Music Learning Systems - Guitar, Piano, and Drums

Drum Clinic – Will Calhoun

by Omar on December 11, 2008

in Drummers, Event Review

While I was perusing the different music store web sites for some new gear, I came across the Ken Stanton Music web site, and I saw their ad for a drum clinic scheduled for December 4th.  The drummer was Will Calhoun.  You may know him from Living Colour fame.  This would be interesting!  I'd never been to a drum clinic before (shame on you, Paradiddler!), so this would be an educational experience for me.  That's what clinics are for, right?

Actually, I didn't know what to expect.  Would he be distant, like if I went to see Living Colour at an arena, flailing away on his kit?  Would he have bodyguards surrounding him?  Maybe I was exaggerating the whole thing in my head, but I sure was going to find out.

The event was to take place at 7pm, but I got there about 45 minutes early.  You know me - I love to look around.  Hmm, maybe I'll upgrade my Sabians (focus, Paradiddler!).  When I got there, straight ahead was Will's kit.  It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Will's kit, front view

The kit was a Mapex Saturn series 7pc.  Although it looks like a double bass drum setup, the left foot drum is actually an 18" floor tom lying on its side, with the hoops to make it look like a bass drum (at least that's how I saw it).  He does use a double bass pedal, the Sleishman twin pedal.  Below is a view of the kit from behind.  You can see the right side of the pedal.

The cymbals are Sabians, mostly custom-made for Will.  More on that later as well.

While I was admiring the kit, out of nowhere and inconspicuously appears Will Calhoun!  You know, just another guy taking a look at his stuff, no big deal (yeah right!).  He was chatting with a couple of people, and right away I could tell he is a really down-to-earth fellow, very friendly.  A relative he hadn't seen for about 20 years popped in, and it was nice to see his reaction.  Just a little episode to show that many musicians (especially drummers, I think) are really just like you and me, just one of the guys, well, until you put them behind the kit!

A little later, Will sat down behind the kit to warm up, perform a sound check, and the like.  If this was all he did, I'd be satisfied.  He was very fast!  And he hit the drums and cymbals with a lot of authority.  Oh, I didn't mention that he was using brushes, not sticks - and it was loud.  I was going to have to brace my ears for when he picked up the sticks!  After the warm-up was over, he went to the back.  Now we waited.

Let the Clinic Begin

While we waited for Will to come back out for the clinic, I decided to stand against a column which was right next to Will's kit ("stage right", as it were).  I thought to myself, "maybe I could get away with staying right here instead of sitting."  Well, it ended up not being a problem at all!  I had the best seat in the house (well, I never really sat - you know what I mean).  I was about to receive the full brunt of Will's sound.

Well, he came out to an applause (I would say there were about 50 or so in attendance), and started with a solo.  Now I never was into Living Colour that much, but I do remember that I loved his sound on "Cult of Personality," and the way he played that song with controlled aggression.  I also liked the little nuances, like when he hit the open hi-hat ‘in between' the beats, which I thought was cool (i.e., right after the John F. Kennedy sound bite).

Will started out with an explosive solo.  He actually used his hands and fingers to produce some unique sounds from the drums.  Of course, when he grabbed the sticks, it got loud. The cymbals had a curious arrangement, with some of them being very close together.  With the force that he hit them you would think they would pound against each other, but that didn't happen, or at least their sounds didn't interfere with each other.  During the solo he kept a steady beat with his left foot on the lying floor tom, which showed incredible independence skills.

Next he played to a song, which I don't know the name of (sorry!).  In fact, he played a couple of songs of which I don't know the name, and I actually forgot to ask (and I could've!).  I was too mesmerized by his playing.

He then broke into another solo where he used a mallet and what looked like a tala wand (could have been his Rute 505 - you can link on over to Vic Firth for more info on these).  In any case, he was playing a constant triplet-like beat with the bass drum throughout.  He later grabbed his sticks and showcased an incredible Latin beat.  It was an incredible show of dexterity all over the kit, and his endurance seemed boundless.

He then played yet another solo, where he started using the ddrum triggers this time.  I have to mention that Will hits those drums extremely hard - I actually thought he was going to break a head or two.  But I loved it!  It was such a rush to be right next to so much loudness and not have to worry about the neighbors!

Next Will introduced us to the Wave drum, an instrument to which Will showed he has an affinity for.  He was getting a lot of keyboard-ish type sounds out it, which sounded great.  Then while the track he started was going on, he went back to the kit and exploded into another solo.  But this time it seemed like you could intimate a steady beat right below the solo that never waivered.  That was one of the most impressive feats of the night.

I didn't get the name of this instrument, but to me it looks like an inverted steel drum, of which he used his hands and fingers to play.  By this point I was blown away by Will's versatility, not as a drummer only, but as a musician. But if that wasn't enough, he had another surprise up his sleeve...

He pulled out a flute-like instrument and played it expertly.  I didn't catch the name of it, but he said it was from south China.  It was a pleasure to see his many talents.

Next was Q&A with the audience.  I'll go through a few highlights:

  • Will switched from traditional to matched grip throughout the clinic.  He mentioned that that really started off as a bad habit, because his original teacher taught the traditional grip, but he first played percussion with matched grip, so over time he ended up switching between the two. But he prefers playing matched grip most of the time, especially when playing in Living Colour, and for setting off the triggers matched grip is much easier
  • He loves his Wave drum, and stressed that drummers should strive to be more educated beyond just the sound of the drums; they should know what frequencies their sound resides in, and to know what space their drums occupy in the grand scheme of the music being played.  This will not only make you a better drummer, but a better musician
  • Will got tired of using cowbells and woodblocks (not saying that they don't have their place, however).  He likes to get as many sounds as possible from the actual kit, like playing rim shots off the tom while resting the stick on the snare, playing the bell of the hi-hat cymbal, etc. Don't just hit the heads. Really get to know all sounds your kit makes without the extra stuff
  • Great quote from Max Roach:  "The instrument always wins"

Will went on to talk about his cymbals, which are Sabians.  A few are prototypes made for him, such as what I call (or he called, maybe!) the ‘desert' cymbal.  It has a nice ride sound, but hardly any wash even when you hit it hard - very short sustain.  His ride is ‘washy', however.  His hi-hats are pretty much separated, so they can be played independently from each other when open (‘as much sound as you can get from your kit').  He has three of what he calls ‘alien disks' stacked one on top of the other, which are to the left of his ride cymbal and really close to a crash cymbal right above.  These ‘alien disks' cymbals range in sizes from 4" to 14".  And let's not forget the gong/china cymbal to his right, with a hole in the middle!  It was a great sounding cymbal.

Will doesn't like to use muffling very much.  There was no muffling on the bass drum, except for the minimal muffling that the Remo Powerstroke head has.

I have to say, I learned a lot from attending this clinic.  Will Calhoun is a masterful drummer, one I would like to imitate.  He has great power, but only when needed.  He plays with finesse and seemingly effortlessly.  He showed me that I shouldn't be afraid to pound those heads as hard as I want - they'll be ok!  But most importantly, he showed that drummers need not be just timekeepers.  They are an integral part to the song, and that the drummer should serve the song, by knowing what space in the musical piece their instrument occupies.  This will garner more respect from the other musicians.  Learn other instruments as well and try to transfer those skills to the kit (and vice versa!).

A very big honorable mention goes out to Ken Stanton Music in Stone Mountain, GA.  They were very friendly throughout the whole event, and were always available to answer any questions.  I believe the drum tech at hand was Kevin Charney (I hope I spelled the name correctly), but he did a great job assisting Will even during the performance.  Great job!

Well, so the event ended.  It was after the clinic, and maybe Will was tired, but he stuck around and made himself available for any other questions.  I got me a pair of Vic Firth 5A's, and without hesitation and with a huge smile, he autographed both for me.  I thanked him profusely, and made a note to catch their show when they hit Atlanta.  Ten out of ten paradiddles for this event, and major kudos to Will Calhoun.

For more information as to what Will's up to, you can go to his web site (

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