Hey, my name is Brandon Graves. I’m a drummer, a teacher, and an artist. I have been playing the drums for a very long time. In fact, I used to think I had been playing the drums since I was 13 but later realized it was around 1980, when I was 7, that I actually got my first kit. It was a Nursery Rhyme toy drum set from Sears with images of The Farmer in the Dell, Little Boy Blue, and the Cat and the Fiddle painted on the kick drum head. It had a tiny cymbal and a couple drums mounted on either side of the kick drum. I don’t remember much about it except that one day my next door neighbor came over and played it so hard that he broke the heads. It was a sad day and we had to toss the kit in the garbage shortly thereafter, but I didn’t give up on the notion of being a drummer. Later, in the 6th grade when I was given the option to choose an instrument in band, I chose the saxophone instead of the drums for some reason. After feverishly learning the melodious strands of Songbird by Kenny G and a couple of lines from a Glen Fry song, I began to lose interest in the sax. Then, in the summer of 7th grade, my friend Bear taught me to play a rock beat on his kit. I still remember the electric feeling I had inside my body as I pounded out “Boom Boom Bap, Boom Boom Bap, Boom Boom Bap, Digga Digga Digga Digga! It was infectious and I felt like a portal was being opened up inside of me that had long been asleep. I felt an instant connection with the past and the future. As my hands would glide around the drums, it felt like speaking a language I had forgotten but was now returning to me fresh and new in my body.
This opened the flood gates and I began pulling all the cardboard tubes off my pants hangers and using them to drum on pillows along with legendary hits such as We Built This City by Starship or the Top Gun Soundtrack. By the way, I had a sweet little Casio keyboard that I would use to play along with the Top Gun Anthem. It’s still my all time favorite movie theme. Anyway, by 7th grade I had a real drum kit. It was a white five piece Pearl Import with Pearl cymbals. I played the heck out of that thing and by 8th grade I had proven to my band director that I needed out of the sax section and into the drum section. Sitting behind the kit playing along with the band as they played their scales was the highlight of my day. As the band would raise to the next key the drumming would intensify accordingly, eventually reaching an inordinate amount of flourish and boom as the scales would conclude with a trash can ending and as many John Bonham fills as I could fit in before the cut off. This passion set the path for the rest of my life. I felt like I had found my corner of the universe and never wanted to leave again.
Well, here we are now in my little corner of cyber space all those years later and not much has changed and so has everything. I am now 30 years into my career as a working drummer. I teach lessons, I play gigs, I record and produce music, I book bands, I create content and I write books. I have a signature practice pad and I get to work with the best companies in the industry. All this would signal to most that I have reached the goal but I don’t feel that way. I am in pursuit of expression, authenticity, and vulnerability and these goals are never-ending. I try to bring these qualities to every session, every lesson, and every clinic. I have tried to model these values for my students and bring them to my relationships with band mates and the music I perform.
As my years have gone on, I have had the privilege of seeing many of my former students find a place in the music industry. Several are now professional drummers but many are working for labels or producing other artists. My approach to teaching has been holistic in that I try and create space for more than just drums. A deep appreciation for music and art is an added benefit for any working musician. I often say “more music is better” because I have found my life enriched by the absorption of as much music as possible. If my students can create space for all kinds of art then they can make space for all kinds of people too.
Making space for people is one of the most important values in my life. I love building community. Beginning with my time teaching drum line in my 20’s, I saw the value of bringing kids together around drumming with the goal of creating a culture of learning and acceptance. Early on we used to have “pad parties” where we would buy a bunch of Snapple, make some Little Smokies and practice on our pads while watching Seinfeld reruns. Another outgrowth of my love for community has been the development of my clinic platform. I find the connection to young percussionists that I have gained through teaching in a group setting to be incredibly life giving. The students ask such great questions and show true enthusiasm for the instrument we play. These clinics have grown in focus and direction through the writing and publishing of my book. I am now able to take the message in my book and translate it to a performance lecture that invites the students into the discussion and opens up new ways of thinking about practice and performance. This process has been rewarding as I am seeing learners of all ages begin to embrace their humanity and original expression through breaking away from common perfection oriented narratives.