Talking Drums With The World’s Fastest Drummer Tom GrossetMonday, November 25th, 2013
In July 2013, Toronto’s Tom Grosset became a world record holder. At the World’s Fastest Drummer finals in Nashville, TN, the then-22-year-old tapped out 1,208 strokes in one minute, beating fellow CM percussion panelist Mike Mangini’s record by five strokes. Grosset has now graduated from Humber College’s music program and formed the jazz fusion band Snaggle.
Grosset’s recording of him playing drums over Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel soundtrack has also earned him a lot of praise, including from Zimmer himself. This and other recordings can be heard on Grosset’s YouTube page at www.youtube.com/tomgrosset. Grosset’s recording-break performance can be seen HERE.
You can read more from Grosset and other great drummers in the CM 2013 Percussion Panel feature in the November/December issue of Canadian Musician.
CM: What was your training regimen like leading up to the record attempt?
TG: I started an hour or two a day focusing on playing my fundamentals and I was putting a lot of time into single strokes, obviously. I just made sure I practiced every day for an hour or two and made sure I used that time wisely. For an hour or two I would work on the motion a lot and try to constantly improve it every time I would practice it. That’s kind of what I did for a few months leading up to it.
I had been working on it for a few years, I just didn’t know when I was going to go [to Nashville]. I knew around April that I was pretty set on going this time and I committed to it and leading up to it I really started putting in an hour or two every day and constantly improving my technique and using the time wisely and constantly improving.
CM: You had taken part in these competitions a few times starting as a teenager. How did you improve between record attempts?
I actually tried using less rebound with the practice pad. I would use one of the practice pads that I have and I would put a towel on top of it to create less rebound. Not to the point where it’s like you’re hitting a pillow, although that works, too, and I have tried doing that. A lot of it was experimenting and figuring out what is the proper way of doing it and sticking to it. Obviously, a lot of people are trying to figure out short cuts to get to that point but I just stuck with something and I experimented with a lot of different things and I was working a lot on the free stroke. So I worked on the free stroke a lot and I used a towel to create a little bit less rebound so I could build more strength in my forearms…
I find that, especially with these really ridiculous speeds, that you need to work on the free stroke and you also need to make sure you’re not overly grasping the stick. You want to use a loose grip but also have control.
CM: Did training for speed interfere at all with your musicality when you’re playing with other musicians?
TG: Not at all. It doesn’t interfere with playing with other musicians or playing to music because I’ve always understood that you shouldn’t interfere with the music by playing flashy things or playing out of context. You’ve got to play within the context and if that means playing a simple backbeat, that you’ve got to play that.
What I’ve noticed is that because I’ve been able to do this and build this strength in my forearms and play very fast for that period of time, because a minute at that speed is very challenging, what it’s given me is the ability to play for long periods of time when I’m jamming out or playing in a band or on a recording project. It helped my endurance and I can’t even emphasize it enough and it’s something I’ve noticed over the years is that I tend to start very strong and then I end very strong. I’ve noticed a lot of drummers in the studio start very strong and by the last take of the last tune, they’re kind of hanging on and their technique isn’t as strong as it could be. This has given me a lot of strength and power.
CM: Did you have any formal training before the Humber music program?
TG: I was self-taught. I used to be a very active member on the Drummerworld forum and I used to get all of my information from there. I would look around for a drum technique forum and did a lot of research and a lot of reading on what people were doing and I found that it really helped. I read a lot of different techniques and basically applied them and would be like, ‘Ok, I don’t really like how this works so I’ll try this or this.’ I taught myself at an early age.
CM: Was there a lesson that sticks out that allowed you take the next step as a drummer when you were a kid?
TG: What I used to do is I used to record myself a lot and I really should do that more often because everyone can benefit that way. They hear themselves and listen back and go, “Oh wow, I didn’t hear that all.” But I used to do that a lot and then put it out there and get criticized but usually it was good in that everyone was really constructive.
That really, really helped because I could see exactly what I was doing and all the things that I thought I was playing or was playing. That made a big impact and I started getting into practice routines and putting in so much practice time in a day. I remember I did a lot of John Riley exercises, too. I remember that that was a really big thing for me. I got a lot of drum books because there was no teacher around at the time where I was, so I had to go online to find this stuff or buy drum books and listen to recording and that’s how I taught myself. It was just a lot of reading.
CM: Why did you start recording yourself playing to film scores and soundtracks?
TG: I remember I was listening to the Dark Knight soundtrack and Hans Zimmer, a lot of his music is very percussive. I obviously really enjoyed it and I was listening to the music one night and I thought, “Why don’t I put drums over this and see how it sounds.” I remember it really well. I recorded myself and I had some ideas about what I was going to do and I listened back and I actually thought it sounded really good. I got my family to come listen to it after I did it and they liked it so I thought, “Maybe I should start doing this.” I put out that video, it was the first video, and I put that out and I got a very good reaction from people.
I started looking into other soundtracks like Requiem for a Dream and Pirates of the Caribbean. I put drums over the Jaws soundtrack and I am actually still proud about that one because I was told by the head of the drum department at Humber College, Mark Kelso, he actually saw that video and I was going into that degree program and he said he was very impressed. He asked if I used a click and everything and I said, “No I didn’t. I just listened to the music as you hear it but without drums,” and he thought it was really impressive.
CM: Now that you’re done school, where do you plan to take your drum skills from here?
TG: I have a band right now called Snaggle. It’s a jazz fusion band and we’re all Humber graduates. I think most musicians would say this, but I want to be a performer and play for people and I also would like to do some studio work as well, be a studio musician. I am looking for work and I do enjoy teaching as well.
When I set out to do this World’s Fastest Drummer thing, I was hoping this would be a stepping stone for me because I realized at a very early age, around 15 I think, that the music business is a really, really tough business and I figured if I got involved with this, it would make me stand out. Purely because I find drum technique very fascinating and I find I am very good at it and kind of “get it,” I kind of applied it in this setting.
Obviously, I don’t want to work on a drum technique that is just fit for speed drumming because I think that’s a waste of time. The thing is the technique that you see me using, I am using the same technique in a musical setting and in normal playing situation. It’s just that when you see it at that speed, it’s like ‘Whoa!’ but when you slow it down, that’s how I play.
I realized going into this that this was going to label me as a “speed guy” and I get that and I was prepared for it. I am just hoping that people are going to approach this with an open mind and look into me and realize that I am not just about that. There are great drummers out there, like Dave Weckl, who have insane drum technique under their belts and they have it to the point where they can just play whatever they need to play.