. I also started two websites – where I offer select audio interviews [and] where I offer writing services. I still do quite a bit of work for Mix magazine, thank goodness!
      flans drummer interviews
      14. What projects are you involved with now?
      RF: In addition to the above websites and Mix, I recently finished work on a book on Jeff Porcaro. It should be released some time around fall by Hudson Music.
      15. Have you written any books? If so, what are the titles?
      RF: In addition to the above and co-author with Ed Shaughnessy on Lucky Drummer, I wrote three books early in my career – Musicmania (Sharon Publications, 1983), a compilation music history, Inside Duran Duran (Starbooks, 1984), an unauthorized biography, and Journey (Cherry Lane Music, 1983), also an unauthorized biography, but to date considered to be very in demand, since it’s out of print and really the only book of its kind.
      inside duran duran
      16. What advice or pieces of advices would you give to today’s budding drum journalists?
      RF: There is very little print journalism left today. I don’t know if I would tell anyone to get into journalism, period! Sadly. I guess the only thing to do is if you are passionate about it, contact whatever outlets there are and be willing to take very little money, because mostly they have become online versions of their former selves since their advertising earnings have decreased, and obviously it trickles down to all those who contribute.
      The only journalism that really exists anymore is broadcast journalism…
      17. Did you ever have a nightmare of a technology issue related to an interview (lost notes, disk crashed, equipment stolen or broken)?
      RF: In my 40 years, I have probably had a handful of technical nightmares where either my recorder batteries failed or were failing so that the voices sped up like chipmunks or the cassette was flawed, or [like] just the other day, I was on the phone with an audio engineer, and I hadn’t noticed the phone connect wasn’t plugged in all the way, and it did not record his voice. I had to do the interview all over again. It’s a drag when it happens, but if you are apologetic, everyone understands.
      18. Do you speak any foreign languages, and have you read any drum magazines in those languages? If so, what were they, and what did you think of the publication?
      RF: I speak some Spanish, although not fluently, but it actually did help me in some assignments with the Ventura County Star. I’ve had some of my work published in German and Japanese publications. I cannot read them unfortunately, but they look nice.
      19. What were some of the challenges you faced as a female journalist in a male-dominated drumming world? Any problems? Well received? No real issues?

      RF: I do think drum journalism – and even music journalism on the whole — is somewhat of a boy’s club, but I’ve managed to carve a niche somewhere in it and gather respect, for the most part. Before social media, though, unless you met me at a NAMM convention, most people assumed I was a male, which, in itself, is sexist. I’ll never forget the expression on Steve Smith’s face the first time in the ‘80s I showed up to interview him. Thankfully I won him over in a matter of minutes, but I knew he was not expecting a female. Since then we’ve become good friends, and he even hired me last year to write the major bio in his beautiful coffee table art/drum book, The Fabric of Rhythm [check status, include publishing info].
      the fabric of rhythm
      20. And last but not least: How does it feel to be interviewed?
      RF: The first couple of times it was very strange, but it’s gotten a little easier and this format – writing – is much easier than speaking or video because obviously it’s my preferred format.

Thank you, Robyn, for sharing your story and contributing so much vital writing to the world of drumming. Countless drummers everywhere owe much of what we know about our heroes thanks to you. Best of luck in all your future journalism and writing ventures!

Floyd Sneed: The Unmistakeable Backbeat of Three Dog Night

When I was a kid growing up in Delaware in the 70’s, I listened to a lot of top-40 radio while in elementary and middle school. Three Dog Night was one of my favorite groups, and it was the first group where I distinctly remember listening to the drummer for the feel he created. That drummer was Floyd Sneed.


He played a clear, acrylic Zickos kit with double bass, which at the time was about as cool as it got. Floyd was built like Billy Cobham, so his physical presence behind the kit was formidable. His solid grooves and use of backbeat were what really got my attention. If you’re ever in Hollywood and want to see his kit, walk through the doors of Pro Drum Shop and look up and behind you, on the shelf above the door. Pro Drum has a YouTube channel which you should check out, and here’s a link to some backstory on Floyd’s kit and a few other interesting kits:


Disco was about eight years away from invading the airwaves, but Floyd employed a kind of groove that clearly preceded what would become the classic sound, and he also played it in a way that Billy Cobham would later popularize on his China cymbal. “Black and White” kicks that groove in well, and I remember getting a very strong sense of feel that made me appreciate keeping time quite a bit.


His backbeat always seemed (at least to me) to hang back just a bit, creating a very cool platform for the other musicians to contribute over. Some guys just have it in their blood, and the rest of us have to work at figuring it out. I still cogitate on it from one measure to another at times…


Three Dog Night owned the airways for a brief period during the 70’s, delivering one pop hit after another with no Pro Tools, and I would seriously doubt any click-tracks. It was human beings playing human feel, with incredible harmonies. As disco began its insidious invasion, I lamented the loss of simple pop music, but I often thought about Floyd Sneed and his great feel. “Out in the Country,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Never Been to Spain,” “Joy to the World,” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” are just a few that come to mind.


Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Floyd when I was writing for Easyriders magazine. He lived near the offices, and he was playing in a little bar around the street. I introduced myself during the break and told him how much I had loved his playing over the years, and we had a great conversation. Turns out he was as equally interested in art, and he has done a lot with it as a mode of personal expression.


We met a few more times at the same bar, and one night, he gave me a small paperback about Three Dog Night. I have no idea what ever happened to it over the years, but it meant a lot coming from a drumming idol.


Every generation has their music and the values they associate with it. Mine will always be the 70’s, an era that emphasized the human element of real-time performance. Floyd’s grooves, feel, and musical fills hold a special place, and if you want to hear good, solid, musical drumming, check out the streaming tunes available for a bit of old school schooling. You might just find yourself tapping your toes, bobbing your head and humming… the way you do when something works the way it should and is played as it should.


For me, Floyd Sneed’s playing is a backbeat model for drummers, someone I will always look forward to returning to, providing reminders of when music was truly magical to me, and how to keep my own feet tapping and head bobbing…


For more information on Floyd Sneed, checkout his website at







Five Top Practice Areas For Increasing Your Drumming Speed

Welcome to the AfterTimes. We live in strange days and a new world as of only a few months ago. It’s filled with a great deal of uncertainty that until now we’ve only seen in movies. Kids born today will be referred as Generation WTF, I’m sure of it.

As we wait for better days, some things never change. The need to practice and improve our drumming craft doesn’t have to succumb to Covid-19 or anything else if we can stay healthy and stay focused. Since a great many drummers of all ages want to increase their speed, here are five top areas for you to work on.

  1. Use Proper Technique: Sloppy practice equals sloppy neural programming. Garbage in, garbage out. Take care of technique, and speed comes much easier. This means LEARN YOUR RUDIMENTS and PRACTICE MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND PRECISELY. Exaggerate your movements to discover the full range of motion of each rudiment you’re learning.
  2. Think Fast: You have to be able to hear the speed you aspire to. Sing patterns out loud. Doing this energizes your entire mind/body connection. Hear them in your head and re-create them, over and over and over and over. You’re priming your neural pathways by doing so. Use a metronome while you do this. You’ll be quite surprised at how effective this technique is.
  3. Relax: Part of proper technique is relaxing. This is different from executing the movements precisely, because if you stiffen up as you speed up, you’ll choke yourself out. Breathe, keep you shoulders relaxed, and the SECOND you feel your muscles tighten up, STOP. Shake your hands off, stretch your legs and calves, then get back to it.
  4. Visualize Your Performance: Close your eyes and see yourself practicing, gradually increasing your speed. This also helps develop the mind/body connection, and if you don’t believe me, ask professional athletes and coaches who’ve been using this technique for decades. See your hands starting slow with say, paradiddles, and then moving faster and faster. The same applies to your feet.
  5. Vary Your Stick Weights and Pedal Tension: Use three different weight sticks (light, medium heavy), and alternate between them as you practice. Try playing marching sticks as quietly as possible to discover the degree to which you can refine your control, then switch immediately to light sticks (7A), then medium (5A), or some similar combination. Likewise with bass drum pedals, although this does take little more work. If you can find small weight to attach to the beater stem, give that a try, or adjust the pedal distance quite a ways back form the head. This will definitely make you work harder.

Most of us have nowhere else to be right now, so give these ideas a shot and see what happens. Ultimately, we want to be able to play whatever we do musically, and there is a time and a place to unleash and make a blistering musical statement. If you put time into developing these five top areas of improving your speed, you may soon discover that your inner drummer has a Ferrari waiting to be revved and cut loose. All you have to do is turn the practice key, and you’ll be leaving these strange days in the dust before you know it.  Good luck!

Readiness Potential and Drumming: Priming Your Neural Pathways Like A Boss

In the spring of 1985, I lived in Santa Cruz, California. It’s a beautiful beach town with hills overlooking the pristine Monterey Bay. I was attending Cabrillo Community College with hopes of transferring to UC Santa Cruz to study the more esoteric aspects of drumming and psychology in a self-study environment. One of the classes offered at Cabrillo really caught my eye because of the link between drumming, the body and the mind, so I enrolled in Physiological Psychology…

It was a fairly dry class until the day the professor introduced us to the concept of Readiness Potential, and that’s when my drumming world turned itself upside down. The concept was simple: when you think abut doing something, conducting an action of any sorts, the nerves associated with that action come alive with a kind of “Ready, Set” priming. The nerves await your “Go” signal before completing the action.

For example, suppose you want to reach for a glass of water on a table. Your mind sends the “Get ready to reach for the glass, activate all nerves pathways asociated with completing this action, and wait for my signal” command. You’re cocked and locked, so to speak…

I was absolutely enthralled with this notion, because it’s applications to drumming and all music performance were immediately clear.

Think about the times you have heard a song and wanted to learn the drumming part. You listen closely, and somehow, your body seems to already know how to play the part. You can almost feel your limbs coming alive with the desire to play…

Get the picture?

When you hear a drum part, you are in effect thinking about it, and by thinking about it, you are sending the signals to your nerves and muscles to play the part… if you can hear and understand it clearly in your mind FIRST. By employing Readiness Potential in your practice, you can strengthen the link between your mind and your body without ever touching a drum set or a pair of sticks. It’s not a replacement for actual physical practice, mind you, but it certainly helps at a deep level. Gary Chaffee mentioned this idea of keeping the neural pathways primed in his Patterns series of books, and I remembered that phrase when I thought about how to apply Readiness Potential to my own practice and playing.

I found a link recently to a scientific study that backs this idea up:

Now, here’s how are some ways you can actually apply Readiness Potential to your practice routine…

Since most of us are right handed, take a second to just look at your left hand. Now, visualize it hitting the snare drum and hear the sound (this phenomena is referred to as audiation). Now, visualize hitting it with matched grip, then switching to traditional grip.

Next, visualize moving your left hand back and forth from the snare to the mounted tom. Then, snare to cymbal…

If you are sensitive enough, you will feel the slightest energizing of your arm and the desire to move it. THAT’s readiness potential.

Try hearing the most famous drum fill that Phil Collins ever played, and visualize your hands playing it. If you can feel THAT, you know exactly what I’m talking about…

Readiness Potential is incredibly powerful as a practice and performance tool that has not been discussed largely to date. It’s application to polyrhythms in particular are awesome, and in terms of practicing dynamic level balancing, equally valuable.

Jazz drummer George Marsh, author of Inner Drumming, uses concepts of Tai Chi to develop a flow from mind to body as applied to the drum set. You can apply Readiness Potential to that book, or any drum study book, by hearing the patterns SLOWLY… and if you’ve ever wondered why drum teachers were SO insistent that you practice slowly, this is why. You are programming your mind with either precision or rough edges… slower really is faster in the long run…

So for now, try some simple exercises like visualizing moving your arm up and down, or your foot up and down. Sit quietly, see it in your mind, and hear the sound of the drum in your mind. You are sending signal to make the action happen… but don’t play. Just THINK about it, hear and see it in your head, strengthen and develop your ability to conceive it first. Do this for 5 minutes, then go play the same patterns you were thinking about…

Do with your weaker limbs first, by the way, and then see what happens…

You can also apply it to sheet music: Look at a piece of music, like say, a page out of Stick Control, and just hear it in your head. Play it all the way through, and sound it out in your mind.

You are sending practice signals to the nerves and muscles to perform the music without actually playing the music.

Try this with a single line of music, and envision, say, your left hand playing it. You are actually practicing the use of your left hand without moving it.

Now, imagine all four limbs playing a simple pattern. You can practice the drums in your mind to keep the neural pathways prepped and sharp…

The potential for application of readiness potential is virtually unlimited…

If you can discipline your mind in this way, you can practice drummer ANYwhere, ANYtime… it’ll open some very interesting doors, I promise you…





Now, suppose you hear a drum pattern and think about it, trying to figure out how to play it. Your brain starts sending the “ready, set” signals, which accounts for how sometimes you hear something and feel like you already know how to play it.

I found a link recently to a scientific study that backs this idea up:

I’ve been interested in this subject for many years, but what are the practical applications for you?

Try this sometime: look at a piece of music, and just hear it in your head. Play it all the way through, and sound it out in your mind.

You are sending practice signals to the nerves and muscles to perform the music without actually playing the music.

Try this with a single line of music, and envision, say, your left hand playing it. You are actually practicing the use of your left hand without moving it.

Now, imagine all four limbs playing a simple pattern. You can practice the drums in your mind to keep the neural pathways prepped and sharp…

The potential for application of readiness potential is virtually unlimited…

Hey Drummers, Compose Your Musical Future!

Howdy again from ATX, home of SXSW and some very entertaining bats who erupt from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. I moved back home two years ago to regain some perspective on a lot of things, including music and drumming. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about both in this piece, focusing on how we create our true musical future.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from high school (guitarist Chris McDermott) said I should write my own music to showcase myself and my style of drumming. I’ll never forget that conversation, a brief phone call that changed everything. I was heavily into odd meters at the time (1979) and had been since high school, when composer Hank Levy came up from Baltimore on a government arts grants to teach us his style of music. Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, and he believed a rhythmic revolution was long overdue.

I had very little music education and did not really think I could write my own music. There was no Garage Band, no Pro Tools, no laptops to help you construct music one step at a time on an electronic grid. There was blank sheet music, pencils, and inspiration. For someone with my level of ADD, learning how to read music was agonizing. The symbols barely made sense, and it was extremely frustrating to even think about following my friend’s suggestion of somehow showcasing myself…

But… there were cassette recorders…

I started singing my ideas into a cheesy-assed Radio Shack cassette recorder, hoping that some day, I could find the focus to write the notes down and bring things to life. I dreamed of there being technology like we have today, which probably seems impossible to imagine that it was not around. Every couple of years or so, I’d go back East to Delaware and be fortunate enough to spend a day in the recording studio of another high school friend (keyboardist Paul Harlyn), who’d let me tinker and explore. We’d capture the ideas on tape, and I continued to dream of the day when I could buy all the equipment I needed to spend hours diving into the sonic palettes that awaited.

It would be many years later that I’d finally acquire some equipment and begin my own electronic explorations. I bought a TEAC 4-track from Paul Harlyn in 1987 and started making my very first actual compositions, and here’s one that I wrote in a Washington D.C.

“Morning Walk Through Tibetan Gardens”

I used an Ensonique sampling keyboard, layered a few tracks, and BOOM! I was a composer! It was pure magic to bring these sounds in my head to life and actually MAKE something happen, taking charge of my music and life for the first time. I could finally combat my ADD and be patient enough to take the small steps necessary to bring the ideas out and make them happen. It was a game-changing moment.

Now, fast-forward to today. I’ve accomplished a lot outside of music, written books, screenplays, learned to fly and teach flying, traveled the country as a writer for a Harley magazine… but cranking out my own CD of original compositions still remains unachieved. It’s really the last big goal, because it’s the one I’ve had on my mind forever but had to put behind some of the other larger goals.

And here’s my point. Well, two actually. One… as drummers, if you aspire to lead your own band, to create your own music, know that this is the best time in history to do so, because you have incredible tools at your disposal, more powerful than is sometimes believable. Learn them, use them, and do it TODAY.

Second point… Don’t ever tell yourself you aren’t a composer. Every time you create a beat for a song, you ARE COMPOSING. You can learn the basics of song construction, simple music theory, and you can noodle around with the endless sound possibilities on a synthesizer until your fingers fall asleep. You’ll hear cool sound here and there, learn to cut and paste loops, add some effects here and there, and make music that YOU enjoy playing.

Here are a few samples of explorations from 1987 to 2020, to give you an idea of how things evolved. I hope they give you some inspiration to explore, and to reach out to musicians from around the world to collaborate with. I hope to do this in 2020, as I’ve seen a great of it being done lately and know just how possible it is.

1987-1990: Still living in Washington, D.C., aching to get back to California. I had a one of the original square Macintoshes, with Mark of the Unicorn software that I never fully mastered. Most everything else was just multi-tracked onto my faithful TASCAM 244. I still have those tapes, and I found a newer version of the 244 in a pawn shop for $50!


“Go Dog Go”


“Funk 5 Dub”


2004-2007: I was living in San Luis Obispo and had a Roland TD6, a Korg keyboard (model unknown), and a Fender Squire Strat and Precision Bass set-up. I was using Cubasis, running into a big blue Mac desktop that surely weighed 100 lbs. I used a TASCAM analog to digital converter to bring all the sounds into the Mac, and it was a lot of fun to see where things could go.


“The Crawl”


“Ghost 23”


“Some Thunk Funk”


“Nature Boy”


2017-2019: Between my last few years in L.A., and then once in Austin, I could more fully dive into ProTools, my Roland Handsonic, and a handful of other Roland synths to discover some cool sounds.


“10-4 Tribal Groove”




“Chasing Mr. Z”


“The Hunt”


“Madge Likes Mars”



I play all the instruments on these clips, trying to lay down ideas that I’ll share with like-minded and more skilled musicians to help bring them to life. I hope you’ll do the same with your music, and compose your own future. Drummers lead, we don’t follow. We drive the band and energize the music. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ourselves if we so choose.

And there’s no better time than now to do so.

– David Aldridge





Two Grooves, Keep Your Hands Low

Happy New Year from Austin, Texas, and my nifty new rehearsal studio. I finally found a great room (Music Lab) where I can put allllll of my drums and percussion equipment, including my vintage Fibes and my cool little Gretsch Catalina Club Street kit.


Here’s two short clips for you to demonstrate something I’ve spent a fair amount of time on over the past few years: keeping my hands low, until I need to unleash. The economy of movement saves energy, reduces travel distance, and gives me more control over dynamics than I’ve had in previous years.


Clip #1 is straight 4/4 groove on the Gretsch kit, something simple but fun to play. I end it with a 6-stroke roll (RLLRRL), played low to maximize rebound and volume control.

Clip #2 is on the Fibes kit, a 5/4 funk groove with a few Cobham-inspired licks thrown in. It’s a louder kit, obviously, so the hands are coming up a little higher than with the Gretsch groove, but the idea is still the same: use the least amount of energy to get the most out of what you’re playing.

I use a lot of wrist snapping and finger squeezing to get the snap and precision that help keep things flowing. The reserves volume is always there if I need it, but at 60, I do find that conserving energy helps me get through the night without cramping my hands and losing my breath!


I hope you enjoy these samples, and when you’re practicing, try keeping your hands low to the drums during timekeeping and fills. I use a lot of last-second velocity to bring the stick down quick and then pull it back, as gravity isn’t quite able to do the job alone.


Here’s hoping 2020 gives you everything you want in music in more, and as always, thanks for checking things out. There will be many more such clips coming, so please check back or subscribe to the blog. See ya!

Meet Gary Leach and Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence



Three years ago or so, I was experimenting with posting video clips on Periscope. In a short period of time, a following developed, including positive comments and encouragement from an English gentleman named Gary Leach. He posted his own videos, shot in a small room, using his iPhone. What struck me about Gary the most was his sincere enthusiasm and desire to impart his vast knowledge of beats to whomever might spend a few minutes watching and listening.

Fast forward …

After working with exhausting detail to produce and explore his grooves, Gary took the self-publishing plunge and created Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence. And take the plunge he did. His organization of materials is impeccable. The level of detail is extraordinary. The cultural range of grooves is indeed exotic, drawing from Africa, Brazil, Cuba and many more countries.

The grooves he presents incorporate both ride cymbal and cowbell, with enough of the latter to satisfy even Christopher Walken. They are beats that Gary enjoys playing, so in a sense, the book was really a labor of love. They are organized into Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced examples, with 850-plus bars of rhythms and ostinatos collected over the last ten years.

Like I said, he plunged.

You can see examples inside the book at the website,, where you can also download MP3 examples of every groove in the book. This aspect in itself is invaluable, as the MP3 files may be used by the non-reading drumming to learn the patterns. Gary developed a visual aid system that employs empty and darkened boxes, aligned horizontally, to depict the silence and sound of each pattern. It’s novel, useful, and easy to grasp.


Okay, that’s the technical end of Gary’s book. Anyone can write a review. I want to tell you about the person. As regular readers of this blog know, I rarely ever mention a product. That’s not what this is about. What it is about is discovering interesting PEOPLE and their path. Without fail, every comment Gary posted about my short little Periscope videos was positive and encouraging. He’s the real deal. He honestly cares about teaching, sharing, improving a student’s playing and breadth of knowledge.

I used to watch his clips sometimes when I was the only person on Periscope seeing his videos. He played and talked like the whole world was watching, and that was intriguing. He really loved figuring out how to make the groove GROOVE, make it sound right and honest. You’d see him tuning it up on the spot, and I really enjoyed this. Point being, you could see where the exhaustive list of patterns found their study origins, and it really gave me some interesting context within which to appreciate his book.

Speaking from personal experience, I KNOW this project took a tremendous amount of effort, and it shows. If you want to broadly expand your groove knowledge with rhythms from around he world, and if you fancy a bit of cowbell to break up the monotony, Beats Exotiques will show you the way. It’ll take a bit of time to get through over 200 pages of examples, but you won’t be bored.


And when you do take a break, check out the man himself on drummercouk (YouTube). You can hear examples the beats, played by Gary. There’s heart and soul in his sticks and lessons, and that’s something we drummers can never get enough of.





Drum! magazine is closing

drum first cover

As you read this, Drum!magazine is preparing to shut down. One of the longest-running drum publications will be closing its doors after a run of twenty-eight years. Originally spawned from Drums and Drumming, Drum! magazine was launched under the publishing direction of Phil Hood, his wife Connie, and editor Andy Doerschuk in September 1991.

I wrote regularly for Drum! throughout the 90’s, doing features and providing whatever ink Andy needed. I was introduced to Andy when he was editor of Drums and Drumming, where I wrote the introduction to a piece called “The Drummers of Miles Davis” (the body of the article was written by the late Adam Ward Seligman). This assignment was the beginning of my professional writing career, something I’ve always been grateful for.

Andy gave me a truly powerful lesson in writing in that article, showing me how moving paragraph three of the intro to the very beginning proved to be the perfect editorial change. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve used this writing device, but I certainly owe it to him.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to interview some of drumming and percussion’s true heavyweights, including Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman, Luis Conte, Bill Summers, Rick Allen, and Virgil Donati. Through Drum!, I also had the opportunity to write my dream article, “10 Billy Cobham Tracks You Must Hear.”

Phil Hood sold Drum! to Stringfellow Publishing in 2016, where it was steered by Nick Grizzle. The magazine converted to a quarterly version, but even this reduction was not enough to prevent the virtually inevitable overrun by the digital world and the reduction in demand for printed matter. In a nine-hundred mile and hour, sound byte world, waiting a few months for something to hold in your hands simply proved too much for conventional publishing.

I have little additional information to offer, but I do know that Drum! will not be forgotten. It was a magazine that wanted to always remind you that you should be playing. The title was a directive, a command, an order of the highest order, to get behind your kit and light it up. The exclamation point in the title was no accident. It was an imperative.

And it IS imperative that we continue to do exactly that.



Dr. Nadia Azar – A Pioneer in Drumming/Sports Medicine Research You Should Know About


photo credit: Dr. Nadia Azar

“Drummers should be training their bodies for the demands of their profession, to be able to perform at their peak and to avoid getting injured.” – Dr. Nadia Azar, Associate Professor, University of Windsor


The academic exploration of drummers and the drum set is kind of like Oklahoma at the near turn of the 20th century; vastly wide open and mostly unclaimed. It was the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 that sent settlers blazing across the unassigned lands, as they were called, all seeking a spot to stake out and build upon.


In the world of human movement studies, Dr. Nadia Azar has hitched her horses to a unique research wagon of her own design and is pioneering the exploration of exercise analysis and pain research as applied to the drum set. With the help of Mike Mangini (Dream Theater) and Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party), Dr. Azar is opening the doors for future academic exploration of the drum set and the players who up until now have not likely seen themselves as athletes who can benefit from a sports training perspective.


I discovered Dr. Azar’s work on a Twitter feed and contacted her requesting an interview. Regular readers of this blog know that I usually just write about someone and leave it to you to explore further. The Clem Burke Drumming Project is such an example:


I wrote a fairly short post about it 2009, briefly describing the project and the research being conducted with respect to drumming and exercise.  However, in this case. I felt it was important to get the story directly from Dr. Azar about her work and its potential application.  If you click on the following link, you can view her university website and background.


What follows is a Q & A conducted via e-mail to allow Dr. Azar to expound on her project. Hopefully, it will inspire drummers to participate in her future research and perhaps even nudge some of you into the realm of academia to help push the research envelope further. It also serves to lay groundwork for the next evolution of this blog, into a second one that will be focusing specifically on Drum Set Research (the new blog name).


We’ll be interviewing Dr. Azar again when her current study on drumming and pain is complete. I encourage drummers to check out her studies in this area especially and to please help her complete a survey that could eventually help drummers down the line with respect to pain research, management and avoidance. You’ll find the link at the end of this interview.


That said, let’s get to know a bit about Dr. Azar and her work…


What first prompted you to study drummers?

“In the fall of 2016, I was at a Dream Theater concert watching Mike Mangini playing, and I thought to myself how great it would be if I could hook him up to my research equipment and see what his back muscles were doing while he was playing. About a week later, Mike tweeted something about his drumming technique, so I took a chance and responded that I’d like to study his technique, not really expecting that he’d respond. Well… he did, and we began corresponding about possible research projects! As I started digging into the research literature, I realized that there is very little research on the biomechanics of playing the drums, and on drumming-related pain and injuries. So, I decided to design some research studies to start investigating these things myself.”


Do you play drums? Other instruments? If so, please share some background, favorite groups and musicians, influences, etc.

“I can play a 4/4 beat, maybe even add in a basic fill – but I wouldn’t call myself a drummer. The summer before I started high school, my friend’s cousin set up his drum kit in her basement, and he taught us how to play. We spent the summer playing Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ on a loop. I did take piano lessons for about eight years though, and I also played the flute for three years.

“[As for] favorite groups & musicians – there are so many! Dream Theater, Disturbed, Walk Off the Earth, Walk the Moon, The Tea Party, Imagine Dragons, 311, Phish, and many more.”


How did you become interested in kinesiology/biomechanics?

“I’ve always been interested in sports, health, and how the human body works. When I was deciding on potential career paths, my high-school guidance counsellor introduced me to the field of ergonomics. The Kinesiology program at the University of Windsor allowed me to pursue my combined interests, and our graduate program also has a strong biomechanics/ergonomics stream.”


What made you want to pursue your Ph.D, and what was the focus of your thesis?

“My father is a (now retired) University professor. I knew I wanted to pursue research as a career, but in an entirely different subject area (he was in Education). When I finished my Master’s degree at the University of Windsor, I was working as a research technician for one of my former professors. I loved it, but it was a temporary position, so I started looking for PhD programs and came across the Biomedical Engineering program at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. It was one of the top programs in the country, and it appealed to me because it would allow me to learn more about biomechanics from an engineering perspective. My thesis project studied the neck muscles’ responses to stretching of one of the ligaments in the spine. It was part of a larger project whose goal was to investigate potential mechanisms for how whiplash-related neck pain develops.”


How does your work differ from the Clem Burke drumming project in England?

“With respect to the calorie counting case studies I’ve done: they are similar to the Clem Burke Project in that we both documented drummers’ energy expenditure (i.e., calories burned) during live performances. I am using different equipment than they did, and my approach is also different – whereas theirs was a formal research study, I am using this as an exercise in knowledge translation and raising awareness. It’s an interesting and accessible way to demonstrate to the public that playing the drums is a vigorous physical activity that can be used as an alternative to traditional forms of exercise, like going to the gym or playing organized sports.

“The Clem Burke Project was the first to put his idea forward, and they took some important steps in getting this message out to the public. I’m now trying to take it a step further by documenting song-by-song energy expenditures in high-profile drummers. If information on rates of energy expenditure (i.e., calories per kilogram body weight per minute) were available on a song-by-song basis, people who want to play the drums for exercise could customize exercise ‘playlists’ to their preferred intensity levels as well as their favorite songs. This is my long-term objective with this branch of my research – to get enough drummers to do this so I can create a database of calorie burn rates per song.

“The flip side of this work is to make the point, especially to full-time, professional drummers, that they need to start looking at themselves as athletes, and start training as such. The Clem Burke Project showed that drummers’ HR [heart rate] profiles similar to those of professional soccer players. Professional athletes don’t just get on a field or a court and play games/matches – they engage is a significant amount of training, including both skill-specific drills and general strength/conditioning, in order to handle the physical demands of their sport and to deliver their peak performance. Based on what we know about the physical demands of drumming, it’s no different – but I don’t believe many drummers view it this way. Drummers should be training their bodies for the demands of their profession, to be able to perform at their peak and to avoid getting injured.

“My other research on drummers is completely different from the Clem Burke Project. I mentioned earlier that when I started looking into research on the biomechanics of drumming, there was next to nothing on drumming-related pain and injuries. So, I designed a survey that will allow me to document the prevalence and patterns of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders in drummers, and identify some of the playing-related and lifestyle characteristics and/or habits that might either help drummers avoid these injuries/problems, or put them at risk of developing them. The survey results won’t be able to tell me whether these characteristics or habits CAUSE injuries – but it will tell me which characteristics/habits are related to an increased or decreased likelihood of reporting injuries. From there, I can design more studies to study the different risk factors or protective factors in more depth. The survey is available at the following website:”


Do you have research autonomy, or did you have to convince supervisors about the validity of your present research to make it happen?

“I do have research autonomy, so I didn’t have to convince my dean or department head that the work was valid. My challenge will be to convince the research funding agencies.”


When you first began the project, did you find others in your field exploring this subject matter? If not, what did this suggest to you?

“Not at all – there are very few people studying drumming biomechanics, and no one studying playing-related injuries specifically in drummers. Most of the studies I’ve read only include a handful of percussionists, and it’s often not clear whether drummers were included in the study. Most of them also focus on classically-trained percussionists, and don’t consider the differences in the physical demands of playing different music genres. However, we’ve all heard of high-profile drummers who have battled career-threatening injuries – we know it’s a problem, but it hasn’t been systematically studied and documented. I saw a real need for research in this area, so I took it as an opportunity.”


How did you choose your first subject, and how did you get introduced to Mike Mangini?

“The calorie counting study wasn’t actually part of my original research plan. It sort of evolved organically – one day, Mike tweeted a guess at how many calories he burns during his shows. We had already been in touch for a few months at that point, so I told him that if he wanted to find out, I had a way to do that. I told Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party) about it, too, and they both thought it would be fun to find out.

“If you mean, how did I make his acquaintance, see the answer to #1 – it was entirely serendipitous. He tweeted about his technique, I took a chance and responded, he wrote back, and the rest is history. If you mean, how was I introduced to him as an artist? I’ve been a fan of Dream Theater since my husband introduced me to them about 19 years ago, so I was ‘introduced’ to him when he joined the band in 2010.

“I’ve also been a fan of The Tea Party for almost 25 years, so I was thrilled when Jeff Burrows offered to get involved. We kept in touch, and an opportunity to collect data on him came up during The Tea Party’s residency at The Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, ON).”


Dr. Nadia Azar and Mike Mangini – photo credit: Melissa King


How did they react to the project? Did they contribute to its structure with any suggestions regarding approach?

“Neither of them really ‘reacted’, so to speak – this entire line of work evolved based on my Twitter interactions with Mike and our first conversation, and Jeff came on board shortly afterwards. So, they have both been involved since the projects’ inception, and their interest and contributions have evolved with the projects as they developed. Aside from being participants in the calorie counting study, both Jeff and Mike were active collaborators in working out the logistics and facilitating collecting the data during live shows. Along the way, they have both provided informal suggestions for this and other studies I am planning, basically being sounding boards for my ideas. Jeff also contributed to the development of the drummer injury survey as a member of the expert review panel, and has been actively promoting my work through social media.”


Please describe in layman’s terms the calorie measuring device and technology you use.

“The device I use is the BodyMedia®  FIT armband. It is a small device (about 1.5” square) that is secured to the back of your upper arm using a Velcro strap. The device contains four sensors:

  1. A triaxial accelerometer, which measures motion in 3 planes (up-down, side-side, front-back)
  2. A temperature sensor, to monitor your skin temperature
  3. A heat flux sensor, to monitor the rate at which you are dissipating body heat
  4. A galvanic skin response sensor, which monitors the conductivity of your skin (a value that increases with sweating)

The sensor data are recorded once per minute and stored on the device. After the drumming session, I remove the armbands and download the data to my computer. The software that comes with the armbands contains algorithms that use the sensor data, along with basic participant information (height, weight, age, sex, handedness, and smoking status) to predict energy expenditure (i.e., calories burned).”


Jeff Burrows – photo credit: David Torbett


Please describe in layman’s terms the basic elements of your research approach to calorie burning.

“I chose to collect data during live performances because it is the most convenient way for professional drummers to participate – they don’t have to make a special trip to my my lab, which is located in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is right across the Canada-USA border from Detroit, Michigan, and Toronto, Ontario is also only a few hours away. So, between those three cities, which are typically stops on most bands’ tours, I can easily travel to wherever the drummer will be.

“Sometime before the start of the show ([which] can be minutes or hours, depending on the drummers’ preferences), I meet with the drummer to put on the armbands and synchronize them. The drummer then goes and plays the show. During the show, I also wear an armband that has been synchronized to theirs, and I use the timestamping feature to record the start and ending of every song. I meet up with them again after the show to remove the bands, then I take them back to my computer to download and analyze the data.


What were your goals with this project beyond simply measuring calorie burn? Were you able to correlate separate calorie burn isolation for the individual limbs, or is it only measure collectively?”

“Re: goals beyond measuring calories, please see my answer to #5.

“The drummers wear an armband on each arm, and I take an average of the readouts of the two armbands. Normally, you would have a participant wear only one armband on their non-dominant arm, but since playing the drums has a lot of upper limb movement and both limbs are active nearly equally, I wanted to take measurements using both arms. Interestingly, both Jeff and Mike were pretty symmetrical – the estimates were pretty similar for both arms. However, the numbers don’t represent the calorie burn of each individual arm – they are estimates of whole-body energy expenditure.


What were your overall thoughts and observations concerning your results? What does calorie burning data tell you about drumming in general, and why is this of value?

“I was really pleased to see the variation between the songs of different intensities. For Mike, because Dream Theater played the same set list on both data collection nights, I was able to look at the reliability of the estimates for each song, and I was happy (and amazed) to see how consistent he was from night to night. I was also very happy to see that the numbers I was getting were in the same ballpark as those that have been reported in the research literature so far (e.g., the Clem Burke project, and two other studies I’m aware of). Those studies used different methods than I did, so I can’t directly compare my numbers to theirs, but it was good to see that my equipment wasn’t wildly off from the published data.

“As far as what this data tells me about drumming in general and why it’s of value, I think I answered that in #5 already. But to reiterate – it demonstrates that playing the drums is a vigorous physical activity, which is important to know for two reasons:

  1. Playing the drums can be used as an alternative to traditional forms of exercise like going to the gym or playing organized sports. This is good news for people who don’t like these kinds of activities – they can still get in a good workout doing something fun.
  2. Drummers need to be aware of the demands they are placing on their bodies, and engage in strength and endurance training to prepare their bodies to meet these demands.

It’s this final though that serves as a vital stepping off point for the future of drumming physiology research. We are indeed engaging in not only a cerebral and a musical activity, but also a decidedly physical one. Perfecting your technique will not turn you into an automaton, but rather, will hopefully extend your ability to play for many years.


To this end, once again, please check out Dr. Azar’s link to her survey on drum-related pain and problems:…/form/SV_4SLzudTazCNBWw5


And lastly, it’s worth repeating that one of Dr. Azar’s very interesting research goals is being able to design an exercise program based on the calorie-burn rate of songs in your playlist. It would be very interesting to see how double bass songs, for example, differ in terms of calorie burn from more straight ahead single kick drum beats. These are just the tip of the iceberg of research doors waiting to be opened.


I’d like to thank Dr. Azar for taking the time to answer my questions and help make this particular blog possible. She’s headed into unknown territory with great interest and curiosity, and that’s exactly what our drumming world needs to further our knowledge of how performance on our amazing instrument can be improved upon. And you can be sure that as a pioneer of drum set research, Dr. Azar is looking waaaaaay past Oklahoma …

– David R. Aldridge