On Clinics, Symposiums and Seminars


Joe Morello
Photo by Lew Citer

RM: You’ve been involved with clinics for quite a few years.

JM: I’ve been doing clinics since the early ’60s. For a while, I was doing a lot of them—twenty or thirty at a time. In those days, the Brubeck Quartet would work for three months at a time, with a month off in between. So during that month off, Ludwig Drum Company would send me out to do clinics. During one month, I would maybe work my way down the West Coast. During another month, I might do a nine-country clinic tour in Europe. By the time I’d get back to the Quartet, I was wiped out. Some vacation! But I really enjoyed it; it was a lot of fun.

RM: What is your basic philosophy about clinics?

JM: My idea of a clinic always was to try and impart some knowledge and try to help people. My two-hour clinics usually ended up being about three and a half hours because I didn’t want to send someone home unhappy. If someone wanted to know something, and if they were sincere about it, I’d spend the time. But the way I’d conduct a clinic was this: Most of the time I’d introduce myself, because I don’t like a big hulabaloo with introductions. I figure if the people are there, they know who I am and what I’ve done. So I’d start by playing for maybe five or ten minutes. Then I would explain the sizes of the drums, and how I tune them, and then the different cymbals and what they’re used for. When you do a clinic, you have to realize that not everybody there is at the same level. You might have eight-year-old kids there, and an eighty-three-year-old grandfather who used to play drums, and a few mothers and fathers who don’t know anything about drums, and a few professionals who really know a lot. So you have to deal with all of this in a way that’s not going to leave anybody out. I would describe the drums and cymbals and tuning for the people who were not that familiar with the drums. Then for the people who knew a little more, I would talk about how to tune the snare drum to compensate for the acoustics of different types of rooms you might be playing in. Next, I would go into the different types of grips and the various styles of playing, and show them some exercises. They were basic, simple exercises; nothing complex because you only have a couple of hours and you don’t want to send people out confused. So then I’d talk about the rudiments, the importance of having good practice routines, and the importance of reading. Then we’d go into basic drumset technique, a little advanced coordination, and I’d recommend certain books. During all of this, I’d be playing intermittently, demonstrating what I was talking about. Then we’d have questions and answers, and I would finish with another short drum solo. That’s basically what I do at a clinic.

RM: Have you seen other people’s clinics?

JM: I’ve had the good fortune, or sometimes, not the good fortune, to see a number of clinics over the last couple of years. Some of them have been just ridiculous. I saw one where the guy got up there and played a forty-five minute drum solo—a million drums and gongs and cymbals; just bashing the hell out of everything. Then the person proceeded to say, “Well, do you have any questions?” So one little kid stood up and said, “How do you control the time in a band?” And the clinician said, “Well, what do you think about that?” The kid shrunk back down in his seat. “How do you hold your sticks?” The fellow said, “Well, anyway you want to.” It was that kind of thing. Then they had three or four other drumsets there, and so they had three or four other drummers come up and they all played fours back and forth. It was like World War III. What made it even worse was that it was a small auditorium and they had the drums miked. Now this is just my opinion, but that is not my idea of education. Clinics should be educational. I concluded that the kids didn’t learn anything—it was just a show. Sure, you’ve got to have a certain amount of flair to it. Sure, you’ve got to have a little rap and you’ve got to play some, but not to the point where it’s ridiculous. You want to walk out of there and say, “I really learned something.” Kids came out of that clinic saying, “Boy, he played fast.” What did you learn? “Well, gee, I don’t know.” If you just want to see a show, go to the concerts. A lot of people are charging admission for clinics now anyway.

Then there was another clinician I saw. Everything was great. He had never seen a bad drum book, never heard a bad drummer, never seen a bad drum or cymbal—everything was wonderful. This is insane. I know of a lot of dumb drum books. There are literally hundreds of drum books on the market, and you only need maybe six or seven. But he was saying “yes” to everything. If something’s dumb—say it. And if something is right, it’s right.

RM: I’ve been to a lot of clinics where a large portion of time was spent giving a commercial for the brand of drums the clinician was using at the time.

JM: Well, of course the drum companies are sending the clinicians out to promote their drums, but Bill Ludwig used to tell me, “Don’t hard-sell the drums.” I used to say to the people, “I’m not a drum salesman. I’m here to try and help you. I couldn’t care less what kind of drums you use. This is what I use, but I’m not here to sell drums.” People are not dumb. They pick up on it if you are trying to hard-sell them. You don’t have to do that. The mere fact that I am using the drums is indicative of how I feel about them.

I think it’s a crime that some of these cats are selling monsterous drumsets to kids who will never play drums. Two thousand dollars for a drumset and the kid can’t even roll. Can you imagine how many drumsets are in people’s attics? During the Beatle era, Ludwig had three shifts going at their factory turning out drums. Bill Ludwig used to say to me, “Where are all of these drums going to end up?” There are millions of drums somewhere on this planet.

RM: You have also been involved in several symposiums.

JM: Here’s what happens there: they’ve got maybe fifteen clinicians. They’ll have me and maybe somebody like Roy Haynes doing the jazz drums; they’ll have a couple of well-known rock drummers doing the rock drums; and they’ll have about ten other clinicians. These will be symphony players, or percussion teachers from various colleges and universities.

One of the first problems is that they’ll have some of these other people teaching drumset, and some of them don’t really play drumset. Another problem is the way they schedule things. I’ll see a class, say, on Monday from eleven to one. Then I won’t see those same students again until maybe Friday afternoon. In the interim, they’re going to everyone else and getting totally confused. They come back with a stack of papers and notes, but there’s no continuity. I don’t think you can really work that way with kids.

At one symposium I did, this guy who was in charge kept running around asking people, “Did he play?” Of course I played. I played every day. But that’s all some of the clinicians did; just sat in a room for two hours banging on the drums and answering a few questions. That’s not showing anybody anything. The kids have to know how to approach these things.

So that’s the complaint I have with the symposium. It’s a lot of fun for the kids—they go out at night and drink beer and have a ball. And so do the clinicians, I might add. So if you’re with nice people, it’s a nice get-together.

RM: I understand you did something recently which sort of combined the idea of a clinic with the idea of a week-long symposium.

JM: I’ve been doing seminars. I did the first one up in Boston, on behalf of Joe Macsweeney at the Eames Drum Company. It was so successful that he wants to have one every year, or maybe even twice a year. The way it’s done is like this: We need between thirty and fifty students to have a seminar. The students are divided into two groups, with no more than twenty-five to a group. I meet with each group for two hours a day for five days. I might have the first group from four o’clock to six, and the second group from seven to nine. Anyway, that gives me ten hours with each group. During that time, we cover everything: tuning the drums, basic snare drum technique, coordination, phrasing, time patterns, tonal colors on the drumset, constructing four-bar breaks and drum solos, brush technique—we try to cover everything, and that’s something you can’t do in a regular clinic or symposium. The way I’ve been handling it is, the first day we’ll talk about basic snare drum technique, which involves how to hold the sticks, how to develop the wrists, and so on. I have handout material that I give them everyday which has exercises and things they can work on when they get home. So for the first two hours we just deal with that. Having a small group like that is great because I can actually go around and work with individuals. The second day, we spend the first forty minutes recapping what we did the day before. After that, we might go into basic drumset technique: Coordination, how to get a good sound on the drums, how to develop different styles, and so on. The third day we might go into how to tune the drums for different situations, how to choose cymbals, and things like that. And each day, we recap everything we did before, so by the end of the week, the students at least have a decent knowledge of these things. At the end of the week I always hate to leave the students, because after working with them every day, I can see their progress. When we would recap each day, they would bring in things we had talked about and I could tell that they had been working on them. So I think this is a good program. I feel we’re pioneering a new approach, and I suspect this will become the thing of the future.

RM: What does a dealer get out of sponsoring a clinic or seminar?

JM: It’s going to be prestigious for the dealer to sponsor it. It’s not a commercial thing; it’s an educational thing. However, it will bring people into the store because they will appreciate the fact that the dealer is doing something for them. You hear people say, “Let’s go here. This guy brings in clinicians, he brings in seminars …” It’s a nice thing to do for the drummers.

RM: How much does it cost a dealer to sponsor something?

JM: That depends. Years ago, most of the clinics were paid for by the drum companies. Then they changed it to where the company would pay so much and the dealer would pay so much. Then some of the dealers started charging admission to get in to the clinics.

My seminars do not cost the dealer anything. We have posters, enrollment forms, handout material—all the dealer basically has to do is put up a few posters, distribute the enrollment forms, and collect the registration fee from the students. All of our expenses are covered by that. If the dealer has a room in his store where we can hold the sessions, that’s fine. If not, we hold it at a nearby motel.

RM: Now that you’re involved with these seminars, will you be doing any clinics?

JM: I’ll probably still do a few clinics. I’ll still use my same format because I’ve had a lot of nice response from it. But it seems that a lot of people today have the attitude that: “Kids don’t want to know anything anymore; all they want is a show.” I still think that when you go to a clinic, you should get something out of it.