Why you should go to Drum Clinics

It’s rare that I come back from an event sufficiently inspired to immediately write about it, but I’m just back from the Benny Greb drum clinic organised by www.drumshop.co.uk held at Newcastle College and I’m sufficiently inspired to immediately write about it!

This isn’t a review of that clinic – I wouldn’t be so arrogant. This is a little insight into the world of drum clinics that will hopefully persuade you to visit one and be as inspired as me right now.

As a drummer, who do you watch most when you go to see your favourite band play live? Is it the guitarist? Is it the singer? No, it’s the drummer. Whether you’re a young budding drummer or a pro I can guarantee that’s who you’ll be focusing your attention on 90% of the time. I certainly do. I’ll do everything I can to get the best balance between the sound of the band and the view of the kit. Sometimes, depending on the drummer, screw the sound – I just want to see the kit! You want to know how he plays that tricky fill at the end of your favourite song. You want to know if he improvises his fills or plays them the same every time. You want to know how he gets his snare drum to sound so cool. Now at a gig it’s a real struggle to see the drummer most of the time, stuck there at the back behind a billion cymbals… not to mention other inconsiderate band members. You normally can’t hear the drums that well because of the racket all the other instruments make. You’re miles away from the stage so can’t see him that well anyway and the sound, generally speaking, is crap since you’re in a cavernous hall and the sound guy is doing his level best to make the band as a whole audible in a venue that couldn’t have been designed to have worse acoustics for live music. A spectacular drum sound that only drummers care about is the least of his worries – although I have been to some gigs with pretty awesome drum sounds – Porcupine Tree with Gavin Harrison at Newcastle Academy springs to mind! (although Gavin probably had major input on the engineering side).

Anyway, so wouldn’t it be great if you could just listen to the drummer in an intimate venue with perfect kit sound engineered to make the drums sound their best? Get to listen a couple of your favourite tracks played live (well, live drums anyway – generally a backing track for the other instruments but who cares about that?). Get to listen a HUGE awesome drum solo. Have a beer out of a glass made of glass (or a Coke kids!). Ask your HERO a few questions. Win some pretty spectacular prizes that you genuinely stand quite a reasonable chance of winning. Meet him/her afterwards, get stuff signed and ask MORE questions. Even, on some very special nights that can’t ever be planned, go for a beer with them. Welcome to the world of drum clinics. Why haven’t you been to one yet?

I’ve been to a lot of clinics and I’m yet to come away from one where I haven’t learned something and been inspired. Just a few I’ve been fortunate enough to go to in Newcastle include Dennis Chambers, Gregg Bissonette, Gavin Harrison, Chad Smith, Nicko McBrain and of course today’s event with Benny Greb. The Nicko McBrain clinic literally changed my life! …but that’s a story for another time. Anyway, these aren’t just any drummers – these are WORLD CLASS drummers. These are drummers who WILL go down in history as some of the greatest musicians of our time… and YOU can get to meet them and ASK how to play that tricky fill at the end of your favourite song! Imagine if you could have met John Bonham or Buddy Rich? That’s what you’re missing out on. Even if it’s a drummer you’ve never heard of I can guarantee you’ll learn something and your playing will improve as a direct result. So hopefully I’ve given you the kick up the arse to get you along to the next clinic playing in your city. So what can you expect at these events?

Benny Greb Drum Clinic
Benny Greb Drum Clinic

What to expect at a drum clinic

First of all, drum clinics are generally organised by the local drum / music shop in your area, so visit them and ask when clinics are going to be on. Also let them know if you have any special requests. I know it sounds unlikely but if there’s enough demand the drum shops do have the contacts via endorsed manufacturers etc. to make these things happen! (assuming it’s a drummer who does clinics). Find out if there’s a mailing list to be informed about new clinics or whether they add this information to their web sites. The clinics generally aren’t expensive – nowhere near big gig prices. £10-20 is fairly common.

So, when you get there generally it’s going to be a fairly intimate affair. The biggest clinic I ever went to was Dennis Chambers at Newcastle Playhouse in 2000 (I think). I have no idea how many were there – I’d guess 500+ people. Every other clinic I’ve been to has been nowhere near this scale – generally sub 200 (again, a guess!). So you’re not talking big crowds. There’s normally a bar and you can usually drink while watching the act.  Most, but not all, clinics will have a support act. Today’s was a sickeningly brilliant performance by 13 year old Oscar Ogden – a name to look out for! The support doesn’t normally last for long (in this case two five minute tracks) so don’t miss it.

You’ll then have a short break while the kit is changed over etc. Your last chance to tick ‘point 4′ off the list below! The show then starts. Now, the format changes from drummer to drummer but most will play along to a couple of backing tracks then do a solo and then do another one or two to backing tracks. The tracks chosen vary from drummer to drummer. Don’t expect them to be the ‘big hits’ from their band. They’ll most likely be the tracks that are most fun / interesting from a drummer’s perspective. The solos can vary in length quite dramatically – anything from 15-30 minutes is the norm in my experience. The main performance is generally through a fairly decent PA system, in a small-ish venue with the accompanying volume of the backing track – so it can be pretty loud! Prepare yourself for this (and your kids!).

Then, the bit you’ve been waiting for – the Q&A session! Again, the length of this varies from drummer to drummer but it won’t be much longer than 30 minutes so if you have a question get in there quick! It’s rare for a microphone to be passed around for this so you’ll need to project your voice and speak clearly. Drummers rarely get asked about their drumming and get very excited by others with a similar interest in hitting things. As a result you can expect your question to not only be answered but also demonstrated and talked about at length if it’s a good one! Once the Q&A is done most clinics I’ve been at have had a raffle of some description and the prizes are normally pretty decent so enter if you can. Sometimes the prize draw is done by the clinician, sometimes it’s done separately.

Finally you’ll normally get the chance to do autographs and the like. Depending on how busy it is you might get to ask questions one-on-one. At the Dennis Chambers clinic, despite there being a lot of people at the show hardly anyone hung around for autographs afterwards. As a result I was one of about five people who got to spend 20 minutes chatting to him over a beer afterwards.

Top 14 Drum Clinic Tips

1. Drink responsibly

Personally I don’t recommend drinking too much at clinics since a) you want to remember it, b) alcohol knackers your hearing and c) you don’t want to be going to the bog every 5 minutes.

2. No video / audio recording

This is really frowned upon and you’ll be a social leper in the drum community if you do it, so just don’t. You don’t have a right to record someone else’s performance without their permission, in the same way that if they started recording your conversations you wouldn’t be best pleased. Also if one person did it everyone else would follow suit and you’d be left with a room full of people blocking the view with cameras.

3. No flash photography

This isn’t a hard and fast rule but I think it’s just good manners and unless you’re a pro photographer the poxy flash on your phone ain’t gonna a make any difference anyway. If you’re going to take photos (if they’ve said it’s OK to take photos – again, it’s not your god-given right) then do the decent thing and switch the flash off.

4. Go to the bog before the show!

This relates partly to point 1, but I think there’s nothing more ignorant than walking about in the middle of the performance / Q&A session. You can get lashed up ANY other time. For once control the alcohol intake! If you’re going to drink, go to the loo before the start or during the interval (if there is one).

5. Don’t walk about during the show!

This relates to point 1 and 4. You’re at a drum clinic, not a pub. Of course it’s nice to enjoy the atmosphere and have a beer but I don’t understand people who are so desperate for a drink that they have to go to the bar during the performance / Q&A session. While the person is playing or talking you should be listening.

6. Keep stum

You can talk to your mates before the show, during the interval or after the show. At all other times watch, listen and learn. Or go home.

7. Phone ringer off and out of sight

Unless you’re using your phone to take notes, which is generally fine, keep it out of sight with the ringer off. You can check messages in the 42,000,000 other minutes that make up your life. Unless you’re live blogging the event or tweeting about it, which I guess is OK as long as you’re discrete, there should be no need to be on your phone. IF you are planning on being all social about it (e.g. Twitter) then try to sit somewhere out of eye contact from the performer. It’s very obvious from the stage when you’re on your brightly illuminated phone and it is off-putting. You wouldn’t like it.

8. Do take notes!

Bring a small note book and pen. There’s really nothing wrong with taking notes at these events. You’re there to learn and it’s so easy to forget the salient point in the excitement of the moment. If you don’t want to be THAT DRUM GEEK at the show then write notes down once you get home. It’s amazing how quickly you forget.

9. Stay for the duration

I don’t understand why someone pays to go to half an event but time and time again I see people leave before the show is over. Invariably they’ll leave right in the middle of the question you really wanted to know the answer to – you’ll get distracted by the person packing up their stuff and saying bye to their mates and miss the answer. Please, stay for the duration or don’t go at all.

10. Be the first to ask a question

There’s a few unwritten rules for the Q&A session. Firstly keep the questions vaguely relevant – there’s very limited time and your moment of fame to ask them what their favourite colour is means someone with a proper question has missed out. Secondly, don’t ask questions that can be answered via Google – try to come up with something original. BUT finally if you do have a burning interesting question ask it right at the start of the Q&A sessionwhile everyone else is being shy. As they say, here, shy bairns get nowt. By the end of the Q&A session everyone will have plucked up the courage to stick their hands up and you won’t stand a chance.

11. Bring something to sit on

You never know what you’re going to be sitting on at these things. Sometimes it’s comfy chairs, sometimes it’s concrete blocks. A folded up jacket / hoodie can help keep the deep vein thrombosis at bay.

12. Hearing protection

If, unlike me, your hearing isn’t already irreversibly screwed, you may want to bring some (subtle) hearing protection.  These things can be pretty loud.  Regardless of how good the show may sound through them, bright yellow builders’ ear defenders will look daft.

13. Bring something to sign

If you’re into the autograph thing, which I’m not but whatever floats your boat, you might want to bring something to sign, like a book / CD / snare drum head. If you’re loaded and don’t have anything with you there’s normally a merchandise stall where you can buy something to have signed.

14. Child friendly-ISH (NOT toddler friendly)

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone daft enough to bring very young children to these events but I guess it does happen? It’s really not appropriate for… hmm… I would say 8 and under, depending how mature your child is. We’re drummers, alcohol is invariably consumed and sometimes (well, normally) the language can be a bit ‘choice’. Secondly your child is going to have to sit still for around 1-2 hours. You be the judge.

And that’s it! It’ll be over before you know it. You’ll get the bug and will go to every subsequent clinic whether you’ve heard of the drummer or not! As I said at the start, I’m yet to go to a clinic that I haven’t learned something at. Get in touch with your local drum / music shop(s) and find out when the next one is – buy a ticket regardless of who it is. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Lastly, clinics are only possible through the support of you attending them and the sponsors who make everything run like clockwork. Here’s a quick mention to everyone involved in the Benny Greb gig last night – awesome work guys! If I’ve missed anyone just shout. Enjoy!

www.bennygreb.de – @bennygreb

www.drumshop.co.uk – @drumshop

www.meinlcymbals.com – @meinlcymbals

www.ncl-coll.ac.uk – @NCLCollege


www.sonor.com – @sonordrumco

www.promark.com – @ProMarkSticks

www.daddario.com – @DAddarioUK

www.mikedolbear.com – @mikedolbearcom