DVD Review – Mike Michalkow’s “Drumming System”

by Omar on September 15, 2009

in DVD Review, Education

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link in this review, I will receive a commission. TheParadiddler.com recommends that you do your own independent research before purchasing anything. Of course, since my business rests completely on my reputation, I can't afford to recommend anything that isn't fantastic quality. - Omar Alvarado, The Paradiddler

In deciding how we want to learn our instrument of choice, we are faced with mainly two options.  One, we can take lessons from a live person, one on one.  One major advantage to this method is that you get instant feedback.  Whatever wrong you're doing, it can be corrected right away.  Bad habits can be nipped at the bud; good habits can be engrained in our subconscious early on.  A disadvantage is price.  If we're talking, say, $35.00 per ½ hr per week, that adds up to a little over $150.00 per month, or $1,820.00 per year!  That's just an estimate.  Some charge less, some charge more.  It also doesn't mean that you'd be taking lessons forever.  But it does add up.

And two, you could buy instructional media, be it books, CDs, or videos.  Although previously I reviewed an excellent book, "Stick Technique" by Jim McCarthy, we'll limit our discussion to videos this time, specifically DVDs.  One advantage to the DVD training method is that you always have it - at anytime you want a lesson, just pop it in the player, and there you go!  There are several DVDs geared to all sorts of drumming levels, from absolute beginner to intermediate, and even for those advanced drummers who just want to touch up on technique.  Yet another advantage is price.  Say you buy an instructional DVD for $49.95.  If that's all you want, you pay nothing else!  If you wanted to be fully self-taught, there are many instructional DVDs out there, and you could pick and choose which ones you want.  It most likely won't add up to $1,820.00!  The biggest disadvantage to instructional DVDs is the advantage a live person has - immediate feedback.  You can't get that from a DVD, but you most certainly will get that from your teacher!

For many, taking lessons from a teacher might be cost prohibitive.  I myself have been searching for an instructional DVD that would be all-encompassing, from drum setup, to how to practice properly, to teaching specific hand and foot techniques, drum rudiment instruction, etc.  This might be too much to ask from this type of instruction, but I believe I've found what many have been looking for.  It is Railroad Media's "Drumming System", by Mike Michalkow.

Now when it says "Drumming System", that's exactly what it is.  This is not just a few drum lessons strung together and put on a DVD.  It's a step-by-step manual geared to help anyone start playing drums.  It's somewhat of an encyclopedia of drum lessons, organized by topic.  You get 20 DVDs, 15 audio CDs, and five workbooks (even more details about the contents of the package in the video at the end of this review).

Many topics are covered, including:

  • How to practice efficiently
  • Drum theory and notation
  • Hand techniques
  • Foot techniques
  • Dynamic Drumming
  • How to build speed
  • Drum setup and tuning
  • and many more

The above list is very helpful especially for newbies, just starting off.  Some topics that some more advanced users might appreciate are:

  • Live gig and studio drumming
  • Drum soloing

Of course, more advanced users will also benefit from another's point of view on dynamic drumming, hand and foot techniques, and how to build speed.  But for the most part these drummers will already have a set way of doing things that is comfortable to them.

One thing I like about this system (among other things!) is that you can pick and choose what you want to start with.  An absolute beginner might start at the first CD and just go straight through.  Others (like myself) may have specific things they want to work on or get more information on, and start there.  In my case, I was more interested in topics such as how to practice efficiently, hand and foot techniques, drum theory and notation, dynamic drumming, and drum setup and tuning.  There's a DVD dedicated to all those subjects by themselves.  And although you have a DVD dedicated to drum rudiments, I decided to watch that later rather than sooner.

In addition to the fundamentals, some of the DVDs are dedicated to specific genres of drumming.  These DVDs teach about the following:

  • Heavy rock
  • Mixed rock
  • Grove rock
  • Jazz & Latin

Within those DVDs there are subsections.  For example, the Groove Rock DVD teaches Blues, Funk, Reggae, and Shuffles.  And within those sections, you have an introduction, and beginner, intermediate, and advanced sections.  Some sections are more specific, such as the Shuffles, which are divided into the Half-Time, Jump, Texas, Purdie, and Kansas shuffles.

As I was perusing throughout the 'system' ('cause there's a lot to peruse!), I found that possibly the most useful DVD of the bunch is number 4:  "Hand Techniques".  Even though it's important to keep a beat with the bass drum, and we keep the hi-hat closed most of the time, it's mostly about the hands, right?  What's the proper way to hold the sticks?  Should I learn traditional or matched grip?  How can I develop 'finger speed'?  All of those issues are addressed on this DVD.  I don't think we can get enough of this type of instruction.  This is the foundation of drumming, along with the rudiments and drum notation.  Although you could get away with not knowing rudiments and drum notation and still play well, getting the grip wrong might be painful in the long run.  Mike goes into a fair amount of detail as to the proper holding of the sticks, how to determine the fulcrum, and the like.  Very well done here.

The System also includes three DVDs of play-along songs.  This is just to get you playing!  I don't think it matters if you play them well or not, so as long as you have fun playing them.  They're a way for you to practice what you're learning in the context of a song.  In addition, there are 15 audio CDs that include the play-alongs with and without the metronome, and a CD just with metronome click tracks.

Workbook five of the System includes what's called the "Practice Generator".  It's used in conjunction with the second DVD that talks about practicing efficiently.  It is a guide on what to practice, depending on how much time each day you have for practicing.  It's divided into three schedules:

  • Casual Practice Schedule (20 minutes)
  • Motivated Practice Schedule (40 minutes)
  • Dedicated Practice Schedule (60 minutes)

Now the above are just names.  You might only have 20 minutes a day, be motivated, and practice with dedication every single day.  Those are just the names for the time schedules they came up with.  Call them what you like!

I do have a few gripes about this System, though.  The first DVD, which is called "How to Play Drums by Ear", might be misnamed.  Mike doesn't talk very much about how to play drums by ear, but more about very general, basic stuff, like how he got started, drum grips, drum positioning, simple drum beats, and the like.  It should be called "Getting Started", "Getting Started on Drums", "A Primer to the Drumming System", etc.  This is all fine, though - that's what the first DVD (out of 20!) should talk about, but it could have been named more specifically.

Also, the camera angle changes when Mike was speaking drove me nuts.  It may have been more bearable if Mike spoke a little faster.  But between camera angle switches, he took too long to get started on what he was going to say next.  It made his explanations sound too scripted at times, instead of sounding naturally.  I'm not talking about the multiple angles while he was playing, though.  This aspect was handled exceptionally well.  Many examples he gave included multiple angles of his hands, his feet, the whole kit - all when necessary.

Some may question the value of an instructional DVD because mostly you're either watching or playing the drums, not both.  Although not a novel idea, the simple solution is to have a TV and DVD player (with remote control) in your line of site, in front of the drums.  If either the TV or the player have a headphone jack, you can connect your headphones there which will make following along with the exercises more practical.  You can get extension cords for the headphones depending how far your kit is from the TV.  This suggestion will allow the student to get more of an immediate result from the DVDs.

I like the fact that as you watch Mike teach, he may expose things in your playing that you may not have noticed before.  Some of your weaknesses may be exposed, or you may become privy to a habit (a bad one, usually) that you were not aware of, and now you're able to correct it.  If you're a shy one, the only one who'll know will be you!  I felt like Mike was genuinely interested in your playing, never talking down to you.  Even though, obviously, this product was made to make a profit, I think it was done tactfully, not in your face, and there is a sincere interest in helping the student.

Sometimes we need another point of view, or a different type or style of instruction, to make us better players.  Sometimes it takes an objective observer to look at our playing and show us where we can improve.  It may not be someone better than us necessarily.  It can be a peer, or even someone of lesser experience, but since we may not see it, it will help. Steve Smith and Neil Peart are great examples of this.  Both of them sought the help of Freddie Gruber to look at their playing and show them where they could improve.  Was Freddie necessarily a better player than either of them?  Not really.  But did he help them?  Immeasurably!

Ok, I'm not saying that Mike Mikalchow is at the level of a Freddie Gruber (I'm sure he'd admit that readily!).  All I'm saying is that there's value in different methods of teaching, that anyone who views these DVDs will find something they can use.  In my opinion, this 'drumming system' is best suited for absolute beginners to intermediate drummers.  For the former, it's a solid foundation to build on, which teaches the very basics, with the advantage that you have a library of topics to choose from, be it what you want to focus on, or just what interests you more.  For the latter, it allows you to build on what you know and actually will make you an even better drummer.  You will learn new drumming styles and how to execute them, and they may be easier for you since you have the basics down.

Does the course cover everything for you to be a better drummer?  No.  But then no course does.  It is impossible for one course to cover everything a drummer needs as far as education goes.  Even within the Drumming System course, at times Mike makes reference to other courses that talk more specifically about the topic at hand.  For example, when talking about hand technique, he references another DVD he produced called "Moeller Method Secrets" that further discusses how to increase hand speed.  Is it his own product?  Yes.  But he's already created a video that addresses this specific topic, so why not mention it?

Obviously, he's not the only one who talks about stick control and technique.  I recommend Jim McCarthy's "Stick Technique" (referenced above) as an excellent book for learning how to better control the drumsticks for better all-around drumming.  This book goes into much greater detail on this one topic than does the Drumming System.  So it's good to have several educational sources and see what works best for you.

If you take the Drumming System for what it is, it is a great product.  It's a complete drumming system for a complete beginner to play drums at a respectable level, with practical practice suggestions that will allow them to grow in their art.  It is also for the intermediate player who can have a reference to go by, brush up on current skills, and learn new styles of play with plenty of examples.  In my opinion, it's not so much for the advanced drummer except for grasping new ideas from a peer.  But that's never a bad thing, so even the advanced drummer can benefit.

The regular price for the "Drumming System" is $247.00, which, compared to a year of lessons, is a bargain.  Now available also is the "Drumming System Lite", which is $197.00 if you opt for the digital pdf workbooks in lieu of the spiral bound printed workbooks. All in all, you get a lot for your money.  And payment plans are available as well. If you're considering, for yourself or a gift to an aspiring drummer, a teaching system that can provide a solid foundation and years of fun drumming, this just might be the place to start.  A strong eight out of ten paradiddles for Mike Michalkow's "Drumming System"!

For even more information on this fantastic product, watch Mike Michalkow himself and Jared Falk of Railroad Media go into the details of the "Drumming System" package. Then click on the banner below to order.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

kasper December 4, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Hi Omar,
I read ur review and I think I’m gonna get the drummingsystem dvd and I hope it rily works. Please I need encouragement,I would love to be the best on the drums but I think its going to take me forver to be half as good as all these drummers I watch everytime. I am 26 and I have been playing the drums without anyone teaching me but right now I want to really dig in to it.. Please are there any other things I could add to the drum system to help.I’m getting my first drumpad too though.thanks


Omar December 5, 2012 at 8:54 am

Hi Kasper.

It’s great that you’re going to dig into the drums some more! I’m glad you liked the review.

Just keep a few things in mind. Don’t worry about being the ‘best’, because you’ll never get there. It’s like a bottomless pit, so just focus on getting better at what interests you about the drums, and you’ll be much happier.

Also, don’t bother comparing yourself to other drummers, since, really, everybody’s different, and some will excel at some things, some at others. Try to learn the things that drummers you like do, and just have fun doing that.

As far as The Drumming System, it’s a pretty complete course, so I don’t think you’ll need anything else for the moment. As you go through it, and as you practice some, you may see the need to get specialized DVDs, such as Moeller Method Secrets or the Drum Rudiment System, even though the Drumming System touches on those topics quite a bit.

I’d love to keep hearing about your progress Kasper! Remember to always have fun, and don’t try to hurry.

Drum on!


joey February 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hey, I just about to buy a drum kit but I want to teach myself because I can’t afford a proper teacher. What DVD series/ book would you recommend for someone who is a complete beginner now? I really want the book/ dvd to take me to advanced level, maybe the drumming system isn’t the best for this, but maybe another series would be?

Thankyou for all of your time and help


Omar February 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Hi Joey.

Based on your comment, I think Mike Michalkow’s “Drumming System” would be perfect for you. I’m thinking that you’ve read my review and maybe you’re still not convinced. That’s ok!

I’ve also reviewed Dann Sherrill’s “Learn and Master Drums“, which is another full-blown drum instruction course geared towards the absolute beginner. Please read that review as well.

Start off by examining those two; most likely one of them will be what you’re looking for. Good luck!


Mike @ FastDrumSkills.Com November 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Great review Omar!

Your review is much different than my Drumming System review and I like it.

One aspect that I feel differently about is that there isn’t much for advanced players. I found it full of some very good tips for advanced players.

Hope you’re well my friend. I’ve been sending all my students to your site.


Dave Cruikshank May 30, 2010 at 2:24 am

Thank you for this review. I just ran across this system tonight for the first time on the internet when I did a Google search for drum lessons in my area. I think I fit it’s demographic. I’ve been playing off & on for 42 years, I’m currently in a band, but I need a tune up. I feel inferior to the other members of the band because I haven’t read music in over 30 years. I want to re-learn that skill as well as get better at rolls and fills. I’ll give you feedback if I buy it. Dave


Omar May 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Hey Dave,

Can’t wait to get your feedback! It’s never too late to brush up on the skills. Let us know how it goes.

Good luck!


Ron Rodis May 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Thank you for the comprehensive review. It helped me out in my decision to purchase this product.



Omar May 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Hi Ron.

I’m glad the review helped! It truly is a very good educational system. Let us know how your drumming goes!



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