Most people think playing drums is for meatheads. I get it.
Let me change your mind. While I’ve written online for the last 8 years, my journey in the creative world started as a drummer at age 12.
These short lessons will transform how you think about your obsession.
How I became the top 1% in the world at drums
In the headline I said I secretly became one of the best drummers in the world. That’s no lie. Let me explain.
As a kid I wanted to be world-class at one thing. I could never find the hobby. I tried everything from arts and crafts to playing the flute.
Then one day I saw a young drummer at age 12 win a Grammy.
I’d never seen anyone so young achieve such a big goal. I immediately went back to school the next day and tried to get a drumming gig in the school band. They already had a drummer and wouldn’t let me play.
This forced me to get private lessons that cost a lot of money. My parents thought I was nuts but agreed to pay if I did some extra chores.
I watched the two kid drummers at school learn from a public school teacher. Their learning process was slow. They played boring music and didn’t get to explore.
I accidentally took a walk on the wild side.
The man in a famous band with a ponytail
After my dad said yes to private lessons, I rang around to find a teacher.
The first guy I called had a strange past. He’d played drums in one of the most iconic bands in Latin America, then later retired in Australia and taught drums.
But he was fussy as hell about which students he took on.
He was a big stocky guy with arms like army machine guns. He had thick black hair with a long ponytail. The jaw of his mouth rivaled Sylvester Stallone’s in Rambo.
He was one part cool and one part Hannibal-Lector-crazy. I hired him cause he could talk a good game.
The first day I rolled up to his house I noticed all the awards on his wall. One picture showed him with his band in the back of a new Rolls Royce. He asked me to play a drum audition for him.
To put it lightly, I sucked.
But I was like a dumb dog that wouldn’t take no for an answer. I got accepted as a student, not for my skill, but for my attitude.
The typical drum session (workout)
Once the lessons started it felt as if I’d become a navy seal.
I’d roll up to his private drum studio at 4 pm after school for lessons. The work would start right away with no piss-farting around.
The rate at which he threw new drum ideas at me was phenomenal. One drum lesson with him was ten lessons in the real world. I paid him for one-hour sessions but often it’d become two.
One time he kept me for 3 hours because he insisted I learn a new song.
What was bizarre about his style is he taught me all genres, despite Latin drumming being his specialty. He was a chameleon drummer that could play Jazz, Rock, Soul, Funk, Latin, and anything in between.
The idea he taught me is all drum styles have similar techniques. Master one and you can master them all.
The level of homework he set me was out of control.
Every week I’d get a stack of assignments. At the next lesson he’d ask, “did you do the homework?” Sometimes I didn’t. He knew … so he’d get me to play the homework.
“You didn’t do the work, did you?”
As punishment he’d push me twice as hard. Learning from him put me in a constant state of overwhelm.
I went through drum teaching books like I went through underwear.
The most boring book in the world
One book he gave me bore me to tears.
I can’t remember the name but it had a grey cover. I had to sit down every night with a single snare drum and play these basic rhythms. There were no fancy solos or backing music.
He told me this practice was the most important thing and most drummers failed because they couldn’t handle the boredom.
I thrived on it.
I’d tap these basic rhythms for hours at a time. I’d take a rubber drum pad everywhere I went to tap away, even while in conversation with others.
Anyone who saw me hit the drum pad thought I was superhuman or a psycho. They didn’t understand my obsession.
Later my teacher told me these basic rhythms were the foundation of all of the drumming world. They strengthened my hands and wrists.
And here’s the bizarre thing:
These drum patterns allowed me to physically tap the drumstick once, and have it hit the drum three times.
This is the foundation of all drumming that most people don’t know. It’s what the best drummers in the world mastered, and what I learned at the tender age of 12.
With this one skill I left the competition for dead.
The cranky orchestra conductor with sardine breath
When I made it to high school I tried to join the school band.
Again, I was denied access without being told why. The school’s drum teacher suspected I was too progressive or showy.
So even though I didn’t make it into the school band, I took lessons with the in-house drum teacher and three other students.
He couldn’t believe what I could do at such a young age. He told me he’d never seen anything like it. For years he petitioned the cranky old man that ran the school band to let me in.
He never did.
That rejection became my motivation.
I wanted him to burn in hell for what he did. So I practiced ten times as hard to show him his mistake.
The other drummers didn’t like me much either. They talked smack about me and said I was just a skinny kid who got private lessons which gave me an unfair advantage.
Adult drumming isn’t as cool
By the time I turned 18 the drums didn’t feel as cool anymore.
I doubted that I could earn a living from my obsession and became tired of the long hours. So I quit drums to become a DJ.
My natural ability with beats made it easy for me to get good. This led me to play in nightclubs and also study sound engineering.
I went from being a musician to recording other musicians.
Later in life I quit the whole music gig. My drum teacher taught me how to build a world-class skill, but he didn’t teach me the mindset needed for success. I became too focused on trying to get rich and famous.
When the fame didn’t come or it got hard, I couldn’t handle the emotional toll and gave up. Had I kept drumming, DJing, or doing sound engineering — it’s highly likely I may have won a Grammy by now.
Not because of talent but because of a bizarre work ethic my drum teacher secretly planted in my brain.
When you quit one goal it can lead to another
Without bragging, according to my writing stats, I am now in the top 1% of writers in the world.
What I learned as a drummer is the reason why I achieved that goal. It’s easy to think when you give up a major part of your life it dies. But what I’ve learned is it doesn’t. It’s just reborn in a new form.
I took my music creativity and accidentally applied it to writing because that’s all I know. Don’t underestimate unrelated fields and past experience when chasing a goal. Often these are where the hidden advantages lie.
The mid-life crisis that’ll shock you
It’s been 18 years since I’ve hit a drum.
Shortly, I’m about to buy a new electric drum kit and play drums again. My wife and family think I’m having a mid-life crisis.
I just find playing drums a way to reach higher levels of consciousness. I transcend into another world when I hit a drum kit. The challenge now, obviously, is my skills are likely all gone.
So I am going to self-teach myself again with the same books that taught me back when I was 12. I have no desire to become the best in the world at drums this time around. However…
I want to unlock the magic my drum teacher taught me all those years ago.
And what’s even weirder is I’m about to buy a house. It’s a 5-minute walk from my old drum teacher’s home and he still lives there. Who knows, I may hire him again! … haha.
What this all means for you
The point of this story is most people don’t know any of this about me.
I didn’t feature on the front of music magazines or win a Grammy. But I did have the chops, according to the greats, to change history with my freakish drum abilities.
Your success doesn’t need to be loud. It’s fine to be quiet.
The second lesson is we need to normalize giving up on a dream. Sometimes we need change, and learning from one strange field isn’t wasted. It can be redeployed to a new art form if you’ll let it.
Our experiences shape who we are and our past never truly exits our minds. So I dare you to go out there and try an old art form you left behind years ago to rediscover a part of yourself you thought might be lost.
The final lesson is this: I began life as a drummer and it led me to become a writer.
The start of a journey always has a strange destination no one can predict.