Last Month I did something I've never done before: took a drum lesson. But this wasn't just any drum lesson. It was a one-on-one class with Matt Chamberlain. If you haven't heard of Matt Chamberlain, chances are you've heard his drumming. Matt is one of the most in-demand studio drummers in the world. Here's a partial list of the albums he has played on:
- Tori Amos - The Beekeeper and every album she's done since 1998
- David Bowie - Heathen, Reality
- Fiona Apple - Tidal, When the Pawn
- The Wallflowers - Bringing Down the Horse
- Elton John - Songs from the West Coast
- Garbage - Beautiful Garbage
- Edie Brickell and New Bohemians - Ghost of a Dog
- Pater Gabriel - Tower of Song: Tribute to Leonard Cohen
- Natalie Merchant - Motherland
- Liz Phair - Liz Phair
- William Shatner - Has Been
- Faith Hill - Fireflies, Cry
- Cristina Aguilera - Stripped
- Stevie Nicks - Trouble in Shangri-La
My introduction to Matt's playing goes back to 1994, when he started playing with the Seattle band, Critters Buggin'. It was a Friday night, and I was at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard with Martin and Ryan of Wake. The venue was pretty deserted for a Friday night. As I watched and listened to Matt, I knew I was watching someone with an extraordinary sense of groove. And the music he was playing was pushing boundaries, touching equally on jazz, rock, fusion, hip-hop, and many other styles.
Fast forward to Saturday, March 25. I received an e-mail from Donn Bennett Drum Studio with information about private lessons with Matt Chamberlain. I e-mailed them with my interest, but Matt's sessions filled up almost immediately.
Fast forward to the following Thursday. I received a call from Donn Bennett Drum Studio. They said if I wanted the Friday session with Matt, it was mine. Someone had dropped out, and no one else was calling back. I took the session. Almost as soon as I hung up, my stomach tensed up. It was a good thing I had less than 24 hours to worry about it.
When I arrived for my lesson, Matt was late. I used the extra time to look around the drum shop, buy some sticks, and talk with Donn Bennett. As I've said in other parts of my website, Donn Bennett Drum Studios is the heart of drumming in the Seattle area. Everywhere on the walls are signed pictures and drum heads from the world's greatest drummers. If you looked up at the drum museum that is set above the drum shop, you'd see drum sets from famous drummers--from Alan White (Yes) to Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick). There's an exact replica of Ringo Starr's famous Ludwig kit.
When Matt showed up, he was talking on his cell phone. He looked the same as I remembered: tall and lanky, wearing a green army jacket and boots. He was friendly and funny, and in no time we headed back into the studio to start my lesson.
The studio itself was a dark room with two Mapex drum kits sitting side-by-side. Between the sets was a practice pad. Matt started off telling me he had a (rare) week off from studio work, so he decided to teach--not take vacation. "My girlfriend thinks I'm crazy," he said.
Matt played some beats for me to illustrate a few things. This lead to some discussion about the Moller Technique, which I'd seen in a Steve Smith instructional DVD, but it was nice to be able to discuss it with Matt. (The Moller technique t involves hitting the drum and then letting the stick drop and hit again as you raise your hand.) I could probably spend the next year working on this one thing.
Matt also showed me a nice exercise of breaking up 16th notes between the hands and feet all over the kit, which of course he made sound amazing.
One thing that happened during this lesson was that whenever I tried to play something that he was illustrating, I sounded terrible. It's almost as if Matt's technique was like a different language that I couldn't speak. From what I understand, this is a natural feeling when working with a teacher. I think for this to be my very first drum lesson amplified the feeling even more.
At any rate, just being able to hang out with one of your favorite drummers is an inspiring thing. And, more importantly, it helped me understand the importance of teachers and how they can help you grow as a player. More on this when I start studying with a regular teacher.