On Friday afternoon, I had my first three hour lesson with Zendrum Meistro and Tribal Wizard, John Emrich. I am fortunate to live only 1.5 hours from John; so, once we found a free date on his calendar, it was easy and inexpensive for me to get there.
Where do I begin?
First, John has an extensive studio in his townhouse basement with tons of gear including multiple sounds modules, computers/monitors, mixing consoles, receptors ("Freddy's") that he is loading/testing, a full e-drum kit, three Zendrums (a new Zebrawood laptop arrived while I was there!), MalletKat, acoustic vibraphone, ceiling tall shelves packed with acoustic drums (incl 32" bass -- for sale), several guitars (5-string and Bass), stage speakers/subs, reference monitors, and dozens of world percussion instruments piled everywhere (djembe, congas, you name it). John prides himself on being a complete and versatile percussionist and the collection of instruments that he can play at a professional level is remarkable. He played a bit on the Tar (sp?) and his skill was incredible!
After getting the quick tour of John's studio and learning about his various projects, including preparations for the upcoming NAMM show, we got down to strapping on our laptop ZD's. I brought my TD-20 brain and a couple of foot pedals (FD-6 and KD-7). John provided the sound system.
John asked me to play a bit and, almost immediately, he recommended that we start from scratch. No offense taken by me, but I was in for an awakening! The first thing he observed is that my ZD was positioned quite high on my chest. As a result, I was making awkward wrist motions that looked, if not felt, uncomfortable. Loosening the strap and lowering the ZD about 6 inches has made it much easier to navigate.
Next, he suggested that we remap my ZD to his layout so that he could demonstrate his playing concepts and show me, on my instrument, how to accomplish them. John illustrated several critical basic movements very slowly and thoroughly. This is where we spent the remainder of our time together. These positions and motions were/are challenging for me to accomplish since my finger muscles/tendons are not used to those constructs. As with anything else, it will take some long practice sessions to gain proficiency.
John's approach to the ZD is quite different than anything I had conceived in my first month of experimentation. As I quickly learned, it isn't just a simple matter of having his trigger mapping. John employs various hand/finger techniques that he has learned, over 30 years, and applied them specifically to the Zendrum. The map and the techniques compliment each other. If I had John's layout without the movements, it would have been practically useless. He explained to me that he doesn't publish his trigger map for that very reason.
I decided to wait a full day after my lesson, before posting here, to see how I felt about it after settling in with the concepts. I spent all of Friday evening and Saturday working out John's teachings on my ZD. To say that it is like starting over, completely, is no exaggeration. I couldn't execute the simplest beats or patterns when I got home from my lesson. I have returned back to material I was performing reasonably well and flipped back to page one, exercise one. Even though I am having to relearn how to play this instrument from scratch, I have concluded that John's approach is SOLID and will make for a much cleaner, more efficient, and versatile playing style than what I had been doing without guidance.
If I had to pick one key principle it would be: Conservation of Motion. Watching John play the ZD, it is almost effortless. I now see that his efficacy and efficiency derive, in large part, from the hand/wrist/finger techniques married with a complimentary trigger mapping. His "system" allows the player to catch 3, even 4 triggers, with just the right hand. Although John uses his feet when he plays, he can execute pretty much anything on the ZD with just his hands. We spent very little time on the foot pedals, mainly just to show how adding two additional limbs can spice things up a notch.
I am glad that I only had my ZD for a month or so before visiting with John. Had I been playing one way, however inefficient it might have been, for too long, I might have been unwilling to learn new techniques. After a day and a half of minor torture, I am starting to see progress. I'll continue again the rest of today. Having been through a learning curve once already, I know that I will achieve success with this system.
For any new Zendrummers out there, if you have an opportunity to spend a few hours with John, it's definitely worth it.