Music Learning Systems - Guitar, Piano, and Drums

Drum Clinic – Thomas Pridgen

by Omar on October 23, 2010

in Drummers, Event Review

I knew who Thomas Pridgen was.  Then again, I didn't know who Thomas Pridgen was.

The dilemma I face as a drumming fan (and I'm sure many are in the same boat), is that there are so many great drummers!  There are those, however, who think that the drummers of today are no match for the drummers of yesteryear.  Well, that may be a debate for another time.

However, there are drummers who transcend time.  They would have been world-renown regardless of when they were born.  It's analogous to baseball, where some players would be great regardless of what era they played in.  As far as drumming goes, Grammy award-winning Thomas Pridgen is one of those drummers.

Since there are other drummers occupying my attention these days, I was not too familiar with Thomas’ work.  However, I had seen enough of him to be extremely impressed.  I had it ‘in my notes’, so to speak, to eventually pay more attention to this drummer.  I had seen him initially on (at least that’s how I remember it :)), and I was taken aback at his, well, explosiveness. His arms were all over the place.  Actually, his whole body was all over the place.  I was surprised he didn’t fall off the throne!  But it was chaotic organization, because everything he played made sense – nothing was missed.

I then went to and looked him up there.  Among other videos, there’s one where he’s playing with The Mars Volta on the David Letterman Show.  This is a must see, because it to me personifies Thomas’ style.  Chaotic organization in action.  Now I knew for sure that if he was ever in town, I had to go see him.

I was notified via e-mail by Ken Stanton Music that Thomas Pridgen was going to be putting on a drum clinic in their Marietta, GA store on October 19th (2010).  Yes!  My chance to see this master up close.  I immediately made plans to attend.  I wanted to arrive early (as in 1 ½ to 2hrs early) to get the ‘lay of the land’, as far as where Thomas’ kit was going to be set up (for camera angles and the like), determine the audience size, and to get a good seat!  Plus, you can’t go to a music store and not browse around.  🙂

Of course, not everything goes as planned.  I was delayed, so I got there 45 minutes early instead.  Not too bad, but there was a good crowd there already, and the best seats were taken.  So I determined, as I did when I covered Will Calhoun’s drum clinic, that the best seat would be, well, standing.

I did, however, arrive during sound check.  Our ears were in for an onslaught, because it was loud. Thomas was testing each mic’ed section of the kit, and was very involved with the sound engineer to ensure optimum sound.  Although probably not intentional, it was a little funny watching the ‘bickering’ back and forth between him and the engineer.  But it was worth it, because in the end, it sounded awesome.

Sound Check

The Kit

After sound check, Thomas stepped away to prepare for the show, and the drum techs stepped in to do final checks.  This gave me a chance to get a better glimpse of the kit by itself.  It’s a DW Collector’s Series kit.  Thomas did note later that the kit was not his, but that it was loaned to him for the clinic.  The cymbals were in store cymbals (Zildjian).  It was a 6pc kit, with the two floor toms being of the same size (13x16), with different tuning.  I thought the color of the kit was some flavor of cherry, but was corrected later:  it was red silk onyx, except for the last floor tom, which was blue twisted oyster.

The cymbals on the kit were huge, 18” and larger.  Even the hi-hats were 18”!  Later Thomas mentioned that on his home kit he uses 19” hi-hats!  That should encourage some experimentation!  The cymbals were curiously positioned (at least for me).  They were very close together, and it seemed like they clanged against each other when Thomas slammed them.  ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that!’


To kick things off, DW and Zildjian representative Mike Carter of World Class Percussion, Inc. demonstrated how the sound, or pitch, of the shell can be greatly determined by the direction of the grain (which DW calls “Specialized Shell Configuration” [SSC]).  Although they did a great job explaining this concept, you really had to be there.  However, they did quote John Good, Sr. Executive Vice President and drum “woodologist” at DW.  He and Neil Peart created a couple of fantastic videos explaining what Mr. Carter demonstrated at the clinic.  So I’ll include links to the videos here:

SSC – Specialized Shell Configuration Part 1
SSC – Specialized Shell Configuration Part 2

Let the Games Begin

Thomas came out to a roaring applause – here’s what we really came for.  He mentioned how appreciative he was of Ken Stanton Music, and how they cater to the students, instilling in them the love and appreciation for the music and musicianship.  He lamented that there was not as much emphasis these days on playing the actual instruments, but more on sampling and producing.  While recognizing that the latter are important, learning the actual instruments, to Thomas, brought more joy and satisfaction.

He then went into playing to a song.  Of all the clinics I’ve been too, this one seemed the loudest, not so much because of the amplification (Marco Minnemann’s clinic was very loud also), but because of how hard Thomas played.  He absolutely slams the drums and cymbals— relentlessly.  The hi-hat stand was swaying to and fro, maybe because they cymbals were 18”!  I was afraid he was going to knock those over, but the stand stood firm (kudos to DW hardware!).  His bass drum play was also spectacular.  He used a single pedal, but at times it sounded like a double pedal.

Thomas is really a spectacle to watch drumming.  He doesn’t just play ‘with his arms’.  He puts his whole body into it.  At times he looks like he’s falling over!  His flailing dreads contributed to the animated drumming – it truly was a one-man show.

After that song, he talked a little bit about how great it is to be doing something you love.  He’s never had a day job (that happens when you win the Guitar Center Drum-Off at nine years old).  He said that playing drums are supposed to fun.  Whenever he tried to make money playing drums, he didn’t make money.  But when he played for fun, the opportunities came more easily, and the money came with it.  Funny how that works!

He then went into a second song that had somewhat of a Caribbean feel to it, but it was hard rock, hard hitting all the way.  Again, a one-man spectacle.

After that display, Thomas went on to explain practically his whole story of how he got to where he is.  He spoke too fast for me take in everything he said, but that wasn’t a bad thing – he was very enthusiastic and animated, and funny as well.  He didn’t speak down to the audience, but rather he just seemed like ‘one of the guys’ just having a pleasant conversation.  Some highlights:

  • He wanted a $3,000 Pearl Master Series drum kit at nine years old
  • Entered and won the Guitar Center Drum-Off at nine years old (he won the Pearl kit)
  • Dennis Chambers took a personal interest in him
  • Went to Berkeley for two years

He went on to talk a little about his stint with The Mars Volta.  Since he was the only African American in the band, he had to find a way stand out, to be as visual as possible.  So he took his shirt off, used a huge gong, and tried to play as loud as possible.  Well it worked!

He also talked about how proud he is of his current band, The Memorials.  It’s his band, and it allows him more flexibility to be himself.

He went into yet another song, introducing it as “don’t know what it’s called – just listen.”  Sure, no problem!

Thomas continued to dazzle with his seemingly unlimited energy and precision.  He went on to play another song that had somewhat of a Middle Eastern flair, but again, with a heavy hard rock edge.  He never lost his place, although you’d think he should with how ‘all over the place’ he played.  On occasion he dropped a stick, and even yelled at himself at times, but never was the beat lost.

You also can’t ignore how incredibly fast Thomas played.  Whether he’s rolling the snare at a low volume, or flying across the toms, his speed is blazing.  He has incredible control of dynamics.  His ghost noting is also exceptional.  You’re always hearing something being struck, and this is where he uses ghost notes masterfully – he fills all of the musical space, and doesn’t necessarily leave that to the other musicians.  You could describe his overall playing as a constant drum solo, but always within a musical context.


Thomas took an opportunity to answer a slew of questions from the audience.  Here are some of the answers he provided:

  • He doesn’t suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome or the like because he varies his grip frequently (French, American, German)
  • He plays double bass ‘secretly’ at home.  He won’t play double bass just for the sake of playing it.  He feels that it is somewhat overplayed these days.  He’s not against it, but will play it only if inspired musically to do so
  • He plays without a shoe on his bass pedal foot.  He has the emblem shaved down off the pedal of his home kit to allow easier implementation of different pedal techniques
  • He loves seeing kids at clinics.  He started very young, and is inspired when young kids take up musical instruments
  • He feels he plays great every night 🙂
  • He hits himself in the face a lot
  • While he’s in his 20’s, he’ll play loud and hard, with no shirt.  He’ll leave the jazz playing for when he’s in his 60’s and 70’s, and maybe he’ll wear a suit then too
  • He laments that there are so few African Americans in Rock (something he had conversed with Will Calhoun [Living Colour])
  • He demonstrated some finger exercises to increase speed
  • The only way to get faster in drumming is to practice, no way around it.  He demonstrated some bass drum techniques to a youngster from the audience

There was more that was said, but like I mentioned before, he says a lot fast, so it was hard to keep up.  In any case, after the Q&A, he went into one more song, and he really poured it on.

One of the questions asked during the Q&A was from a fan who wanted to know how Thomas virtually transported the listener to another place with his playing.  That’s really what happens when you watch him play.  He has so much power, but doesn’t hold any of it back.  His playing is a visual feast.  After watching him play, your hunger for drumming is completely satisfied.  You could liken his style to an organized Keith Moon.  In any case, a sight to behold.  Yet another drummer to add to my small list of favorites.  If Thomas Pridgen is in your area, either via a drum clinic or with The Memorials, you do not want to miss it!  I’m very glad I didn’t.*

*For a great many more pictures taken at the clinic, please visit The Paradiddler's Facebook page

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

denis February 9, 2011 at 5:45 am

[Administrator’s note: Here’s a video from a young drummer in Ukraine who’d love to meet Thomas Pridgen (and other drummers too):]


Luke Snyder October 31, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I’m jealous, it must have been a pure pleasure to hear him play in person and meet him! Thanks for the great article Omar!


Ellen Eldridge October 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Thanks for this great write-up! I am thrilled to know you enjoyed our clinic and I will be quoting you and linking to your article in the November lessons newsletter for those on the KSM mailing list. If you do not receive a copy, let me know.


Omar November 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Ok everyone, sign up for Ken Stanton Music’s newsletter! 🙂


Mike @ MikeVeny.Com October 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

You’re right about the amount of great drummers that are around today. I can’t keep track of all the great players I discover. Thomas is a great drummer. Glad you got to check out one of his clinics.


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