Greg Clark Jr On Cultivating Your Own Sound, Dennis Chambers & Tuning


Greg Clark Jr had played with everyone from Cody Simpson to Snarky Puppy to Leann Rimes. On this episode Greg discusses the art of cultivating your own sound and wisdom for being in the music industry. He shares his experiences from playing at the white house for Obama to being asked to sit behind Dennis Chambers kit mid gig.


Born and Raised in Washington DC, Greg started playing drums in church around 3 or 4 years old as a left handed drummer who was forced into learning to play right handed. Then an opportunity arose to switch over to setting up the kit left handed and he’s never looked back. “I love that drums are a never ending challenge” are words echoed by Greg in so many ways throughout this podcast.


While young in his career Greg was on his first big travel date in Aruba and had his eyes opened by the uniqueness of Mary J Blige drummer Rex Hardy Jr’s playing. This furthered Greg’s desire to begin cultivating his own sound and sharing how others could do the same.


How to go about Cultivating Your Own Sound:

– find musicians older or more experienced than you
– taught greg respect and how to listen to other musicians
– our main job is to keep the time, while paying attention to others
– find your favourite musicians, then discover their influences
– Don’t listen to the same 3 or 4 drummers
– avoid only watching drummers on YouTube
– Listen to pianists, bassists and vocalists
– Go to clubs and sit in on open mic’s
– Soak in different environments
– “Everybody hears that certain musician, or record, and it turns the light-switch on for them”
– You never know when ‘this record will be the record that changed my life.’
– patiently take time to figure out the things you’re trying to hear on the drums
– Finding your own sound is about looking past what’s just on YouTube


Episode highlights from Greg Clark Jr:

“Listening to busta Rhymes’s rhythm helped shape the way I play”
“With experience comes experience, not necessarily age.”
“Sooner or later you hear that one record and think… I understand now.”
“A lot of musicians feel like they’re ready for something… but they’re not ready.”
“You can either do two things – you can be upset about it, or you can pull out your pen and pad and start taking notes.”
“Dennis (Chambers) has been in the game a really long time, but he’s still aware of everything that is current.”
“Dennis Chambers will tell you he’s not going to come to your show and not to put him on the guest list, just so he can buy a ticket to your show and come support… That’s the type of person he is.”
“Will Kennedy is another guy I’ve watched forever. Will has some of the, consistently, best sounding drums in the business. He can make an odd time sound like a super easy, even time groove.”

“It turned out, I was fortunate enough for things to happen. I’m blessed, I must say.”

“When you can accurately hit a drum, or tune a drum, it gives the engineer less work to do. They respect you more because they know they can call you and you’ll sound solid, providing great tone. You save them time and money and they’ll keep you in their favourite 5”


People Mentioned:

–Dennis Chambers
– Vinnie Colaiuta
– Carlos Vega
– Louie Bellson
– Steve Gadd
– Jay Williams
– Aaron Spears
– Steve Johnson
– Jamal Moore
– Greg Granger
– Calvin Rogers
– Brian Frasier Moore
– Robert Sput Searight II
– Gergo Borlai
– Justin Brown
– chris colemans
– Thomas Pridgen
– Ronald Brunner Jr
– Chris Leech – Piano Player who does Tracks
– Dave Weckl
– Chick Corea Elektric Band
– Carlos Vega
– Corey Henry
– Leann Rimes
– Mary J Blige
– Rex Hardy Jr


Greg Clark Jr also shares:

– Stories on Calvin Rogers and Robert Sput Searight
– How he was asked to fill in for Snarky Puppy
– How Dennis Chambers took Greg under his wing
– How Will Kennedy also took Greg under his wing


Drummers Dennis Chambers mentioned:

– Gergo Borlai
– Justin Brown
– Chris Coleman
– Thomas Pridgen
– Ronald Bruner Jr


Greg Clark Jr on Mom:

About 3 years ago I realized just how good she was, transcribing a challenging piece she was site reading on the fly.
She’s one of my biggest influences.


Greg Clark Jr on drum tuning:

– Calvin Rogers, Dave Weckl and Will Kennedy’s drum tuning
– drum tuning is an unusual thing because of the variables
– they take a lot of time tuning their drums
– there’s a different spectrum of drum sounds
– Use dampening for specific reasons, but start with open sounding drums
– There’s a place, and a balance to figure out, for all tunings
– What does the venue acoustically call for?
– Taking the drum heads completely off and starting from scratch
– measuring up your drum sounds to records
– ask people for help “my tuning sucks, can you help me?”
– Everybody who’s tuning I enjoy, I’ve sat down and asked them to help me, or snuck in to watch them tune
– Every drum is different, the trick is figuring out how to get your sound out of the drum
– No matter what happens, people should be saying those drums sounded good because you got your point across and sounded like yourself. That’s the key.

– Stand on your kick drum head to stretch the head out
– When you put the heads on the rack tom, tune everything super tight to play it in.
– Floor toms, semi tighter on the bottom than the top head.
– Understand how to play on a bebop drum set and get your sound out of it just the same.
– Snare drum, clockwise tuning always. Super tight bottom head. Coated 2 ply batter.
– Clear heads, single ply on bottom, two ply on tops of toms


Pearl Drums


Vater Sticks


Sabian Cymbals


Evans Drumheads


What are you listening to while playing with a band?

It all depends on who I’m playing with, what artist is singing, who’s in the band. Some people have bad time and you have to be aware of that. For the most part I’m listening to the bass so the music is locked and doesn’t fall apart.

No matter what happens, if anything goes wrong on the foundation, the drummer gets the blame. It’s mainly the bass player I’m listening to, but I’ll ask for a mix of a little of everyone in my monitor.


What’s one of the best ways to improve feel and time:

Sense of time is easy: I got a metronome or MPC track and turn the track super low in volume and practice playing to it.
You have to train your ear and body to hear the pulse and feel the click.
When you get comfortable with what you’re playing to, turn it down really really low and try to chop over it.
It’s an easy answer, but not an easy process.
Everyone in the band will be looking to you for comfort (with timing) and if you’re not comfortable they won’t be either.
If you’re not comfortable playing off time, simply set up a click to practice to.
The click ain’t gonna lie, the click will keep you honest.


What drummers / artists do you recommend listening to for Feel?

Listen to records and feel. Steve Gadd is the king of feel.
Dennis chambers, Will Kennedy, Gary Novak, Carlos Vega with James Taylor… Listen to all these guys.
You can’t teach feel behind the drum-set, you really have to figure that out on your own.

“Make the music feel good, and the people on the dance floor dance.”


“Feel is not a black thing, feel is a human thing. One of my favourite drummers on a couple of Miles Davis’ wife record Betty Davis is Greg Errico, a white drummer/ When you hear him play (Greg Errico) you will think this is a 50 year old black dude who knows how to make soul food.”
“Yogi Horton on I’m coming out, that stuff feels great.”

– Carlos Vega
– Steve Gadd
– Dennis Chambers
– Will Kennedy
– Gary Novak
– Any motown records
– James Brown

Greg on Antonio Sanchez, “I don’t think drummers understand how big a deal it is that a drummer was asked to score the movie Bird Man.”

“Feel is not a thing you figure out in 6 months… it is everything you build on and evolve from. You have to stay current and relevant to what feels good and how people dance.”


Parting Advice:

“We LEARN so that we can TEACH.”
“Keep practicing, keep staying current, past to present.”
“Go out and support artists play because they will be the ones coming to see you play
“If Jeff Tain Watts is in town, I’m going to go catch the gig.”
“Billy Cobham’s Spectrum band… Billy was killing it at 70 years old. There’s nothing like seeing people play in person.”
“Stay current, go see people play, buy records, practice tuning, being very aware, work on feel pulse.”
“Go see Corey Henry playing an organ show.”
“Hear a show not driven by the drums but the artist”
“Go watch Chick Corea Elektric Band play.”
“Weather report, stanley clark… they shifted music to what it is today.”
“If you want to grow, don’t be afraid to ask drummers to help.”

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