Tammy Mitchell-Woods has been drumming since she was 12. She has played in jazz bands, behind choirs, in orchestras, in churches, in theaters, and elsewhere, and currently performs with the band Beacon Drive. After getting married early and having two children, Woods took a drumming hiatus for years, until a near-fatal lupus diagnosis shifted her perspective on what mattered to her. She shared a video online that her husband shot of her drumming and received so much support and encouragement that it led her to start Drummergirls United on Facebook, which has members from 65 countries, and fosters collaboration, skill sharing, and networking opportunities among female drummers of all skill levels.
What’s your city, state, and age?
I live in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and I am 53.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I currently own nine sets total from Gretsch, Ludwig, and Sakae. I generally play one up, two down, single pedal, and sometimes use a side snare or a side floor tom.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I play in a female-fronted band called Beacon Drive, and in churches in my area. I am looking to start a four-piece band of my own this year.
Do you have any endorsements?
I am an endorsing artist with CooperGroove Drumsticks, Heartbeat Cymbals, SledgePad bass drum dampeners, Ahead Wicked Chops Practice Pads, Pray With Drums gear, and The Sweet Spots drum dampeners.
What led you to your instrument? What’s your origin story?
The short version is: I had to play them. I knew that if I got a set, I could teach myself to play. And that’s what I did.
The long version is that I was forced into piano lessons at age eight by my piano-playing mom (yeah, no), then my guitar-playing grandpa bought me a guitar and lessons (absolutely not!).
I was mesmerized by drums when I would see someone play them on TV. I had never seen or heard of a girl playing the drums, but I knew I just had to play. This was in the ’70s and not very accepted.
My parents wouldn’t buy me a kit or lessons, so I mowed lawns and bought a crappy little kit myself — I now realize that that “crappy little kit” was actually a 1960s vintage Ludwig that I would love to have back — and I taught myself how to play it that summer. I lied my way into 7th grade band, telling them I could read music and that I had played in 6th grade band.
I played through junior high and high school, and snagged some coveted spots in college, then I got married, moved to Alaska, had kids, went back to college, started working and stopped playing for most of my adult life.
I picked it back up a few years ago and started getting serious about it. I didn’t know any female drummers, so I started looking on Facebook and YouTube for other sista drummers. I came across Hilary Jones, Anika Nilles [who writes lessons on Drum], and Emmanuelle Caplette, to name a few. I was blown away and watching those three really inspired me to start working.
I contacted all of them and we are now friends. I actually had my first lesson the day before my 50th birthday with Anika via Skype. We’ve had a few since then and we’ve met in person a couple of times. I also took some Skype lessons from the awesome Emmanuelle Caplette.
Since getting back to the kit, I’ve gotten to know so many other amazing drummers and musicians, male and female. I feel very blessed.
Three-and-a-half years ago I was diagnosed with Lupus and four other autoimmune diseases. It’s been a challenge, to say the least (chemo, hair loss, had to leave my job and go on FMLA for six months, breathing issues, pain, nausea, and so on) but it’s made me even more determined to not wait for life to bring me what I want! I am going after it with everything I have in me.
Who’s your favorite drummer?
There are so many. Nilles has a style that is so unique and brilliant. Mike Johnston is so smooth and groovy. Ash Soan has mastered the art of leaving space to create a funky feel and Caplette can play anything perfectly — I love her style as a drummer and an artist. There are many more that influence me daily but these are the first ones on my mind.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I do a lot of different things when I practice. I play to difficult songs that I am trying to make my own and I also do lessons on mikeslessons.com, generally working on different techniques, fills, and speed in the hands and feet.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum readers?
For me playing in the pocket is king. If it’s not fluid and smooth, if the band and audience don’t feel the emotions of the song, you are doing it wrong. Every song has a feel, dynamics, space. Don’t try to play all over it. When you are in a band, it’s not the drummer show. The band is a team and you need to complement each other.
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?
For some, success is going on tour with a popular band, for others it’s being on the cover of a magazine or being asked to be part in drum clinics or shows. For me, it’s a little different. I have played on and off for most of my life but really got serious about it a few years ago. I am older than most of the other gals and guy drummers and I have no aspirations or “making it big,” whatever that means.
I do have a goal: to inspire, to encourage, to teach, and to play as much as possible. I do still want to be part of a national or international tour. That is a hope of mine.
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
Drumming is healing. I have played on chemo, after infusions, running a fever, and with a full-blown migraine, but when I have a show, I will not miss it. The crazy part is, no matter how much I am hurting, while I am playing, I feel happy. I don’t feel the pain or nausea or anything else, just happy.
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Failure in every aspect of life is important. It’s how we learn what works and what doesn’t. For instance, I memorize all of my sets each week, even if that means four different bands, with four different sets. I’ve learned little tricks that help me remember everything. Trial and error have given me a stronger backbone for the bands.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
I am a full supporter of women in the arts. I actually went to college on a vocal music scholarship and quickly realized it was the drums that really were the most important for me. If I hadn’t had music growing up, I am not sure how I would’ve survived it.
I want girls to know that there are no “girl instruments” or “boy instruments.” Don’t let anything get in the way of your playing. Even if you are going to be the only female, don’t worry about that at all. Just play.