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Drum Clinic – Marco Minnemann

by Omar on March 7, 2010

in Drummers, Event Review

When I received the e-mail from Ken Stanton Music saying that Marco Minnemann was going to put on a drum clinic at their superstore in Marietta (Atlanta), GA on March 2nd (2010), I immediately started making plans to be there.  But it may not have been the case otherwise.

Until recently, I knew very little about Marco.  I had seen his name mentioned at times, but never enough for me to notice (so many drummers, so little time!).  But recently, had both Marco and Derek Roddy (Serpents Rise and Hate Eternal) together for a chat and drumming session, and I was blown away by both drummers.  It may be because I'm not into 'blast beat'-type music that I've not heard much of these guys, but there's no denying the incredible talent these drummers possess.  It takes an incredible amount of technique and energy to play what they play, but the duo solos they performed displayed an incredible array of power, finesse, creativity, and melody.  Here's a link to the rebroadcast of that show.  Put it on your calendar and watch it, because not only are they extraordinary drummers, but they have very refreshing insights as far as their approach to drumming that drummers of all styles can learn from.

So after watching that show, I decided that I may need to pay a little more attention to Mr. Minnemann!  Then comes the news that he's putting on a drum clinic locally and, well, a perfect storm of sorts. I started making preparations to cover the event.

I made contact with Jeremy Truitt, Drum Dept. Manager at Ken Stanton music, to come by the store and talk about the particulars of the event.  He was most helpful, showing me where the stage was going to be, audience location, even showing different spots where I could get some great camera angles for some unique shots.  This was gonna be good!

So the day comes, and now I’m really into the event.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing an incredible display of chops, and learning whatever I can.  With much anticipation, I head on down to the store.  I wanted to get there pretty early so I could situate myself, get a ‘lay of the land’, so to speak, make sure I had a good seat, and see where I could take some great photos.

The clinic was cancelled.

Winter decided to dump a snow storm to the Atlanta area, and for the safety of the drummers and all who would attend, it was decided that the show would be a no-go.  The guys at the store were obviously very disappointed, and rightly so.  It is not often that a world-class drummer can be in the area to put on a drum clinic.

But all was not lost!  Fortunately, that was not the only clinic that Marco had scheduled.  The Atlanta Institute of Music (AIM) had also scheduled a drum clinic on March 4th.  No snow storm scheduled for that day!  It was a little further out, but that didn’t matter – I would be there.

I suspected that the vibe for this venue would be different than at the store, and I was correct.  When I attended Will Calhoun’s drum clinic, there were drummers there of course, but there were also people of all ages, very young kids included.  But AIM had more of a classroom, college-type feel.  Most in attendance were young adults, with a few older cats sprinkled around here and there.  I didn’t prepare so much for this event since I wasn’t planning on coming, so I was more like a spectator like everyone else, instead of a ‘reporter’.  The campus halls were boringly decored, but fortunately the action is in the classroom, and AIM teaches classes in drumming, guitar, bass, and recording.

I arrived about an hour early, again to make sure that I at least got a good seat.  There was definitely a buzz in the atmosphere waiting for the clinic to begin.  These guys knew who they were there to see, and they were excited.  There was lots of talk about cracked cymbals, trying to get drumming endorsements, recent and upcoming gigs - a real drummer’s event.

There was a sound check going on while we were waiting, and if it was any indication of what the show was going to be like, we were in for a real treat.  The drums sounded just fantastic (even being on the other side of the door).  The bass drum was very boomy, but it sounded so full and rich.  When the drummer played double bass drum fills and combinations all over the kit, the boom of the bass drums blended in with the combinations and produced very powerful and clean, piercing sound.  Now I couldn’t wait to hear what these drums sounded like while in the same room!

I think artists are good at sneaking by people because as we were all waiting outside the door, an inconspicuous Marco and a companion whizzed right by us, almost without us knowing it!  By the time we did notice, he was gone.  Guess it was time to get ready for the show!  After that little episode, all were invited to enter the performance hall.

First thing you notice as you enter the hall is Marco’s drum kit.  It was a beautiful 7-pc DW Gold Glass FinishPlyTM Collector’s Series kit, with Zildjian cymbals and DW hardware.  In addition, Marco had an additional snare (which I believe was also a DW) to the left, and another suspended tom to the left of that (ok, a 9-pc kit).  Just a beautiful setup.

MM kit

After everyone coming in finished going gaga over the kit, those in attendance started settling into their seats.  I was fortunate enough to get a front row seat stage right, which was a great view.  Marco did not aim the bass drum directly to the audience, as is typically done, but instead faced himself straight to the audience, and positioned the bass drum to his right (similar to the positioning when playing two bass drums).  This allowed for an excellent view of both his hand and foot technique.

After being seated for a little while, Mr. Minnemann was introduced and out he came to the stage.  Very humble to his applause, he looks just like any other guy (he is tall, though!), very unassuming.  You’d never know he’s a famous anything.  But once sitting behind the kit, look out.

After thanking those in attendance and mentioning what he was going to do for the night (songs, solos, Q&A, etc.), he started playing to one of his songs.  Since I hadn’t followed Marco before this, I didn’t know the names of several of the songs he played to (nor did he introduce them).  But it didn’t matter, because he was playing masterfully right off the bat.  The sound of his drums were so clearly defined, and incredibly powerful and full-sounding.  Although there was amplification set up for the drums, it was clear that he was hitting them hard and with authority, but with pinpoint accuracy.  He absolutely didn’t miss a beat; his timing was flawless.

During the first song, the knob on one of the stands keeping a splash cymbal in place slowly started to give, but mid-song Marco adjusted it while not missing a single beat in the song!  It was a great display of concentration (and persistence!).  This first song had quite a jazzy flavor to it, but it was played with a lot of power.  I don’t remember hearing jazz, or what to my ears appeared to be jazz, played that way.

He went right into the next song (amidst a roaring applause of approval from the audience), and this one was a more ‘straight at you’, more aggressive type piece.  Although it did have its jazzy fills interspersed within, it definitely had more of a rock feel.  The combinations and patterns he played were dizzying, but at the same time it was never exaggerated.  As fast and as many fills he incorporated into the song, it was never too much.  It seemed to all fit seamlessly into the song, without being overdone.  This takes a great mastery of composition to accomplish, and Marco was exceptional.

The third piece was even more aggressive, starting as a straight-four rock piece, with lots of ‘double bass onslaught’ fills thrown in.  This was the shortest song of the set.

The fourth song was more melodic, almost electronic-sounding, robotic-like.  I was amazed at how different his drums sounded in this piece just by the patterns he was implementing.  It eventually went into a very fast tempo.  He was just all over the kit at this point, as he entered into the first solo of the night.

Marco showed incredible interplay between the drums, with a prodigious display of independence.  But throughout the initial songs and this solo, what impressed me was the force with which he played.  So much power, yet it didn’t seem like he was over-exerting himself to play that way.  The notes were even, and the dynamics he employed gave such life and a personality to the solo that it was a song within itself.  Instead of just displaying chops or fast rudiments, he combined these elements plus an incredible knack for composition that, as lengthy as the solo was, it was never boring.  But through it all, it was hair-raisingly powerful, and the audience hooted and applauded many times over.

With all that going on, many times Marco employed his stick-twirling techniques that left your jaw dropped.  Because as all of the previously described was going on, on occasion he’d dazzle with his flawless stick-twirling.  And it wasn’t just the twirling in the air – the sticks would strike the cymbals and drums while twirling.  He dropped his stick once, but he recovered so quickly that it almost seemed like it was part of the act!  He smiled many times throughout the playing (including when he dropped the stick), and it was great to see how much fun he was having.  No doubt the audience was having a blast as well.

There were several styles exhibited during the solo as well, from funky grooves, to complex jazz patterns, to straight out double bass combinations with every part of the kit.  Eventually the solo featured a very specific part of the kit – the cymbals.  A solo of cymbals ensued, showcasing the various pitches of each cymbal, and even the different sounds that each cymbal could produce, based on how the cymbal was struck.  He then performed some stick-twirling tricks with the hi-hat which was just awe-inspiring (difficult to describe!).

There were many, many favorite parts to this solo for me, but near or at the top would be the ending.  Marco crescendoed with a dizzying array of speed and dexterity, face-bashing power combinations, to all of a sudden slam to a halt and play “La cucaracha” on the toms.  It was such amazing and unexpected comic relief that everyone was just laughing, it was so hilarious.  He’d play the first part of that song, then go back to an incredibly fast power combination of fills and patterns, then slam to a halt again and play the second bar of “La cucaracha”.  Then he again played yet another powerful combination of complex fills and patterns, then slammed to a halt again to repeat the first bar of “La cucaracha”.  And that’s how that solo ended, with thunderous applause to follow.  Definitely one of my all-time favorite solos.

Marco then grabbed the microphone and started discussing some of his approach to playing, and his main point was that he doesn’t like repeating things very much, that he likes to be very creative and try new things, and challenge himself.  There was a certain cartoon project he was involved in where he was discussing with a colleague how to come up with something new, some type of pattern that never repeats.  Marco had an idea already brewing, so he proceeded to play a pattern which seemingly had no rhyme or rhythm.  Then he asked his colleague to repeat the pattern.  Obviously, he objected, because there was no apparent pattern.  Then Marco went on to tell the colleague that in fact the pattern was played exactly to the lyrics sung to “We Will Rock You” by Queen:

Buddy you're a boy make a big noise
Playin' in the street gonna be a big man some day
You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
Kickin' your can all over the place

Now the colleague could play it immediately!  A seemingly random pattern was now associated with a familiar rhyme, and now the pattern made total sense.  Marco went on to show the audience another example, “Tom Sawyer” by Rush:

A modern-day warrior
Mean mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean mean pride

So Marco figured out a way to create a pattern that doesn’t repeat, but made total sense.  So how could he apply this another way?  What if the words were not sung, but just spoken?  Could a drum pattern be, well, “patterned”, after that?  Marco came across a section of the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian” called “What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?”  To our delight, a screen came down in the performance hall, and while the dialog of that scene was going on, Marco drummed a solo precisely to the dialog!  It was one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen done on drums.  Each character seemed to have a corresponding drum or combination of drums and cymbals.  A rumbling of drums would sound when all in the scene would mumble, and it was just hilarious.  Marco said that it took him about four days to figure out all of the spoken parts, first transcribing them to guitar and keyboards, and then to the drums.  Masterful.

He then went on to discuss independence, and started by playing a five pattern on one hand, while playing a nine pattern on the other.  Playing them simultaneously made for a sympathetic pattern that made sense.  He then went on to play a different pattern on each limb, and when played together it also made perfect sense!  This he says is how he comes up with patterns he ends up using later on.  If the pattern doesn’t work (meaning it sounds like crap 🙂 ), he discards it.  Otherwise, he keeps it.

Next he played a double paradiddle using his feet on the two hi-hats in the kit, one on each side.  While that was going, he played a solo over it.  Independence indeed!


Next were some questions from the audience that Marco fielded.  Here’s the gist of them:

Q:  ‘What’s your favorite rudiment?’
A:  ‘Probably the 5-stroke roll’

Marco went on to demonstrate how versatile this rudiment is, and played over a 4/4, at different modulations, and different accentuations.  I never thought of the 5-stroke roll that way before!

Q:  ‘What’s your favorite genre of music?’
A:  ‘All kinds’

Marco emphasized specific bands more than different genres, and that these bands fell into all types of genre categories.  He likes music from Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, The Police, etc.  These helped with his playing because he liked them.  To him, it’s all about playing the right note.  “Whatever you like, you’ll learn it,” Marco said.

Q:  ‘What’s your musical background as far as family influences?’
A:  ‘Was one of the first in my family to play an instrument’

Even though his father was heavily into music, he did not play an instrument, but was very encouraging to his son.  Hearing metal music was what inspired Marco to pursue the music business.  His first gig was when he was about 12 or 13 years old, which he chickened out of.  But when he did actually get to play, he loved the response of the audience, and there was no turning back.  Even at the clinic Marco looked so excited to be playing to an audience and being very appreciative of it.

He always wanted to do his own thing and be as creative as possible, even regarding his kit setup.  That’s why, for example, the toms on his bass drum go 10”, 12”, 8”, instead of the typical 8”, 10”, and 12”.  This allows him more melodic possibilities for certain patterns he likes to play (I got this information out of him after the show with a little one-on-one time 🙂 ).

It’s interesting that, as good a drummer as he is, when creating music Marco usually adds the drums last. He also plays guitar and keyboards, and after these parts are down is when he adds the drums.  To him this method allows him to be as creative as possible.

After these questions, Marco played a couple of his speed metal-type songs, “Diminished to b” and “Epitaph”.  It’s amazing to see what energy and endurance is required to play such songs.  “Epitaph” was more of a request from the audience, and I’m not sure Marco was planning on playing it.  He hadn’t played it in a while, but he did have it on his music player.  So off he went!  There was a section in the middle of the song where he seemed to forget what to play, but while he was thinking he just played some other pattern.  You could tell on his face when he remembered what to play, and it was smooth sailing till the end of the song.  That’s how a pro handles forgetting a drum part!

After these two songs, Marco fielded a few more questions:

Q:  ‘Where do you get all that energy from?’
A:  ‘I play every day’.

To Marco it’s a matter of dedicating a certain amount of time to practice.  This keeps your body in playing shape, especially if you play such demanding pieces as “Epitaph” night after night.

Q:  ‘How did you develop the foot speed you have?’
A:  ‘By practicing 16ths and 32nds, and rudiments’

Again, it’s a matter of practicing.  Once you reach a certain level, you can push yourself by just practicing faster.  Practicing rudiments with the feet also help with developing foot speed.

What was interesting is that Marco doesn’t consider himself a blast beat expert, even though he plays like one!  He basically heard it, and tried to imitate it in his style.  So it’s good to develop a musical ear to pick up on how to play certain songs or patterns.  This allows us to be more creative, until we actually learn the specifics on how to play these patterns, or make up patterns of our own that work for us.

Q:  ‘Who are your favorite drummers?’
A:  ‘John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Stewart Copeland, Vinnie Colaiuta, others’

Having these drummers as in influence allows for playing virtually any style that requires a drum kit.  In order to prove this, Marco finished the clinic with one last song, a Buddy Rich jazz tune called “Time Check”.  He played this song in a way I’ve never seen before, something I liken to ‘hard rock jazz’.  He played it with such power, but you could hear all the jazz nuances.  I’ve seen Buddy Rich (well, not in person) play this song, and I think these two drummers played it as good as it can be played.  An awe-inspiring, powerful way to conclude the clinic.

In Conclusion

There’s a new drummer in my short list of favorite drummers, and that’s Marco Minnemann.  He sort of embodies what I like about my other favorite drummers:  the speed of Thomas Lang, his dominance over different genres, such as rock and jazz (Steve Smith), the power of John Bonham, and the creativity of Neil Peart.  That may be saying a lot, but these are the drummers that were around before him, so he had their styles and influences to draw from.  What we have is a multi-talented drum kit player who knows how to ‘overplay’ without overplaying, so to speak.  He’s very fast when he needs to be, has impeccable timing, has complete control over his kit, is extremely creative, and is just a downright humble guy.  And he loves to share how he plays with others – he holds nothing back.

If you’re fortunate enough to have Mr. Minnemann put on a drum clinic in your area, you do not want to miss it.  As much as I’ve written about here, it is nothing compared to seeing this world class drummer in action.  Hopefully he’ll come around my area again.  If so, I’ll be there!

Marco Minnemann and The Paradiddler

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