“How I began”-Story excerpt from “Best Christmas Gift Ever” by Jeff Holland

Every year of my earliest childhood, my parents bought me a musical instrument for Christmas. I still have the Mickey Mouse tambourine from year one, the Hohner harmonica from year two, the colored-coded xylophone with original sticks from year three, and the 1/2-size red sunburst guitar from my fourth Christmas morning. However, the instrument I was given on December 25th, 1979 only lasted a few months after I received it, but it enabled all my dreams to come true looking back on the opportunities that it created in my pursuit of “motivating people with the rhythms of life.”

All the instruments leading up until this special one had been appreciatively played, recorded by my dad, the engineer, and bragged about by showing off her talented little multi-instrumentalist by my mom, the pianist. That all changed on my fifth Christmas sunrise when my sleepy eyes peered down our long hallway to become as wide as they possibly could to take in the gleam and wonder of my first drum set in our living room by our Christmas tree! Somehow my feet began to spin out, and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen stretched across my face as I raced to the symphony of percussion sounds that I already knew were going to make my dreams come true.

You see, I found the drum set incredibly fascinating at age two seeing drummers come through our home and church to play with various musical groups. We had musicians in our family, and my favorite was my cousin Charles who lived about a mile away and played the drum set. When our family would go visit, I would immediately ask to play his drums. He taught me how to hold my sticks and how to hold a basic beat. I knew that was the greatest feeling I could ever experience even at a toddler’s expectancy of the world to come. I begged for a drum set of my own, but my parents always had good reasoning why I couldn’t have one. “It’s too expensive. We don’t have enough space to put a drum set in our house. We can’t stand to listen to all that noise all the time! No! No!! No!!!” Keep in mind that this conversation did not change for over two years. In fact, their opinion had not seemed to change all the way up to my bedtime on Christmas Eve that wonderful year. So when I awoke to find the instrument of my dreams ready and waiting for me that morning, it was a moment that changed my life. My parents claimed that Santa delivered them, and as surprised as I remembered them being when they were awakened to the sounds they heard coming from our living room, I still believe them!

Many people have memories of the first instrument they ever received for Christmas, but this drum set not only designated my lifelong career path, but through several decades, it has also inspired hundreds of other young drummers to follow their dreams and learn to express their thoughts, feelings and inner rhythms. I played that drum set every single day for hours nonstop, and many times played myself almost to sleep at bedtime. My parents never had any doubt what I was doing when I was pounding out my heart’s desire on “my chosen instrument of self expression.” Needless to say the bass pedal broke first, and my father repaired it exhaustively. Then heads would break, and we replaced what we could to keep me jamming. Eventually the mounts gave way, and the drum set became part of my Erector Set just to hold it together. I was always trying to add new sounds to my set from what I found in our kitchen, which my mom didn’t always agree with me using without her permission. Way before the next Christmas, my pride and joy had become a pile of parts and sawdust in my bedroom that no longer resembled the bright shiny new instrument from months before. My parents had formed their decision. I would not be receiving another drum set for the next Christmas or any one thereafter from them. In fact, all the pleading in the world for the next five years could not change their minds. It seemed that they’d had enough drumming already, because I was playing everything possible that made an interesting sound in our house, my dad’s workshop, and basically anywhere else that I went. I was a drummer, and I was determined to keep my rhythms going any way I could!

The turning point in my story came at age ten, when I made a deal with my parents. No, they still were determined not to buy another drum set for me, much less for a Christmas present that year. I have no idea what gifts I received. At that point in my life, I was on a mission to get new drums! Nothing else mattered. The deal we came to changed my life in a way I could not have realized then. They said if I could somehow manage to save up enough money to buy my own drum set, then they would provide me with lessons. Basically, I don’t think they thought I could save up a few hundred dollars when I was ten years old, but looking back I found determination in their doubt. I scrounged and saved all year long. In the meantime, I found the red sparkle Tempro five piece that would soon be mine.

I did buy that set of drums, and to this day I can’t tell you how many hundreds of drum sets have passed through my collection, but the deal my parents made providing me lessons for Christmas was what really changed my life. The gave me an envelope on Christmas morning 1984 that had ten prepaid lessons. I knew then that somehow I would share what I learned with others who had the same dream. That is what teaching is all about. I went from one drum teacher to another learning everything as fast as I could. Sometimes I would take from different teachers specializing in different styles and other percussion instruments at the same time. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the evolution of drumming. I also wanted to share my passion with others.

Beginning at fifteen years old, I had been taking lessons for five years, when a couple of younger neighborhood kids became interested in playing drums. I gave them the same challenge my parents did, and told them that if they could save up and get a drum set, then I would give them lessons. Eventually, I quite a few lessons I was teaching when I went off to college. I continued to play, teach and share where ever I went. When I started working in a retail music store after college, I thought of the challenge my parents had made me. For every drum set I sold, I always included at least one month worth of free lessons. I know many stores and lesson studios offer deals at Christmas like that, but my philosophy was always geared to creating a strong foundation and sharing the love that drums created passionately in my life. There were obvious career, sales and marketing ideas that corresponded with my offer through the last three decades, but my dreams began with that first drum set at Christmas morning. Through offering the free lessons, I always stress the formula that passion first plus determination equals success.

My businesses today offer performances, recordings and all kinds of lessons to help spread the joy of making music as a means of communication. There’s the joy that I’ve learned through performing that I can help other people make music in the moment with educational programs, corporate business clients and community groups all over the world. I believe my first gift ever was being born with the ability to play music, but my greatest Christmas gift ever was the musical instrument that changed my life.

Give a musical gift for Christmas this year, and change someone’s life for the future.

Conga Heel/Toe patterns, Tumbao, stick balance-building exercises, 3 against 2 polyrhythm

Yessir. We were all over the place in this lesson. Many thanks to Andy for inspiring such diverse topics during our first meeting. I’ve wanted to share some of these ideas in separate lessons, and maybe I’ll get to that later. However, if I post some ideas as we go along, then at least it will remind me what I need to expand on in future videos. Feel free to leave comments here, or email me directly at jeff@drum4work.com

Hope this inspires some new directions!


My Tribute to ANIMAL

If you grew up in my generation, The Muppet Show was huge on Saturday Night TV. I just had an epiphany today watching the drum battle between Animal and Travis Barker (of Blink182 fame), and I realized that ANIMAL was actually my first official drum instructor. I think that explains a lot, don’t you? Check it out!

I can vaguely remember (being 4-yrs-old in 1978 when this was first released) seeing the Great Buddy Rich enter into a drum battle with Animal
There will be more on Buddy Rich later, as he was one of the drummers throughout the relatively short history of the drum set, who has brought the “conTRAPtion” of percussion instruments into the limelight of the last century.

Animal had a unique style, always bouncing to the beat. I questioned later in years if his operator was really a drummer. I haven’t done my homework yet. This introduced me to the term “Call & Response,” which I use a lot in my rhythm event facilitation. C & R is a tradition of many musical styles, but it can be traced to many forms of early African songs, where one person calls and the group responds. Here’s a video with Harry Belafonte trying to trick Animal with his C & R drumming.

Through the years, Animal had many different drum sets, but I can never recall seeing him tied to an “endorsement.” I think his style, or maybe his diversity, couldn’t exactly be pinned to a single genre. Check out his classical music background.

Yes, he was a bit of a “metal-head.” We all waited for him to burst into flames. I know that clip wasn’t legitimate, but I love the videos I stumble upon sometimes while doing research. Youtube can be quite entertaining.

This clip actually hosts the video from before, and gives us an inside interview with Animal by the green man himself.

Don’t let that video ruin the reputation of all us drummers! I’ve heard all the drummer jokes. My favorite is, “How do you know when the drum riser is level? Answer: Drool comes from both sides of the drummer’s mouth.” Speaking of what comes out of a drummer’s mouth, check out Animal’s vocal cameo with Queen.

Animal’s influence constantly reintroduced himself in my performances. I can think of more than one occasion that I probably could have “played less” to compliment the music on a gig. Check out Animal distracting Rita Moreno while she’s singing “Fever.”

I remember during my 9th grade talent show, some friends and I were playing “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. Our chorus teacher had already frowned on our performance selection, and she constantly reinforced the 3 minute time limit by telling us, “If you go one second over the limit, I will personally cut the power off to the stage.” So we put the drum solo segment starting at 2 minutes 55 seconds. Sure enough she turned the power off at the 3 minute mark, and the amps, microphones and lights went off. However, the drums kept right on going. It felt like I soloed for hours. In reality I think it was probably about 10 minutes, but the crowd loved it! I threw my sticks out into the audience. I was at a red light a few years back, and this guy pulls up and recognizes me. He told me he still had the autographed stick from that performance. I thought it was amazing that anyone besides me even remembers it. Needless to say I also was not invited to join the chorus for the remainder of my high school career. Oh well, big loss there. Maybe that’s why I rarely sing when I play drums. Here’s where that idea for trouble probably subliminally came into my brain. (I think we all know Animal was not exactly designed to be a “positive role model” for kids at that time. Nowadays, we beg our kids to move like he did for five minutes, much less two and a half hours like in this next video.)

This next clip reminds of when I played a triangle part on ”Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copeland with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. I only had a couple of notes spaced out through the long piece. I also recall performing a PDQ Bach piece where I played a crash cymbal in the third movement “Musical Serenade for Winds and an Awful Lot of Percussion” where it built in volume from fortissimo to crasho groso (crash’em and drop’em). Because of my personal experience with how stressful reading and interpreting music can be for some people, I would like to dedicate this next clip to their successful own version, usually improvised in the moment.

We know him. We love him. He makes us laugh. I just never realized until today how influential he is in my life and career.

He’s definitely a “Wild Thing!”

I’ve really enjoyed reliving some of the greatest moments in ANIMAL HISTORY today. (As a side note, check out the bagpipe solo coming out of the saxamaphone in this AC/DC clip. Is that in the real song? I’m just curious. Let me know if you want to do some research for extra credit.)

For more information on ANIMAL’S HISTORY

There’s even an ANIMAL APP

To learn more about the Ronnie Verrell check out DRUMMER WORLD

John Zeller’s four-stroke roll lesson

Thanks so much to John Zeller for allowing us to film his lesson and help us get a new video up to share on www.drum234.com

Please go by TANNER’S BIG ORANGE, grab a hot dog and their fabulous orange drink, and tell them you saw John’s video!

Tanners Big Orange
322 South Pleasantburg Drive
Greenville, SC 29607-2524
(864) 235-2247