Simon Phillips Drum Clinic

 

By Mark Spiteri

World renowned drummer Simon Phillips flew through Australia on a mini clinic tour this March.
Notably known as the drummer from Toto, he has been a session drummer for many other artists
and on many other albums.

Simon started his show off, by performing two tracks along with some backing. The power behind
his strokes was startling. Having seen video performances of him over the years, nothing prepared
me for the volume he would produce from behind the drumkit. Apparently, he used to play louder!

As with all celebrity, question time led mostly through moments of his life his fans would like to
reminisce. Who he jammed with, who he performed with, does he still keep in contact with them?
Great tabloid stuff, but not the nitty gritty of his drumming.

Most notably, after some simple questions were answered, like “how do I get my left hand better?”
he commented on the importance of being able to read music and charts. Knowing how to read a
chart quickly, landed him many jobs over his career. Considering most drummers will perform with
only a handful of bands they have worked with, it makes professional sense to understand written
music to be able to play for just about anyone that asks you to.

As a drummer myself, I wasn’t noticing large dynamic contrast in his playing. Nor in his exercises.
His parra-diddles were devoid of accents. But he could move fluently and play very quickly.

I did some thought into what I wanted to ask him myself. Simon was speaking about the musical
flow of a song and how technicality can take away from the importance of melody in a song. One of
my pet peeves in recording has been the metronome. There are certain genres of music that sound
strange without one running in the background, the computer keeping everything in time. But others
where the push and pull of the musicians creates a surge of energy in you when you listen to it. The
metronome doesn’t allow that.

After asking Simon his opinion on recording with a metronome, he agreed that recording without
one is much better and gives you the freedom to really express how you feel about the music, but
sometimes, someone will expect you to record or perform to one. And in his opinion, it’s your job as
a drummer to know when to sit behind the metronome or push forward of it. This type of playing is
very difficult and requires years practicing to tracks with a metronome to really understand how this
works.

To give a quick explanation, usually the aim of practicing with a metronome is to play at exactly
the same time as the metronome. Sub-dividing within the beats of the metronome makes it easier
to land on time. If you were to be pushing the beat you would be playing a split second before the
metronome for every beat. If sitting behind you actually play a split second after the metronome.
It’s difficult because the more often you land at a different time, the more unsteady your playing
sounds. Landing just before or just after consistently, is terribly difficult.

He finishes off his 3 ½ hour clinic with another performance of a track he had previously recorded,
with just as much gusto as he started.

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