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Speed Drumming (Fast Drumming, WFD, DrumoMeter)

The Rise of Speed Drumming
By George Broyer

Every once in awhile, an innovation comes along in music that helps shape the future of the industry. Still, people fear change. Many view the advancement as an attack to the establishment. They try to resist for as long as they possibly can until it becomes accepted by the majority thus making it mainstream. When Rock & Roll came about, many thought it would lead to the downfall of America's youth. When Ray Charles combined gospel music with R&B, many said it was blasphemous and degrading God's work. Yet, Ray Charles is now considered one of the greatest music innovators of the 20th century. Enter speed drumming. Not immune to the same criticism, this latest craze is taking the drumming world by storm and creating quite a stir. Although it's been embraced by many drummers young and old, others see it as an infringement upon their revered tradition.

While the practice of fast drumming is not entirely recent, the ability to accurately measure and rank it is a new concept. The beginnings of modern speed drumming started in the windy city of Chicago during the year 1975. It was there that Boo McAfee was present at a demonstration by Barrett Deems where he claimed to be "The World's Fastest Drummer." A voice of doubt emerged from the crowd. "Oh, yeah," the person asked. "What machine did you use?" McAfee turned to see the voice belonged to none other than drumming legend Buddy Rich. The memory of that event lingered in McAfee's mind. Then in 1999, McAfee collaborated with fellow drummer and engineer Craig Alan to develop a machine to measure the speed of drumming. After two months of work, the device was developed and dubbed The Drum-o-meter. It calculated the number of strokes for up to a 90 second time span for such rudiments as the single stroke roll, the double stroke roll, and paradiddles. The DrumoMeter was first showcased at the 1999 PASIC and, then, released for purchase on April 2, 2000, the anniversary of Buddy Rich's death. This new innovative invention paved the way for the world of speed drumming to emerge as a credible faction of drumming.

With their new stroke-measuring device, McAfee and Alan needed a creative way to market their idea into the world of drumming. So, they decided to establish the World's Fastest Drummer Organization or WFD for short. The idea was to pit drummers against each other in a competition to determine with accuracy the indisputable fastest drummer of the world using the DrumoMeter. In the first event of its kind, Johnny Rabb won the competition sponsored by the Nashville Percussion Institute. He performed an astonishing 1,026 single stroke rolls in one minute. Rabb was asked to later defend his title on VH1's live broadcast of Rock & Roll Record Breakers in Orlando, Florida. His fast drumming produced 1,071 strokes in one minute and earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest drummer in the world. The WFD started to pick up steam and, in 2002, they established a regular competition at the annual NAMM show. The winner of the competition was presented a championship belt similar to the ones awarded on WWE wrestling. The exhibition was eventually split to include separate recognition for the fastest hand drummer and fastest foot drummer. This fun, exciting showcase spotlighting the skills of speed drumming propelled the movement to another level.

As the modern speed drumming movement gained momentum, the number of drummers participating grew. With most new areas of music, there are those that will rise above the others and carve out a name for themselves as the pace setters to which the rest of the field must catch up. The drummers of speed drumming that fall into this category are as follows:

 Mike Mangini, drummer for Extreme and the Steve Vai Band, set the current world record at the WFD
 by achieving 1,203 single stroke rolls on the Drum o Meter in one minute in January 2005.

Jotan Afanador of Bronx New York -1,199 single strokes. WFD, Summer of 2004.

Art Verdi held the title of fastest drummer from April 2001 through May 2002 by performing 1,116 strokes in sixty seconds. ArtVerdi.com

Tim Waterson holds the Guinness Record for being the fastest foot drummer. Waterson, also known as "The Drumcan Man" because of he built and performs on a kit he designed entirely of recycled materials, managed to bang out 1,239 double strokes in one minute's time on the Drum o Meter in November 2001 at the Montreal Drum Festival. He later broke that record in January of 2002 by reaching 1,407 double strokes in one minute at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. (Tim holds both the World Fastest Feet records for singles at 1,030 and doubles at 1,407.)

Seth Davis is the current World Record holder for double stroke rolls. He executed 1,200 double stroke rolls in sixty seconds. Davis also holds the prestige of being the first drummer ever to complete 1,200 clean double strokes.

Sam LeCompte holds the record for most paraddidles in 60 seconds at 1,032.

These drummers help the foundation for the future speed drummers of the world. They blazed a path for others to follow and, with the growing interest, there seems to be plenty of drummers lined up to make their own mark in the world of fast drumming.

As mentioned previously, with anything new, there are always going to be detractors who are against change. In the case of speed drumming, there are two schools of thought. The first believes that speed drumming is a valid and viable new aspect of drumming. They insist that fast drumming assist in building chops. Supporters of fast drumming contend that these chops are a vital facet to a drummer's repertoire and they represent a crucial element in one's ability to be innovative and creative when playing. However, the opponents of speed drumming believe that building chops is not a vital part of drumming. They claim that time spent on fast drumming is time better spent on learning the musicality of drumming. Speed drumming is seen as a frivolous expenditure of drumming that offers no significant benefits to the drumming industry. Another movement within the speed drumming community is to establish the style of fast drumming as a new sport. This notion of extreme sport drumming is being propelled by those who assert that drumming is an intense physical activity and should be able to qualify as a sport. Many traditionalists in the drumming world also disagree with this perception. It seems that some in the sporting industry would also reject the concept of drumming as a sport. In May 2004, ESPN ran an ad for its Junior Golf Academy in USA Today where it bashed drumming as a trivial recreation. The ad focused on the accusation that children should do something more meaningful than spend their time playing drums like learning to play golf. The Percussive Arts Society took quick action in an attempt to get ESPN to remove the ad. With pressure coming down from its parent company Disney, ESPN pulled the ad from circulation after five days. Still, the one of leading sports identities had expressed its feeling on the marriage of drums and sports. Still, despite all the resistance it has encountered, the modern speed drumming movement continues to plow ahead toward earning credibility in the world of drumming.

Like a newly hatched duckling, speed drumming is still spreading its wings and learning to fly. Its popularity is growing exponentially and is especially interesting to the younger drummers. It provides an edge that most other forms of drumming may be lacking and the aspect of competition is always a driving force in humanity. Speed drumming falls right into the well-known American maxim of "Bigger, Better, Faster, Now." The technique of fast drumming provides an opportunity for drummers to experience a component of drumming they might not be able to encounter in a band or other project. There will always be people who denounce the modern speed drumming movement just as they rejected Elvis, Ray Charles, and other pioneering music figures. Still, at the present moment, there doesn't appear to be any signs to contradict the fact that speed drumming will continue to carve out its niche in the drumming community and stay there for a very long time.

Editor's Note: I've noticed other parties out there creating speed drumming events and organizations, and calling it their own. It's unfortunate because it's not only wrong, but it discredits Boo McAfee and Craig Alan and all their hard work over the years to bring speed drumming to the forefront of the drumming community. I urge drummers and industry leaders everywhere to support the original WFD movement only and speak up when necessary to help fend off copycat organizations. - Mike Donovan

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