Nicola Berlinsky is the drummer for No Small Children, an all-female power-rock trio from Los Angeles. They’ve released four albums, and their rendition of The Ghostbusters theme song is featured in the credits of the 2016 Ghostbusters movie. The band’s songs “Radio” and “Big Steps,” have been featured in the Netflix series, The Santa Clarita Diet and “Radio” is also in the video game, Rock Band. When not performing, Berlinsky is an elementary school teacher (as all of the No Small Children members are), who goes on tour whenever school is not in session.
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What kind of gear do you use?
I absolutely love my gear! I perform with a DW Performance Series kit with Zildjian cymbals and the Yamaha HW-3 Crosstown Lightweight hardware. My snare is a metal framed Gretsch, and I have a 1987 Gretch at home setup for practice.
What’s your setup?
My setup is pretty basic. Snare, kick, floor tom, rack tom, ride, hi-hat, and two crash cymbals.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I play with my band, No Small Children. We are three school teachers who formed this band one day while covering recess duty. Four albums later, many tours, movie placements, and more, we continue to have a blast together.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
I was an incredibly active child who excelled in sports. Violin lessons lasted two weeks and piano lessons lasted one year. In seventh grade I started taking formal drum lessons with one of the percussionists in the Seattle Symphony and found my passion. I played through college but walked away from my last band in New York City when I was 22. The whole scene was so macho, and I lacked the gumption and role models to keep going. Something changed when I turned 40. It just sort of dawned on me that playing music was missing from my life. I started taking lessons again and played weekly with a group with friends. A few years in, I had developed the confidence to form No Small Children with my mates and a desire to tour.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
Elvin Jones, John Bonhan, and Stewart Copeland are three of my favorites. I appreciate all of their musicianship and contributions to the craft. My current teacher, Dean Johnston, a master musician in the Boston area, is actually the drummer who influences my playing the most today. No matter what style he’s playing, his feel, power, control, and musicality are all so on point.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
One of the greatest differences between playing in my early years and now is that I have a pretty specific practice routine, and these days I actually really love to practice. I keep a practice journal, and I keep very specific notes on speed, duration, increasing ease, and focus given to each exercise.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
I think the biggest thing that helps me is the ability to break apart large goals into small manageable pieces. Find where ability breaks down and start building back skills step-by-step.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Some people wonder how I can keep everything going: teaching full time, rehearsing several times a week, practicing, gigging locally, and touring. I also book all of our shows and tours. But playing actually feeds me, gives me energy, and brings me joy.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
People often say to my bandmates and I that the experience of hearing us play made them feel connected and part of a moment. Whether playing a festival stage or a small venue, being fully present and committed to the now is what makes me feel that I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
There’s plenty of time, but no time to waste.
When you sit down to make music and are starting with a blank canvas, what’s your process like?
One of us will bring in an idea into our studio and we build the song together. Truthfully, my strength is more on the business management side of the band, so Lisa Pimentel (guitar) and Joanie Pimentel (bass) usually bring in a melodic line and we start workshopping from there.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
There is no such thing as the perfect show. Something happens at every gig. It’s really all about how we handle ourselves in the moment and learn from our mistakes that count. Luckily we’re all so growth-mindset orientated (elementary school teachers!), we learn something valuable from every fall.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
I think it’s really helpful for young girls to see women play. Having a great teacher early on who can break down the basics, including how to manage the gear, builds confidence. Playing with other musicians as much as possible is key.