5 Lessons I Learned From Ralph Humphrey

Of all the teachers I have studied with, the person who deserves the greatest acknowledgment is Ralph Humphrey. There are many drummers out there who have a very high profile and get a lot of press, but for those in the know Ralph Humphrey is considered one of the best in the world.

He has performed with the likes of Frank Zappa, Barbara Streisand, George Duke, Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau and Wayne Shorter. He has recorded the soundtracks for Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Dawsons Creek, The Simpsons and King of The Hill. If all that wasn’t enough he is also the co-founder of the LA Music Academy and still finds time to work on the hit TV show Dancing With The Stars.

With all these accomplishments Ralph is still a man of a few words, is very humble and an incredible mentor. Like all geniuses, he simplifies things and teaches with passion. Here are five lessons that he impressed upon me:

1) The Moeller Technique
Ralph was a big proponent of the Moeller Technique and spent a great deal of time developing efficient stokes that make use of the drums natural rebound. I had always played into the head which I still managed to get up to a decent speed but by using the moeller technique my sound opened up and I become much more relaxed in my playing. Another side effect of this approach is increased endurance. You can play much longer with less strain and potential for injury.

2) The Value of Practice
Ralph was never shy to tell us that we needed to practice and practice a lot. He emphasized long hours working on technique, musicality, style, sight reading, and all of the other traits that a good drummer must develop in order to become great. Without practice there is no hope of making significant progress and Ralph made sure that we all understood this.

3) Rhythm & Patterns
Ralph is one of the greatest odd meter players I have ever seen and his knowledge of rhythm, meter and time is mind-blowing. He helped us to understand more complex patterns and ideas and encouraged us to try them out. Not be scared of mistakes, take some chances and see where it takes you. He also made sure we always play for the music – just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should!

4) Humility
Ralph is one of the most humble people that I have ever met. Even with all the achievements he has accumulated over the years he still acts like a very normal individual. Like the martial arts master that shows only a small portion of his true potential Ralph rarely gave anything away about what he was up to. He would be teaching us one minute, then the next minute he’d be off at some top-flight studio recording the next episode of Dancing With The Stars or some equally high-profile session. After that he’d return to the classroom and it would be like nothing had happened. A true professional at all times.

5) Entrepreneurship
This was never a formal lesson but to watch Ralph work and go about his business you see a great entrepreneur at work. He is one of those rare people that has taken his passion, built a career from it and then built a business around it. I studied at the LA Music Academy for one year and was surrounded by a stable of incredible teachers and enthusiastic students. The curriculum was stellar and the school as a whole was managed extremely well.

As you can see, there is a lot to learn from a man like Ralph far beyond what to do when you sit behind a kit. If you get the chance, head out to LA to study with him.

Your playing will take off as a result!


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