DRUM LESSONS | Education Corner


 **Some Spring/Summer Master Classes and Clinics booked with more coming.  ****  Check GIG calendar. *****


Mark currently accepts a limited number of students at his home studio (use contact page for rates and available times).  He is a faculty member at the ANN ARBOR/ SALINE MUSIC CENTER (link on this page); call for availability,  (734) 972-4246. Mark is also a Faculty member at MILFORD MUSIC Call 1-248-8200 to schedule or use contact page. Mark is a former faculty member of D.I.M.E.  teaching Music Theory, Ear-training as well as drum set.

Check out the gig page for master classes, clinics and camps.

Mark’s Drum lesson pedagogy consists of :

Rudimental training and their application to the drum set. Moeller and Gladstone technique. Matched German, traditional and French grip.   Foot technique-Heel up and down and heel toe, 4 way independence,  phrasing and voicing on the drum set, chart reading; figure interpenetration, Chart writing , working with a bass player, Polyrhythms, Odd Meters, linear drumming, metric modulation and style interpretation.   Mark also utilizes the teaching methods of Gary Chaffee, The late great Gary Chester, The late Ed Uribe, The late Ed Kaspik, Steve Wilkes and John Ramsey all whom Mark has studied with.

Mark has taught at Summer camps at Interlochen, DePaul, Oberlin, Indiana, Ohio State Universities, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, Ann Arbor Music Center and  Long Lake New York. He has had students placed in top ensembles and scholarships at North Texas University, Berklee, University of Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana University and Olivet College.

Top View Of Mark Sutton in ClinicClinic @ Avante Music Acadamy '10Audience shot at a clinic drumclinic20142cutdrumclinic14markserioousAAMCteaching

(I’m not a )HIRED GUN

Hired Gun. Man, I’ve grown to hate that term. If you look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary here’s the definition: an expert hired to do a specific and often ethically dubious job. This has nothing to do with the service I provide. Expert, maybe ethically. Dubious, absolutely not. I not there to “steal,’ anyone’s gig or just collect a pay without caring, which unfortunately some musicians think.

Even when I do commercials, I approach it with a positive attitude. I may not care about the product but I do care about reading the chart and zeroing in quickly, as time is money. I usually don’t care about what gear would be appropriate as on jingle sessions drums are already there and tuned and set or it’s electronic drums.

Working for an Artist and or Producer is where preparedness, attitude, finding out what the artist needs are, and remembering you are there to serve.  I have been asked in the past to try different approaches, such as, let’s do brushes instead, let’s put a little towel on your snare. On one session that was a Christmas song, I brought an LP Jingle bell stick as well as a jingle bell strip to put on top of the Hi-Hat. There are many times there is a lot of prep work on my end as I sometimes get a click and a songwriter singing and playing either piano or guitar.; I need to come up with the groove. I need to listen and chart out the structure of the song. Even with a chart, I always ask it to be emailed to me ASAP so that I can run it and make notes. If it can I always end up being at the session at least 2 hours before. Giving me time to set up if needed, get levels and then ‘shed’ the chart.

I always bring a host of snares and a couple bags of cymbals when going to a session. Why, because that’s caring for the nuance of the music and giving that 110%.

Bands. There have been times that I get called and told that the current drummer is having health issues. One in particular was the drummer had broken his right arm and would need to heal for at least 6 months. I went into that gig first calling the drummer. After giving my condolences I then ask about the band members and their different approaches. Asking about arrangements of cover songs etc.

Being hired to replace the current drummer on some tracks. This can be a touchy. In one instance I was replacing a drummer I knew. Awkward! I always obviously ask what wasn’t working for the tune with the drummer. Then I ask if I can have the song minus the drums emailed to me.   I have to be keenly aware of what the bass player has laid down and try to get the bass drum to match up or not fight. (In a Pop/Rock/Funk genre)

Being a part of a ‘band’ for an artist. If going into a tour with musicians that you’ve never interacted with. In this situation I always go in transparent and do a lot of ‘friendship’ building between work.  You have to be spot on every night! If you suck on one night you very well be ousted tomorrow.

Music flows, up and down and so do the people. I call it Hirable musician. The bottom line is the drum set is an ensemble creature, supporting the music being played. As a drummer you are there to serve. A producer wants to put a towel on my snare, sure. The stage manager wants to put sparkles on the logo head, yep. No one has time for your ego, sometimes they don’t care what you think of the drum part or the music. Just do your job and well!


In the ‘80’s I fought ‘The perfect time.’ Drum machines were taking over. If you wanted to work in those days you needed a drum machine and Simmons drums. I would program all of the percussion parts but I would not quantize so that it felt more ‘natural.’ I also would only have a click ‘count’ out the beginning of the tune. With the ‘90’s that kind of went away and clicks were part of some recordings and some not. The music ‘breathed’ again. Music really isn’t an exact science. It moves it ‘breathes’  some mistakes and some ups and downs.  I think in our computer driven world, we have forgot that. Don’t get me wrong, I and my students work with a metronome every day to achieve ‘perfect’ time. I recently did a gig that I was left go from that felt like ‘musical Karaoke. ‘ 90% of the songs were to a click with backing tracks. It made the music feel stiff and uninspired. I have diligently worked on playing ‘around the click,’ and teach some of my students the same. I believe the leader of the act didn’t like this. He wanted everything square and ‘like the original recording.’ This is all great and good if it’s a tune from the past 5 years but older than that, I believe there should be room for improve. My jazz group will take a 60 year old song and totally rearrange it, some times playing it in a different context i.e. a swing tune that we make ‘’Latin.’ We also do some old ‘60’s rock tunes and rearrange them in swing or Latin but I digress. My point is that music should move and breath. I’m not apposed to backing tracks, although having those instruments play the parts is better but in this world of shrinking budgets, we drummers sometimes have to deal with clicks and backing tracks. Explore playing behind, on and ahead of the beat. Know feels and most important ask the singer how he or she likes it…


Whether you’re a novice, a student or a seasoned pro, there are steps one must take to prepare for an audition.  First and foremost, auditioning is a skill. The more you do it the better you become at it.

For those of you auditioning for a school big band, stage band or specific ensemble you will usually be asked to pick from a small list of songs. Try to see if the charts are available on the internet or seek out recorded versions. Brush up and be ready to play in styles like big band, Rock Big Band, some Bop and Latin. Listen carefully to the director and follow his instructions at the audition. Don’t overplay to show all your chops. The director is looking for an ensemble player and one who can read well and adapt.

If you are auditioning for a cover band you should know what styles of music they do. Always ask for a set list. I generally ask for 4 to 5 songs that they would like me to prepare. This makes the audition go much more smoothly and in your favour than just picking random tunes. If the auditioner is smart they will pick tunes to check your groove on slow, medium and fast tunes as well as difficulty levels. Do your homework! Ask if they have a recording of them doing these covers. Some cover bands have re arranged beginnings and endings. Listen to the original as well as seeking out other cover bands doing said tunes. ( easy with YouTube.) Then write ‘cheat charts,’ if you have the ability. If you’re more of an advanced player and auditioning for a ‘higher end’ cover band there are some other things you should consider. First, as mentioned before, come prepared. Ask in advance what equipment you need to bring if hired. Be humble; no one wants a prima Dona showing up for an audition. Be enthusiastic and dress the part. Don’t come to the audition with sweat pants and a t-shirt and a 2 day old stubble smelling of beer. The same would go for the females, excluding the stubble. You are there selling yourself; presentation is everything. Ask questions. Not a million but ask some questions. This will show that you are thinking and you have your possible new job at heart. “What is the protocol for set up?” How early am I required to be at the gig before we play?” “What is the usual dress code?” “Do I need to supply any sound re-enforcement….i.e. Microphones?” Lastly….don‘t hang around after you have played; especially if there are others to be auditioned. Don’t sit there and name all your credentials or hang around for a long period, you will look desperate; like a lost puppy.   You should at least have a Face Book page or better yet a website.

For other types of gigs

A pit gig for Broadway type shows. Listen to as many recorded versions as you can. As times are now, you can find part music on line……download and practice! Show up a little early and try and be social with the other pit members. Always treat the conductor with the utmost respect…they love that.

‘Name Acts.’

This is where home work really needs to be done. If the act is one that has been around for more than 5 years you are not only going to need to listen to the original recordings but you’re really going to need to listen to the latest performances. I have encountered re arrangements and special endings. Some artists do either a medley of their most popular songs and or string some together. Also be aware that the lead singer or main artist may not be in attendance for your audition. Usually the artist has a musical director or maybe even a stage manager that will make the decision. On one experience I had to audition with 20 drummers with the M.D. After the first audition it was down to me and another drummer. We were both called back to play with the artist present. It’s always helpful to talk to the artist and ask questions but again don’t linger for too long.

So auditioning is a skill. The more you do, the better you become at it. Always be open and friendly and enthusiastic.

Practice tips

If you’re even remotely interested in progressing as a drummer or any instrument for that matter, practice is an essential element to success. It is how we practice that yields different results.

I have encountered many who don’t utilize their time in the most productive way. They tend to practice things they already do well, they get distracted, they don’t set goals for achieving new aspects to their playing and some just play to recordings. Now the latter is a great way to learn songs and to get influences from other players, but it should be the ‘icing on the cake.’

Here are some ways that will help you utilize your practice more effectively.

  1. Warm up. I can’t stress this enough. I ask my students that are intermediate and above to use about 15 minutes to warm up BEFORE their lesson. Athletes do stretches and various other manipulations to their body before they plunge into their activities to reduce the stress on their body. Warm up should be something relatively simple. I generally start with single stroke to double strokes . I start out slow and increase tempo and then end slowly again. Various paradiddle routines ( one is Stick Control 1st page 5-8 accenting the diddles.) Other things like flam taps Ratamacues are usually in the mix.
  2. Frequency and time slot. There really isn’t anything better than a daily practice. This is especially true for the beginner to intermediate. Practicing every day is a huge mental reinforcement to make the movements of arms and muscles become a part of your subconscious, thus freeing ourselves to work on things at a higher level.   Length of time is always a question I get from students. The simple answer is: goal setting. Let’s say you want to achieve a certain rudiment smoothly at a higher tempo or a drumset item like a groove. Set the goal and work toward that. This will give you focus. Now as you progress the time will most probably increase as you will have more goals and items to work on. Generally, as a beginner an hour to two would be minimum. When you practice it is always good to take breaks. 2- 5 minutes to relax, take the stress of the body for a short period and free your brain; just long enough before you cool down and then have to warm up again. Advanced players; if you’re practicing for hours, take a longer break, yes you’ll probably have to do a slight warm up again, but it is worth it. When I was at Berklee, there were times I would practice for 5-6 hours. When I started getting frustrated at what I was working at I would take a good 20 minutes. When I came back the item I was having frustration with started to work.   Years ago I had an instructor that told me I would get the most out of my practice if I could do it relatively at the same time each day. This is so difficult in our busy lives.  I did have the opportunity to do this when I attended Western Michigan, as my schedule was pretty regular one particular semester, and I have to say it did seem to elevate the work I was doing faster.
  3. Record yourself.     This is especially important for the intermediate to advanced player. The recording doesn’t lie and you’ll be able to observe things about your playing you didn’t realize while you were busy playing. You step back and just listen and or watch and with today’s technology; there is no excuse. You’ll notice subtleties like consistency of stroke, dynamics and overall musicality. This is especially important if you have any aspirations to do studio work.

    4.       Practice with a mirror.    Practicing with a mirror is crucial. In you are doing technique on a pad or at a drumset, you’ll discover           movements, you don’t think you make in REAL time.  I have had students that have trouble with the Moeller movement that find this to be a great aid.    As of 2017 I have been using Zoom’s incredible Q2n. This mighty little unit has amazing video qualities as well as impeccable audio settings I use for analyzing performances of myself AND students.


              Latin Grooves and Contemporary Music

Many of my students are studying Latin or Afro Cuban rhythms, especially my “jazz” students, as these rhythms are frequently used. I am certainly not the master of these but I was extremely fortunate to able to study with the late-great Ed Uribe at Berklee. Ed actually grew up in Peru and was a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes he would give me a percussion ensemble playing with a band playing a certain style.  I would have to first try and figure out the various instruments and apply them to drum set. If I was incorrect, he would guide me along.    There will be a short video on instrument interpretations. I have posted videos here of some authentic Latin and Afro-cuban rhythms on drum set.  My purpose here is really for the student or player that wants to utilize these in contemporary American music such as various rock, pop and funk which will be performed on a more ‘contemporary’ sounding kit. I used the Lionel Richie’s ‘All night long,’ for the samba/ calypso, the Rascals ‘ Good lovin’  and Ray Charles ‘What I Say,’ for the modern Mambo and an old classic fusion tune ‘ Them changes,’ for a modern Baio which you can play to on the track below.


There are a few written parts but some I will just break down and then play together.



Son Clave

Son Clave

  The cascara. (Used on bell of cymbals on samaba’s ghosting the left on rests and ‘in between notes’)

**** Omitted that the bell of the cymbal is used as a cowbell or mambo bell if not available*******

Swing Ideas

Using The first full page of syncopation, first 4 lines ( Ex 1 pg.38). The 1st video is snare interpretation. Playing triplets in alternating hands as the ” ghost notes,” and the written notes as accents ( I used rim shots.)

With drumset; all 8th notes are voiced with snare and larger notes ( quarters, dotted quarters and tied 8ths) are voiced with Bass against  the standard jazz ride rhythm and 2 & 4 on H.H. foot. Final video is  improving with these ideas.

   Right foot workout and Funk.

editedand croped Chester 0012THE 16th groove 0012


Lately I have had students (of many levels) having issues with time. Here is a video and charts of exercises That has helped my students.  ALWAYS remember to use a Metronome AND at different tempos. Keep your foot tapping on the quarter note. ( I am Performing lines 1-6 and On the other #13-15 and adding triplets to 8ths.)

Table of time

chaffe mixed rythms 00122

WORKING WITH TRIPLETS (using a page from one of Gary Chaffee’s Books).


I’ll cover three types of charts I come across in both recording and live. I will also show you how I make what I call “cheat Charts,” as well.

The first type of chart ( and probably one of my favoured) is a well written chart that has room for much interpretation. Below is an example of such a chart……great drum chart 0012

So this chart is a blessing to see and here’s why. First of all it tells me that is a swing feel.  I so appreciate when the arranger or composer tells me right of the bat what the feel is. ( I have seen some charts where they went as far as to state..”In  Bohnam feel.” )  Time slashes for my interpretation on the comp, kicks above the bar line and not written for a specific drum or cymbal( I’ll speak to this further on). This chart even tells me to go to the snare on the bridge.


So how do we play those kick figures ?  This is my favourite thing.  This means that I get to put a “little me,” in the performance. I teach my students a pretty basic idea on figures.  Big notes, in the case of the chart above, the dotted 8th to the 16th would be a longer sound, such as a Bass drum/Crash for the dotted note and a short sound on the 16th, like the snare.  Below I have taken an excerpt from Steve Houghton’s book “Studio and Big Band chart reading.”  In these examples you’ll see that we could play the figures as stated OR we could “prep” the hits.  In example 39 there are two ways you could interpret these figures.  In a swing genre you could “prep” the figures with a light snare pop on the 8th note rests. Another way would be play a triplet(again your decision on what drums) on the fourth beat of the measure before, snare pop on the 8th note rest, another triplet on the 2nd beat of the next measure and another snare pop on the second 8th ote rest.prep stuff 0012

Here is another well written chart. Gives you the specific intro fill and then sets you up on the groove and then let’s play and watch for kicks.

nice chart 0012


It is basically a transcription.  No room for any personal input.  I was presented this at a session in 2013…almost thought I was gonna have a heart attack .

shit chart 0012


The third and last chart I run into is the “Nashville Numbers” Chart. These are chords in relation to the key the song is in. If the song is in C then C is 1, G is 5 and so on.  This type of chart takes knowledge in how to treat certain types of chords in relation to the sections of the songs.  As an example, if you are coming out of the chorus on a 5 chord, that would usually mean a fill back into the Verse.  5 Chords being a dominant chord and many times a 5-7 have a tension and leading tone and perfect to let the drums fill.


When I am called to do a gig that requires me to learn many tunes quickly I use these.  These are hand written charts I do that have many short cuts. If there is an intro drum part and/or a specific groove, I write that out. Then time slashes and “simile.” Then verse, chorus, bridges.  Here is an example of one of my cheat charts.


Finally, use the chart as a road map. First thing you want to do when presented with a chart is: any tricky grooves or kick figures. 1st and 2nd endings. Codas, D.S. al Codas. Always keep your eyes open and if there is a musical director…watch them !

                                              SOME OF MY STUDENTS PAST AND PRESENT

My student Blaine B. w/ his High School jazz band

Former  great student,  Berklee Alum. David Cola talking about a cruise ship gig…

Former student Dave Cola answers some great questions about his experience at Berklee….

Former student Justin at Berklee…just killin’ it !

<br /><a href=”http://www.ustream.tv&#8221; style=”font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px; font-weight: normal; text-align: left;” target=”_blank”>Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream</a>

Student Tim doing an awarding winning jazz drum solo…

Student, Erez, doing a cover tune  ALL BY HIMSELF !

12 year old student Nicholas, Performing a Mitchell Peter’s Etude in 6/8 with direct modulation to 2/4 at the end.


The great ED SOPH…..

Some great words of wisdom from Peter Erskine….

Steve Smith with amazing Flam and phrasing ideas…..

Educator and performer Daniel Glass on great ideas from history of the drumset….

Some great thoughts on music and drumming from Dave Weckl 2017



A former teacher from BERKLEE,   the Late ED URIBE on KAT electronics circa 1991…

Some great words about Rudiments from educator, Mike Johnston..

Some nice ideas about body movement and playing from KENNY ARONOFF..

Antonio Sanchez demonstrating an independence idea that is very similar to my ” Monster study.”


Fellow BERKLEE Alum, Jonathan Mover demonstrating Some Chaffee ideas

Henrique De Almeida, a newer instructor at Berklee has a great fresh approach on the Moller technique


GREAT brush ideas from PETER ERSKINE !

Some great flam ideas from Steve Smith


More Tutorials and student videos coming soon….