FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MARCH 2018 ISSUE | BY PHIL HOOD
Looking for a way to supercharge your playing or career in 2018? Then you need to consider camping. Drum camp, that is. No matter what style you play or what you’d like to learn, there is a camp, perhaps close to you, that could both make you a better drummer and create some lifelong memories.
What is it that makes camp such a great way to learn? For starters, you’re surrounded by other drummers. Getting the chance to make new friends and soak up peer knowledge is a key part of the experience. So is the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with teachers, including famous drummers. One minute you’re having pancakes and coffee with other campers, the next you could be having a conversation with a legend like Jimmy Cobb about what it was like to play with Miles Davis. As one camper at a KoSA event told me, “That couldn’t happen anywhere but a drum camp.”
Second, it’s the camp itself. You get the chance to accelerate your skills in an intense 24-hour-a-day drumming environment. Where else would you have the time to focus entirely on drumming around the clock?
There are camps for any age, taste, or style. Most of the camps we profiled are drum set–specific. However, we’ve included resources for other types of camps as well, along with a checklist for prospective campers.
What Campers Say
Lou Montulli took up drums as an adult and decided to attend camp because, as he says, “I was self-taught and looking for ways to get better faster than I could with one lesson a week.” So he signed up for a Mike Johnston drum camp. “My first camp was a shocker,” he recalls. “I had underestimated how difficult the instrument can be [laughs].”
Montulli’s conception of the drum set and what drumming is about quickly began to change. He felt the most important part of camp was learning to play in front of people. “Many of us aren’t as good as we think we are, and admitting that is tough,” Montulli says. Johnston taught him how to overcome fear of failure and leave the ego at home. “That has helped me in other areas of life, too,” he adds.
Once he was over that fear, Montulli rapidly expanded his learning and appreciation of new styles of music. “I am gravitating toward a lot more complicated music that I could not have appreciated before camps. Now, I can hear something and know what they are doing and then learn to play it.”
Fay Porter was 16 when he heard about the drum camp documentary A Drummer’s Dream on Netflix. He watched it with his parents and they later offered to send him to Ultimate Drum Camp. His goal at the time was to expand his social interaction with the music community, to meet more people who were pros or aspiring pros.
“The best part of the camp was getting to know the artists and how real and crazy good they are,” he says. “Throughout the day we had lessons with them, then we got to go to concerts and play with them, then we’d go into the practice rooms and play until 2 or 3 in the morning. A lot of what I learned was from them talking about the reality of the music community and how they lived their lives. That connected with me and the other campers.” Partly as a result of that experience, Porter is now matriculating at the University of Colorado at Denver to study music business, while continuing his drumming studies.
What Teachers Say
Camp is not just fun for students; the teachers love it, too. As co-founder and artistic director of the international KoSA Drum Camps, Aldo Mazza puts it, “Where else can you learn from people who have raised their art to such a high degree?” But teachers also enjoy camps, he says. “The chance to share what they know and to perform and challenge themselves while also having fun — it’s not a one-way street.”
When asked what he gets out of it, Southern Mississippi University percussion professor John Wooton merely says, “Knowing that you are changing lives for the better. That is no small feat.”
Drum Fantasy Camp founder Steven Orkin agrees. “In 11 years of running the camp, I have seen amazing transformations by our attendees, who regularly keep in touch. I have seen young drummers become touring pros and older players get back into the game after decades in non-musical careers. One attendee cried after performing at our jam night and overcoming 20 years of stage fright. He ended up joining a band when he got home! Another attendee overcame serious physical challenges and jumped into his father’s arms after performing at the jam.”
In short, attending a drum camp may very well have a positive effect on more than just your drumming. It might just change your life.
What You Need
You don’t need gear at most of these camps. Most of the time it’s all provided, from sets to sticks. With all-day lessons, however, what you might need most is energy drinks. Here are some questions to explore to make sure you choose a camp you’ll like and get the most from it personally and educationally.
Costs: Most camps charge a registration fee. Travel, housing, and food are extra unless specified as included. Be sure you are aware of all charges before signing up.
Discounts: Camps have registration deadlines and sometimes offer early-bird discounts. Pay attention to get the best deals.
Focus: Some camps have a narrow focus, and some are more open-ended in terms of styles and techniques. Get clear about what you wish to gain when you talk to someone in camp admissions. Some camps are specific in that they only want students who are intermediate-level drummers. If you don’t yet know your way around the drum set, call and ask if the camp is right for you.
Ages: Are you more comfortable in a camp surrounded by drummers just like yourself? Or are you hoping for something more diverse? There are many great camps aimed at teens and college-age students, as well as those that encourage all ages. Be aware that many camps will require parental permission for drummers under 18.
Special requirements: Do you have medical needs or special food requirements? Ask the camp before you reserve your space.
Drum Fantasy Camp
Students: 75 in groups of 15
Teachers: Celebrity drummers plus a seasoned-pro backing band led by Vinny Valentino
Dates: First or second Friday in August for five days
Cost: $1,595 (camp only); hotel is additional (private or shared room)
Location: Vic’s Drum Shop, Chicago, Illinois
Meals: Not included, but many restaurants nearby
Other: Nighttime concerts and jams; special groove/swing focus on one track
This marks the twelfth year of the annual Drum Fantasy Camp. The seed for DFC was planted when founder Steve Orkin was working with Dave Weckl and Steve Smith, and asked what they thought about developing an educational drumming experience. They both shared that they had attended a camp with bandleader Stan Kenton when they were young just because Peter Erskine was teaching there. That set the plan for DFC in motion.
The camp’s list of instructors over the past 11 years is too long to print here in its entirety, but includes Weckl, Smith, JoJo Mayer, Gavin Harrison, Will Calhoun, Aaron Spears, Jamey Haddad, Jason Bittner, and many others. The camp band, featuring pro guitarists, bassist, keyboardists, and singers, is a key element. Students attend jams and concerts every night and the band members teach a special education track on groove and swing.
Each student takes four full-day classes and chooses from either drumming instructors or the band class. During registration, attendees are grouped together based on playing level. Instructors vary their lessons for each group and each day, but Orkin says the underlying theme is “musicality and groove.”
Students: 100 for each camp
Teachers: Dr. John “Throwdown” Wooton, The Old Guard Drum Line, and others
Dates: June 25–28; July 22–25
Location: University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Lodging, meals: University dorms and cafeteria
Other: Concerts, steel pan orchestra
Another great option to consider, especially for younger players, is that of college camps that address drum set, marching, orchestral, keyboard, and other percussion specialties. The Summer Drummin’ camp at University of Southern Mississippi, run by professor John Wooton, offers exactly this kind of program.
One section focuses specifically on marching percussion (June 25–28), with daily clinics, small and large ensemble sessions, and evening performances. There’s even a “rudiment spelling bee.” This camp is recommended for anyone age 12 or older.
The all-ages total percussion camp (July 22–25) includes drum set and keyboard percussion like marimba and xylophone. Two bands, including Wooton’s own band and the Southern Miss Steel Pan Orchestra, are scheduled to perform, and campers will take a field trip to a drum corps performance.
“I believe our camp is unique in that we focus on what is important for the individual music student,” says Wooton.
“We are not training students to win trophies but to be better musicians in every way.” Past instructors have included snare stars BYOS (Ralph Nader and Harvey Thompson), and top educators and performers such as Marty Hurley, Steve Houghton, Lalo Davila, Paul Rennick, Matt Savage, Alan Keown, Ralph Hardimon, Jeff Mills, Troy Breaux, Hawley Joe Gary III, and others.
Ultimate Drum Camp
Teachers: Dennis Chambers, Mike Mangini, Giovanni Hidalgo, Kenny Aronoff, and many others
Dates: August 18–23
Cost: $1,975–$2,210 (Canadian dollars); $225 for round-trip airport shuttle to camp
Location: Orford Arts Centre, Mount Orford, Quebec, Canada
Lodging, meals: Included, with vegetarian options
The aptly named Ultimate Drum Camp matches rock-star teachers with an awesome location, putting on a camp that keeps people coming back.
UDC also offers day passes ($350–$400 Canadian) for a single day of instruction and a ticket to one of its nightly events, which take place Sunday through Thursday during camp week. The grounds at the conference center are beautiful and there are opportunities for swimming and hiking at the lakeside property. Owner Julian Reusing says the camp’s two main benefits are learning the tricks and methods great drummers use, and being able to walk away from camp with motivation to propel your own music career. “If you want to be a professional drummer you need this to kick you into gear,” he says.
Other instructors this year include superstars Mario J. DeCiutiis, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Simon Langlois, and Vito Rezza. Classes run about 15 students per instructor. The camp is open to anyone over the age of 12, but campers under 18 will need written permission.
Big Drum Bonanza
Students: 35 maximum
Teachers: Thomas Lang and special guests
Dates: July 5–9
Cost: $1,500 (camp only); $2,100 (camp plus five nights hotel)
Location: Thousand Oaks, California
Lodging, meals: Breakfast included with hotel
The Big Drum Bonanza grew out of the Thomas Lang Drumming Boot Camps, which started in 2006. Typically, the camp receives 30 campers and considers 35 “sold out.” The goal is to make sure that every student gets enough face time with the instructors. “If the enrollment were to go past 35 we would break them into two smaller groups and rotate instructors,” says co-founder Elizabeth Lang.
All ages are welcome — in 2017 the youngest camper was a talented ten-year-old girl — but this camp is not recommended for true beginners. As in many of the camps profiled here, the faculty at BDB reads like a who’s-who of the world’s great drummers. Past instructors have included Virgil Donati, Kenny Aronoff, Jeff Hamilton, Gergo Borlai, George Kollias, Chris Coleman, Dave Elitch, Dave DiCenso, Tony Royster Jr, Brian Frasier-Moore, Scott Pellegrom, Luis Conte, Gregg Bissonette, and Matt Garstka, among others. Some are there all week, some for a day. Thomas Lang says BDB claims several firsts, such as being the only camp that has had worldwide live streams, and, he adds, being the only camp to feature two instructors in motorcycle gear giving a rudimental drum lesson in a swimming pool. “There was no additional charge for the underwater lesson,” he clarifies.
Mike’s Lessons Camps
Teacher: Mike Johnston
Dates: Ten dates throughout year (sold out for 2018)
Cost: $1,050 for five-day camp; $500 for three-day camp
Location: Folsom, California
Lodging, meals: Not included
Mike Johnston’s camps are held at his studio in Northern California in Old Historic Folsom, about 20 miles from Sacramento. The town is full of history, great restaurants, and shops, with an amazing bike trail along the American River, and students stay at an inn right across from the studio.
There are just eight campers per session so that Johnston can focus on individual instruction with each one and support his mission. “The camps are all about personal growth and forming lifelong friendships with your fellow campers,” says Johnston. The camp offers intermediate and advanced sessions, with a guide to deciphering which level would fit you best.
Typical camp days start at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning and run until 9:30 at night. The minimum age is 16, but there is often a broad range of ages at each camp, from 16 to 60 or older. Campers under the age of 18 are required to travel with a parent or legal guardian. Unfortunately, all ten sessions for 2018 are already sold out, but you can still sign up for the waiting list in case there are cancellations.
Teachers: Changuito, Yaroldy Abreu, and other top Cuban percussionists
Dates: March 4–11
Cost: $2,000, flight not included
Location: Havana, Cuba
Lodging, meals: Lodging included, meals partly included
Since 1994 KoSA camps have mixed classical, hand percussion, drum set, and other instruments in a great environment with top teachers and drumming stars, and created a template that many other schools have followed. In 2015 KoSA cut back on US events, but has expanded globally, operating camps in Cuba, China, and Italy this past year as well as shorter events in Montreal and New York. KoSA’s camps abroad encompass not only drums but travel, culture, history, and food.
The Cuban camp coincides with Havana’s La Fiesta Del Tambor, offering campers three events in one. Drummers attend the KoSA workshops, which take place each day, and have access to festival events in the evening. They also attend the Cuban national percussion competition in which local players of timbales and congas can win prizes provided by KoSA sponsors.
Many of the top legends of Cuban percussion and composition such as Changuito, Yaroldy Abreu, Giraldo Piloto (Klimax), Enrique Pla (Irakere), Amadito Valdez (Buena Vista Social Club), and others teach the courses along with percussionist and camp leader Aldo Mazza.
Mazza describes it this way: “These are people involved in the evolution of Cuban music, and they are still . . . part of history as it is being made.”
Behind the Scenes Camp
Teachers: Pat Petrillo and special guests
Dates: To be announced (typically in August)
Location: New Jersey, New York City
Lodging, meals: Not included
Pat Petrillo’s Behind The Scenes camp is designed to improve your skills and take you inside the New York music scene. Petrillo, camp founder and drummer or the NYC Big Rhythm Band, says it’s for all levels. During the day, lessons focus on hand technique, historical groove development, fill ideas, and essential styles. He even brings in a rhythm section to participate with students.
After hours, Petrillo takes campers places they could never otherwise experience, including going into the pit with a Broadway orchestra and visiting rehearsal and recording studios such as Electric Lady. There are also visits scheduled to Radio City Music Hall and the famed SIR Studios in New York City.
Students: 125–150 (day damp); 150–200 (overnight camp)
Teachers: Musician Institute faculty and special guests
Dates: June 25–29; June 25–July 6
Location: Musicians Institute, Hollywood, California
Lodging, meals: Not included in day camp; meals included in overnight camp
If you’re a drummer with clear career aspirations, Musicians Institute programs may be what you’re looking for in a drum summer camp. MI has expanded to offer two summer camps this year: a one-week day camp and a two-week overnight option. The programs are open to all instruments, not just drums, but we all know there can never be enough drummers at music camp!
The Summer Shot program is a weeklong day camp (June 25–29) designed to give students a great learning experience that offers a sample of the yearlong and degree programs offered at MI. During Summer Shot, attendees will write an original song, go into the studio and record it, and then learn how to promote it. Students of drums, guitar, bass, and other instruments are assigned to bands and perform live at a concert for family and friends. After the event, students receive a music video of their efforts along with a professional headshot. This popular camp is open to anyone age 12 and up, but this camp’s not just for kids — many attendees each year are in their 40s and 50s.
New this year is the two-week overnight camp, Music Intensive, held June 25–July 6. This camp is geared toward younger musicians ages eight to 17. In addition to training in music, songwriting, and aspects of performance, there are special guests and field trips to Capitol Records and iHeart Studios in Burbank.
Spirit of New Orleans Camp
Teachers: Stanton Moore, Johnny Vidocovich, Shannon Powell
Dates: Three days in December, dates TBD
Location: New Orleans Jazz Museum
Lodging, meals: Not included
Stanton Moore invites a few drummers to enter his New Orleans world of funk, jazz, and rhythm & blues each year at the Spirit of New Orleans drum camp. The city is an irresistible draw for campers, many of whom return a second time. “We get a lot of repeat offenders,” Moore says, “and sometimes a husband will come with his wife, so it’s a real event for them.”
Each day is broken into four one-and-a-half-hour segments followed by 15-minute breaks, plus a break for lunch. Though the curriculum is set with a New Orleans focus, Moore varies it according to student needs. “One guy might say, ‘Let’s discuss left-hand approaches,’ and another might want to cover technical things such as Moeller technique that are not in the curriculum, but we’ll address it.”
Johnny Vidocovich and Shannon Powell are there for all three camp days and they are sometimes joined by Meters legends George Porter (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and other guests. The last Sunday features a concert at Snug Harbor. Moore says the level of players is quite varied and because his real focus is groove, it works.
Benny Greb Master Sessions
Teachers: Benny Greb
Dates: March 8–11 (US)
Location: Full Moon Resort, Big Indian, New York
Lodging, meals: All included
Prolific German drummer Benny Greb runs his Allround Camps in several countries, including the US, Italy, Germany, and Mexico. This is in addition to occasional camps focused on teachers or specialized topics. Greb covers a wide range of topics including rhythmic training, vocabulary and repertoire, practice, technique, sound and tuning, groove, solid time feel, and click training. He promises the camp will change your practice patterns and speed up your progress, no matter what level of ability you have or style you play.
By changing your practice patterns, he says, your progress will accelerate in the years to come as well, no matter what level of ability or style of music you may be at right now.
There are plenty of other camps available focusing on youth, women, hand drums, drum and dance, and other specialties, as well as traditional drum set. Maybe one is right for you. You may also check with the Percussive Arts Society local chapters for university-sponsored camps in your area. pas.org
The Collective’s Summer Intensive Programs offer one- to four-week sessions in the heart of New York City. Students choose from a variety of courses, including a weekly reading class, instrumental techniques, six style-specific classes including jazz, funk, rock/R&B, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Caribbean; weekly rhythm section playing; private lessons; and a daily individual time. Tuition is $900 per week, not including lodging and meals. thecollective.edu
Berklee College Of Music, the granddaddy of professional music schools, offers a wide range of summer programs at the Boston campus, in Los Angeles, and at overseas locations such as Valencia, Spain. (Sign me up!) These include a five-week summer school, and a performance school in Los Angeles for singers and instrumentalists. berklee.edu/summer
The Born To Drum Women’s Camp, now in its twelfth year, is a hand drum camp and retreat for women of all ages (children, both boys and girls, are welcome). Costs are kept low to encourage as many women as possible. The 2017 faculty included players with expertise in a wide variety of hand drum styles from dozens of countries: Ghana, Congo, Cuba, Brazil, Japan, Philippines, and many more. This is real outdoor camping at Chabot Regional Park near Oakland, California. In addition to daytime lessons there are nighttime performances, drum jams, and speakers around the campfire. It’s produced by Women Drummers International, which aims to bring women from different parts other world to share (drumming) culture. womendrummers.org
Girls Rock Camps is a phenomenal organization whose motto says it all: “Girls Rock Camps help girls build self-esteem and find their voices through unique programming that combines music education and performance, empowerment and social justice workshops, positive role models, and collaboration and leadership skill building.” The 2018 camp is April 26–29 at Appel Farm and Music Center in Elmer, New Jersey. The cost is $75–$450. girlsrockcampalliance.org
With more than 200 locations across the US, School Of Rock is a good alternative for young players just starting out. Each local school offers seasonal camps for drummers of all skill levels, plus a focus on songwriting and recording. Some offer adult classes, too. schoolofrock.com