Dan BrittInterview by Sean Mitchell // March 31 2012
I think one of the goals as a drum educator/author is to try to put out a book that you feel was not around when you were a kid.
Dan, you are a very motivated and motivational educator. Where do your values in regards to education come from?
Thanks so much. I really believe in the power of drums to enhance and bring joy to someone’s life, so I guess when I speak at schools and such, it naturally comes out. I also feel very responsible as an educator to give my students the best I can and to always encourage them. I think a lot of the motivational side came from Dom’s powerful, exciting approach. I also read a lot of books in psychology regarding goals and motivation and also studied psychology in college.
We share a common mentor in Dom. You studied under Dom for seven years. What lessons did you take away from your time with him?
Most of the lessons primarily involved life lessons, from motivation to communication to fitness to perception to business, etc. That kind of big picture, motivational influence can affect everything within one’s playing, business and teaching. As for playing, the hand-and-foot technique and ambidexterity influence really opened me up to a whole new approach.
I too am a huge fan of Bonham and Moon. Although John and Keith both met untimely ends, their influences in the drumming industry have persevered. What is it about their playing and abilities that still make them so relevant today?
They brought so much passion and excitement to drumming within a famous rock band/song context! I cannot imagine the number of drummers that still have nostalgia and excitement when hearing them (with Zep and The Who), and knowing how much energy and influence they brought to them when they were younger. So sometimes I think it’s that childhood or teenage-hero influence sort of thing that just sticks (pun intended) with you no matter what drummers come along later (with incredible talent). As for the playing part that still makes them relevant, John had so much groove and also great speed and power, and some of his big influences seemed to come from jazz and Motown. As drummers we are always respecting the history of where things came from. John left some space in the music too. In fact, I was on one of 3 Doors Down’s buses after a show years ago and we were all watching Zeppelin. And Greg Upchurch, 3DD’s great drummer, said something along the lines that it was also the notes John didn’t play, or the space he left in the groove, that made him great as well. As for Moon, I think it was his exciting fills and uninhibited passion that still resonates with us today! I still get excited hearing the “Won’t Get Fooled Again” solo, and it brings back excitement from when I played it at a high school battle of the bands.
How did you get started drumming?
I went to a church in Cresskill, NJ, and they had a folk/rock band, and the drummer was great. I was inspired. Also, my brother’s rock band had a great drummer. Those two influences inspired me to play drums.
During your formative years do you remember a time/concept/practice technique that took your playing from one level to the next? What did it take for you to become world class?
Thanks very much. I think some of it was the disciplined practice that Dom had me go through, which was basically one to two years of it with my hands/feet with the metronome, 12-24 minutes straight. That pushed me to another level. But, before that, I never had a strict practice plan–I just loved drums–and read and learned on my own. As a teen, I studied Peart, Bonham, Moon, etc. And in high school, between marching band, orchestra band and jazz band, plus practicing on my own and with my own rock bands (that coupled with being the church drummer), I must have been practicing seven days a week and sometimes two to three times a day. In high school, I was not at parties much; I was studying drums. Before that, I had a great hometown teacher named Joe Ascolese for about two years.
For those drummers out there who are looking for practice routines, what do you recommend? Are there routines that work better, say, for a hobbyist versus a studio player?
I tell my students to gauge their progress with the metronome on the pad. Play an exercise with relaxed strokes for a minute or two, then try turning the metronome up when it’s nice and clean. I always talk about muscle memory and repetition with my students, so anything like that is great. Also try playing with the click for a while with any beat, especially for the studio-aspiring players. I think New Breed by Gary Chester is great for that and for working on subdivision placement.
Let’s focus on hand techniques and then foot techniques. What sorts of exercises can you recommend for players at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels?
The beginner and intermediate players can check to see if they are holding the sticks at the optimal balance point, letting the stick rebound, playing various stickings, and playing exercises with the metronome thirty seconds to a minute each with a clock. For the advanced hand technicians, they can learn to apply the formal and informal systems from It’s Your Move. (The beginner and intermediate players can get used to playing a downstroke and upstroke from this section). And once the advanced players are fluent with free stroke and Moeller, then they can combine techniques! It’s sort of like independence of techniques–one hand is doing Moeller pumping motion and the other is doing finger technique. A couple of years ago, I started experimenting with it. Another example is finger technique with one hand and half to full free strokes or stick tricks with the other. Actually, Joe Morello gave me an exercise using pumping Moeller with the left hand and playing the right hand part in Stick Control with free strokes.
As for foot technique, beginners can get used to the feel of a pedal, learn about heel-up and heal-down playing, and playing simple beats. Intermediate players can strengthen their ankle muscles playing off the pedal and playing double bass books. And advanced players can get in to Dom’s approach with Stick Control, Colin Bailey’s book, and Dom and Joe’s book Pedal Control. The Futz is also a great tool to build foot strength and endurance, and my friends Tim Waterson and Matt Ritter have some great, informative foot DVDs that get into different techniques.
Tell me about your teaching practice. Where do you teach and how might potential students go about getting in touch for lessons?
I’ve had about 150 students from ages 3 to 82. I’ve had professional drummers come from different states—and some dedicated, weekly students drive a pretty good distance. I’ve had students from various cultures, professions and backgrounds with different objectives. Everyone is welcome. I teach beginner to pro. I teach half of my students in my studio in Closter, NJ, and half in the local students’ houses. Anyone interested in a lesson can email me at: DanBSticks@aol.com
I too enjoy running (especially by the ocean). Where do you run? It seems that it is quite a big hobby for you. How do you feel running benefits you? Can it benefit drummers in general?
Oh man, running is great–especially with music! I actually ran by the water at Cape Breton the day before the festival and the morning of my performance. I feel that running a powerful thing. It’s funny, at Cape Breton, Roxy Petrucci was like, “Was that you running down there?” Haha ! Years ago, I was reading a book called Slow Burn by Stu Mittleman, a renowned runner. And in the book it said something like there will come a time where you will want to run again ... and it will happen. At the time, I was really overweight and had not run since I was 15. So I was walking on a track, and suddenly Stu’s phrase transitioned from thought to action–and I was off running! That led to me running. I used to run up these hills at like 7am in Alpine, NJ, at one time. I believe running is empowering and can transform peoples’ lives in many ways. I was reading a book by a Dr. Sheehan on the power of running at one time. For drummers, I believe it can increase endurance and strength to their feet, and be good for them in general.
I used to run outside all the time, but in the last few years, I got in to all kinds of gym workouts and started running on the treadmill more, and doing some incline running, and also some jumping. Also, I love pull-ups! A great exertion. A lot of people gave me workout advice and I had a trainer for a bit. I got in to so many different exercises, but I need to get back to running more!
What do you like to do in your off time, Dan? How do you relax?
I spend a lot of time with my Mom, Aunt (second Mom), and my new puppy. She’s a Japanese Chin, and she is amazing. I also spend a lot of times with great friends who I grew up with; some were musician friends. I also go places with Shahmir, a great friend, who wrote Drumopedia with me. We have a blast. Aside from that, I watch a lot of CNN and Two and a Half Men!
Let’s talk about the Drumopedia book, Dan. How long did it take to write and what do you hope a student will take from the book?
We finished Drumopedia in about eleven months. My goal with Drumopedia is that the student gets a comprehensive understanding of basic/intermediate drumming and learns most of the practical parts of modern drumming in an easy-to-learn fashion, one step at a time. The aspiring beginner/intermediate rock/pop drummer gets to learn just enough of the important practical concepts from each chapter and also see how some chapters combine (i.e. various beats with various fills). For more challenging drumming, such as Latin, open-handed and linear, the book provides them with a foundation in these areas, so that they are not overwhelmed later on if they want to pursue those styles. I think one of the goals as a drum educator/author is to try to put out a book that you feel was not around when you were a kid. I was speaking to a fellow author about this the other day.
Can we expect more books or perhaps a DVD?
I have a new book that is almost finished called Rhythm 101. This consists of many common rhythms and rhythm combinations in straight ahead and swing that I want my students to have in their muscle memory. It concentrates on 101 rhythms, so it’s inclusive in terms of containing the various types of rhythms, yet not overwhelming!
Also, I worked as editor for Cherry Lane/BMG/Hal Leonard for Swiss Chris’s upcoming book Modern Drum Set Stickings. Swiss is a Grammy-winning music director and drummer who studied with so many top teachers and played with many top artists such a John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Elton John, etc.
What do you have coming up?
I’m supposed to be on a regional show, Ginger New York TV, speaking about the Drumopedia this year. Ginger used to appear on shows like CNN, Fox, CNBC, etc, as a financial expert, and now she has her own regional entertainment show.
Thank you, Sean, for the interview and for the great work and publication of The Black Page. All the best.
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About the Author
Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.
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