I am Drums
by Mike Grosso
Publication: September 6th 2016
by Clarion Books
Category: Middle Grade
Genre: Contemporary, Music
Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people.
But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?
What was the first instrument you learned to play? Can you explain the learning process for those who haven’t read your bio?
The first instrument I learned was piano. My mom pushed me to do it, telling me this nonsense about how it translates into every other instrument. The crazy part was she was totally right, so I learned how to curl my fingers, play with my fingertips, and use the pedals. I am not and have never been a good piano player, but I have an undying respect for every one of those eighty-eight keys. Piano taught me limb independence and would train my right foot to be an ideal kick pedal.
That’s really how the learning process for any instrument goes. Be patient when you’re a beginner, and take the time to learn to play great instead of just good enough. The boring stuff becomes cool when you finally understand how it all connects. In I AM DRUMS, Sam’s teacher runs her ragged over her grip and the movement of her wrists, and that’s pretty accurate to my experience learning to play drums correctly.
Did you come up with other story ideas that didn’t reach the finish line before I Am Drums, or was this your first story idea?
Oh yes, but most of them should not see the light of day. I have a fantasy novel with a nonsensical magic system and a contemporary YA that came really close to representation but in hindsight needed some more TLC. There are a few others, but I barely make it two chapters through any of them, so no one else should suffer through them either.
Have you, or do you plan to in the future, teach your son to play an instrument?
I would really love to. He loves music, and I let him explore the instruments I have in the house. He’s a four year old with autism spectrum disorder, so he loves exploring tactile things, strumming strings, and creating particular percussive noises. I try to follow his lead — I don’t force him to try anything, but I help him explore when he makes a connection.
I’m happy to say that he seems to love “Songs for Samantha”, my original soundtrack to I AM DRUMS! He listens intently when I put it on!
Why do you keep a guitar in your fourth-grade classroom?
Because the kids love it! They leave my classroom at the end of the year remembering how I embarrassed them by singing “Happy Birthday” more than they remember that stellar math lesson on area and perimeter.
I also play and sing songs for classroom celebrations, and once this year I incorporated it into a particularly bizarre, yet effective Hour of Code lesson.
What is your favorite song to play on each instrument you play?
It would be easy to name songs I’ve written, but that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?
For acoustic guitar, that would probably be “Blackbird” by the Beatles. I learned it by ear when I was a teenager and played it obsessively. For electric, it would be a variety of Alice in Chains songs. I was in an obsessive AIC phase when first learning to play.
For bass, when I want to groove, I play “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright. Otherwise it’s “My Name is Mud” by Primus. I love bass lines that sounds like broken, farting automobiles.
For drums, I don’t really play songs unless I’m jamming with a group, and in those instances drummers rarely pick the song so much as keep the ones who do pick from screwing up the tempo. I do tend to play paradiddles when I first jump on a kit, though.
What other stories can your readers expect from you in the future?
Definitely more contemporary stories about realistic characters. I love the way kids talk to each other, and dialogue bursts out of me when I have a good sense of the characters in my head.
This is probably related to how much easier it is for me to talk to my students than to adults. Adults are the weird ones, after all.
Can you provide a small excerpt from your favorite part of I Am Drums?
Pete pulls another pair of drumsticks out of his gigantic bag and hands them to me. “It’s your turn.”
I stare at the drums in front of me and say, “What do you want me to play?”
“Anything. I just need to see what you can and can’t do.”
I try to think of something that will knock his socks off, but every beat I imagine feels cheap and childish. My limbs lock up. My shoulders clench. I’m freezing up.
“Anytime now,” Pete says.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Taylor,” I say.
He makes a gagging sound. “Mr. Taylor makes me sick. My name is Pete.”
“Sorry, Pete,” I say. “I’m just nervous.”
I take a deep breath, feel the air entering my lungs and calming my body. Then I exhale, imagining a gray mist coming out of my mouth and nose. Then I play something. It’s a sad attempt at a funky beat with the toms and snare, and I don’t even work in the hi-hat.
After about fifteen seconds of me looking like an idiot, he says, “Okay, I know where we need to start.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I know I’m terrible.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Pete says. “You’re undisciplined, not terrible. And for the record, being terrible at drums doesn’t require an apology unless you’re in the middle of a gig.” He points at the sticks in my hands and says, “Forget all about the other drums for now. Just focus on the snare.”
“I’ve played the snare a million times in the school band,” I say.
“No, you’ve played it wrong a million times in the school band. Now you’re going to play it right, and you’re going to keep playing it right, no matter how many times your band teacher or your inept band friends try to tell you you’re playing it wrong. Is that all right with you?”
I’m about to answer when I realize he was being sarcastic.
“Play me a single stroke roll,” he says.
I take a deep breath, just like he suggested, and my arms finally loosen. I start playing. Right left right left right left right left. He lets me play for about twenty seconds, and then he says, “Stop!”
I stop playing and look at him.
“Who are you angry at?” he asks.
“Nobody,” I say, annoyed.
“That’s a bunch of crap. You’re mad at someone.”
I’m mad at you right now, I think to myself.
He gestures to my hands. “You’re holding that stick in a death grip, like you’re wringing a chicken’s neck. You’re playing the drums like a homicidal maniac. Are you trying to kill your drumsticks?”
I shake my head.
“Then loosen it up.”
I loosen my grip, and the rest of my body follows. He tells me not to slouch, that relaxing isn’t the same as transforming into a hunchback, and then starts talking about my grip again.
“Hold it between your thumb and the first knuckle of your index finger.”
“You’re holding the stick too tight.”
“Don’t let the stick slip into your second knuckle.”
“Don’t squeeze with the other fingers. Just the thumb and index finger.”
“Don’t let the other fingers hang off either. You’re not a flamingo trying to fly away.”
“You’re holding the stick in your second knuckle again.”
“Don’t clench your arms and shoulders. The only thing that should be moving is your wrists.”
“It’s slipping into your second knuckle again!”
And when I still don’t relax, he says, “Pretend the cutest boy in school just threw a Skittle at your head.”
My eyes bug out, and I say, “That wouldn’t make me relax. That would make me want to punch him in the face.”
“So punch him in the face if that helps. Then you can relax, knowing he got exactly what he deserved.”
We both laugh.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Mike. It’s been a blast having you on the blog. I’ve really enjoyed the glimpse into your world. I’m quite envious of your students. I don’t recall having a teacher half as cool as you when I was growing up. Your son is a very blessed little man as well. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing the excerpt, too. I love MG and couldn’t wait to read I am Drums when I first learned of the book, but now it’s going to be really difficult to wait until September. I hope to have you on My Book Addiction again.
~About the Author~
Mike Grosso writes, teaches, parents, and plays a variety of instruments at all hours of the day for all reasons imaginable in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son. He loves coffee, teaching, writing, reading, and making lots of noise with whatever objects he can find nearby. His debut middle grade novel, I AM DRUMS, will be released by Clarion Books/HMH on September 6, 2016. Until then, you can follow his journey to publication at mikegrossoauthor.com or by following him on Twitter (@mgrossoauthor).
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