Tag Archives: percussion

DK Multi

Combo Drum Key

GrooveTech’s new DK Multi is a four-in-one drum key multi-tool designed to combine style with functionality. The centerpiece is a drum key socket optimized for proper fit on the tension rod nut for minimal free play. What separates the DK Multi from other drum keys is the addition of three hex wrenches—2mm, 2.5mm, and 3mm—for adjustment of pedals and other hardware.


Modern Drummer Legends: Alex Van Halen

This installment in the Modern Drummer Legends series about drummer Alex Van Halen of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), includes Van Halen’s three Modern Drummer cover stories, transcriptions of classic Van Halen tracks, beats, and fills, a deep dive into his unique snare sound, and a 2020 interview.

Modern Drummer Legends: Alex Van Halen, Modern Drummer Publications, www.moderndrummer.com.

Meinl Percussion Cantina Line Cajon

Punchy Tone Cajon

Adjustable strings and an extra thick wooden sound port ring for bass compression gives the Meinl Percussion Cantina Line cajon a wide dynamic range of highs and lows. Two sets of six micro-coiled metal cajon strings give a snapping snare effect and are adjustable. The Baltic birch resonating body develops the sound into a full, punchy tone that projects with clarity and warmth.


Freelance Percussionist Chihiro Shibayama Says Community is Key to Success

As an Asian woman, freelance percussionist Chihiro Shibayama of Local 802 (New York City) feels a certain sense of responsibility working in a male-dominated field. “I am definitely aware of my status,” says Shibayama, citing a recent statistic of how few female drummers hold Broadway chairs in theater pits.

“To be fair,” she adds, “that’s proportional. There were very few female percussionists when I was in school.” Shibayama believes young female musicians need to see “cool” female role models achieving success on predominantly male instruments. “I often get called to do interviews or provide content for that reason,” she says. Recent features include Local 802’s Allegro for women’s month in March 2020, where Shibayama was one of eight profiled female percussionists who work on Broadway.

It was a long and interesting road up to that point. When Shibayama, a native of Yokohama, Japan, first arrived in the US in 2001 to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy, she was 16 and didn’t speak a word of English. “My mother randomly found Interlochen because she had fallen in love with the Eastman Wind Ensemble when they toured Japan. She connected the dots and figured that if I went to Interlochen, I could find my way to Eastman and play in the wind ensemble.”

Interlochen presented multiple challenges, and not just culturally. “I had never played in an orchestra and didn’t even know how to hold cymbals in an orchestral setting,” she recalls. “Also, I had no idea what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was. And I was suspicious of Jell-O.”

Shibayama says her survival came through the assistance of others. “I made friends, and they took care of me. My written English was useful thanks to Japanese English education. So I learned visually.” After graduating from Interlochen with a performance award in 2003, she earned both her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees—ultimately not from Eastman, but from The Juilliard School in 2007 and 2009. From there, Shibayama has built a multifaceted career ranging from Broadway pit work to orchestral percussion, with a big focus on contemporary music—and even an appearance as an extra on TV’s Mozart in the Jungle. She also maintains a busy side hustle as a freelance music librarian, which she began back in her Juilliard days. She is currently a librarian for Alarm Will Sound, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and The New York Pops.

The type of personality required to hop on a plane at 16 and travel by yourself to a strange country has served Shibayama well in her career—but she is quick to stress that she has not done it all on her own. “I always got help from someone,” she says. “Every gig, every great opportunity, came about because someone gave me a chance. It made it possible to keep going as a freelancer.” Now, she says, and especially in a pandemic, it’s important to pay that help forward. “The sense of community is so important.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New York’s theaters, Shibayama was subbing on West Side Story. “At first I struggled with no music,” she says. “I felt my self-worth was gone. Freelancers are always involved in chasing the next cool thing to do. But then I realized that just because there was no music, didn’t mean I wasn’t still a musician.” Shibayama got her first-ever day job, in customer service using her bilingual skills. “It was great experience, not least because I could pay my bills.” Of equal importance, the security afforded her more mind space to create. “I made some YouTube videos, teaching and playing, and collaborations with friends. I also taught myself how to record and edit videos using professional software like Adobe Premiere Pro.”

That job ended in November of last year, and Shibayama is still looking for another. But with extra time on her hands, she has kept on creating. “My biggest project is a weekly newsletter/blog called Positive Percussionist. It actually feeds into a larger process, since I had been wanting to transition more of my work online. Even in the best of times, just waiting for the next gig is not a reliable way to improve your situation or income.” The focus on her online presence has heightened the importance of teaching, another community-building activity. “Teaching also makes me a better player,” she adds.

Again, it all comes back to the importance of community, which is the underlying drive in Shibayama’s belief in a strong union presence. She joined the AFM in 2010 with her first big union gig, playing for the Radio City Music Spectacular. “After graduation from Juilliard in 2009, I had a tough year trying to sort out visas, a constant problem until you get a green card.” She had been collecting programs to build a case, while trying to save up money for immigration lawyers. “The Radio City gig allowed me to earn a real salary, and my working conditions were protected.”

This first union experience led to deeper involvement when Shibayama took part in actual unionizing activity with DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York), a commercial organization that solicits choirs from around the country to perform in Carnegie Hall. “They hired high-level freelancers and put together an orchestra. I was one of the core members who put together their first union contract.” Through this, Shibayama says she learned that the union wasn’t just the people in the Local 802 office on 48th Street.

“The union is us, the musicians. When we want to change something, we have to do it, and the local will help us. And younger musicians need to know that when they join, they’re supporting the whole musical community.”


Chihiro Shibayama endorses Pearl / Adams Percussion

Percussion Equipment:

  • Pearl / Philharmonic Snare Drums (6-Ply Maple 14″ x 5″, 13″ x 4″, Pancake 13″ x 2.5″)
  • Freer Percussion / Assortment of snare drumsticks
  • Dragonfly Percussion / Assortment of gong beaters and fiberglass glockenspiel mallets
  • JG Percussion / Joseph Pereira Signature Series timpani mallets


  • Pearl / EM 1 malletSTATION
  • Audio-Technica / AT4040 Large-Diaphragm Studio Condenser Mic
  • TASCAM / US-16×08 USB Audio Interface


  • Sibelius
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Logic Pro
  • Ableton Live

Luis Conte

The Value of Networking and Niceness in the Music Game

As a child growing up in Santiago de Cuba, Luis Conte was surrounded by music. The radio was always on in his house, and someone was always playing guitar, piano, percussion, or singing. There was music everywhere, and it seeped into his pores, into his brain through osmosis, he says. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, while the music never stopped, it certainly caused many things to change, including the entire direction of young Luis’s life.

For one, Communist rule banned a lot of Western music. “We had to hide to listen to [rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and jazz],” Conte says. “My dad had this German-made shortwave radio, and he would help us find the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other stations. My friends would come to my house and we would go into this little room where you could play the radio and nobody would hear, and we would listen to the Beatles.” He and his friends found one show, broadcast in Spanish, that would play all the current hits, “so I heard the Stones, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys, you know, everybody, and I just loved that stuff.”

The Communist revolution had another effect on Conte’s life: One month before he turned 15, his parents sent him away from his family and his home country to avoid the mandatory military draft that started at age 15, to find freedom in another land. He went first to Spain, where he stayed with Jesuit priests for four months, then to Hollywood, California, where he moved in with his father’s third cousin—a man he had never met—who acted as his guardian.

In American high school, Conte says he “got the bug” and realized how much he loved music. He played guitar in a high school garage band, and of course he played drums— “because it’s just what you did in Cuba”—but he had not decided to pursue music as a career. He went to Los Angeles City College, taking the basic classes, and after a few music classes he decided he wanted to be a professional player.

The Turning Point

“Here’s the strange thing: I’m going to a night class one night and suddenly I hear conga drums. This is the first time I had actually heard a live conga drum since I was in Cuba, because percussion was not really a big thing in the US back in the 60s and early 70s,” Conte says. “The African-American Student Union was throwing an event, and I just heard the congas and I forgot about my class. When [the musicians] took a break, I went up to the conga player and said, ‘Hey man, where did you buy these drums?’ He told me, and then I asked him if I could play his. And let me tell you something, that was the moment when I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got to buy one of these drums; I’ve got to get into this!’ That was the turning point.”

Conte bought himself some conga drums, started going to clubs, meeting people, networking, sitting in on sets and playing wherever he could—weddings, parties, clubs. He was evolving his musical style, which integrates the powerful rhythms of his native Cuba with the American necessities of American pop music. As a hand percussionist, Conte plays a myriad of instruments: conga, bongo, timbale, maraca, clave, guiro, bombo leguero, shakers, tabla drum, pandeiro, and more. “Being a percussionist is like being a geographer,” he says. “These instruments come from all over the world—Africa, Brazil, Colombia, the Middle East. I try to cover it all.”

Conte’s first break, when he really got his name out onto the scene, was the day he joined Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) in 1974. “I figured, there’s a musicians’ union, and if I go there, I may find a gig,” he says. “Well, guess what? I’ll never forget this: I run into this guy I played with at the clubs; I didn’t know he was a union guy. I said, ‘Hey Johnny, how are you?’ He said, ‘There was a couple people here looking for somebody to play percussion.’” They had left their number and Conte immediately went to a pay phone and called.

“Being a percussionist is like being a geographer. These instruments come from all over the world—Africa, Brazil, Colombia, the Middle East. I try to cover it all.”

The people were the band The Hues Corporation, who had just recorded a new song called, “Rock the Boat,” and they were doing auditions for a percussionist. Conte got a ride from a friend to the house where auditions were being held, and he got the gig. It turned out to be a gig for the band’s RCA Records promotional tour throughout the northeastern US. “Little did I know that they had just recorded the record and it was going to be a hit,” he says.

Conte spent a year on the road with The Hues Corporation, playing great venues with star musical acts, doing television shows like Soul Train, and constantly meeting new people, networking with musicians. When the tour took the band to Europe, Conte could not go because he was in the US on a Cuban passport and could not get a visa, so he went home to LA. After that tour, Conte spend a lot of his time hanging out at Local 47 headquarters. Back in the early 70s, Local 47 had three or four rehearsal rooms and members had to visit the local in person to pick up their checks. “I remember seeing Don Ellis and his orchestra rehearsing there a bunch of times,” Conte says. “I met Chino Valdes and got advice from him. I remember meeting Luis Miranda. So, if you wanted to see Victor Feldman, you just go to the union and maybe meet him. I thought it was a cool place to be.”

The Value of Networking

Conte also was constantly performing at local clubs and continuing what he felt was an extremely important pursuit of networking. “Networking is not just calling people; it means to be a nice guy, to get along with people, talk to people, meet people, and always be nice,” he says. “That’s advice I got from my dad. My dad always used to say the important thing in life is to be a nice guy and be pleasant with people, and that was one of the best things he could have ever said to me.”

Through Conte’s use of networking, playing in LA clubs got him an audition with The Supremes, which earned him work playing for Diana Ross when she performed solo. By 1987, Conte was constantly employed, but after a chance social meeting at a Christmas party, his career went to a new level after being invited to audition for Madonna and getting the gig playing on her Who’s That Girl World Tour. “God only knows, you know? I went to a Christmas party, and that guy calls so-and-so, and he says you should call this guy, and that’s how it works,” Conte says.

In addition to playing with Madonna, Conte has worked with major artists including James Taylor (Local 802, New York City), Dave Matthews (Local 123, Richmond, VA), Kenny Loggins (Local 47), Eric Clapton, and Elton John, among countless others. His long and varied career has also included studio work performing on multiple Hollywood film scores and successful albums of other artists, as well as being a bandleader and producing his own solo work. Among his numerous accolades, Conte has won one Grammy and been nominated for three others; he has been named Percussionist of the Year six times in Drum Magazine and four times in the Modern Drummer Reader’s Poll; and in 2018 he was named Cultural Ambassador of Instituto Latino de la Música (ILM).

Some of his most memorable professional moments, however, have been on the stage. Conte says playing live in front of stadium crowds of 200,000 people (as he did with Madonna) or 300,000 people (as he did with James Taylor) is an unreal experience. Playing with amazing artists is another highlight of his career, he says. He remembers moments when he played with the Cuban jazz band Irakere.

“These are major players who came to the US to play 15-20 years ago, during the Cuban embargo. They were doing a clinic at UCLA, but their percussionist couldn’t get a visa. I got a call and was asked, ‘Do you want to play with them?’” Conte recalls. “Now I’ve listened to this band and literally know every song, every record, every note that’s been recorded. So, when I went there … I got there 10 minutes before they’re supposed to play [because a recording gig went long]; I missed soundcheck. They’re all standing there ready to get on stage and I walk in and I was like a groupie. I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m here playing with you guys; I know all your music.’ And they’re just looking at me like: ‘Wow. Okay. Let’s play.’” After the first song ended, the bandleader Chucho Valdés turns around and says to Conte, “Hey man, everything you were telling us is true, you really do know our music!” “Those are the moments that are really
meaningful to me musically,” Conte says.

Going Through the Union

Conte does not have a manager, and has never had one, saying he has never found a need to pay someone 15% when he made his career successful on his own. Of course, there are dangers in the musical world, such as not letting yourself be taken advantage of by managers or in contracts. In addition to the community and solidarity aspect of being an AFM member, Conte says his 46 years as a member of Local 47 have especially benefitted from the union’s help in getting health insurance and in receiving residuals and special payments for his recording work.

“In the recording situation, that’s the deal. There’s a lot of young players who have asked me, ‘Why do you have to do it union?’ Sometimes you get calls from somebody who’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this; do you want to go through the union or can we just pay straight?’ I always say, ‘No, we’re going through the union,’” Conte says. “I just got a residual check from a song I recorded with Yolanda Adams probably more than 10 years ago. I don’t even remember what the song was—and that’s why you do union work. That’s when they come through for you; some of these guys don’t get this. The union is a body that protects us in this business of music.”

Since COVID hit, Conte has been doing what most musicians have: practicing his craft and working in his home studio. When not playing music—and moreso lately due to the pandemic—Conte is an avid chess player. “One thing I love about chess is that it’s a true gentleman’s game,” he says. “There’s no cheating; there’s a respect and a politeness to it that is awesome. And then on top of that there’s just so much information. There are so many ways you can move, so many complications to different openings and things. Once you get into it, and understand what it is, it’s just fantastic, and you can spend hours.”

Basically, Conte says, there is not much happening in the musical world now. “Just stay healthy and exercise, study, work on your craft and don’t give up playing,” he says. “Keep your eyes on the prize; keep the faith; that’s where we’re at right now.”


Luis Conte endorses:

  • Meinl Percussion (Conte also has his own signature series of instruments)
  • Zildjian cymbals and sticks
  • Remo drumheads
  • Gibraltar hardware

A New Approach to Odd-Times for Drum Set

In this book and accompanying audio, drummer Steve Lyman gives an in-depth look at the construction and application of modern time signatures. Breaking down metric units from 5/8 through 17/16, the material provides clear methods of understanding these meters in ways that are fun, creative, and insightful.

A New Approach to Odd-Times for Drum Set, by Steve Lyman, Mel Bay Publications, www.melbay.com.

Pedal Crush

This book is a 376-page trip into the expansive, eclectic, and mesmerizing world of effects pedals. Whether you are a guitarist or another kind of sonic alchemist, this book is sure to delight with its vibrant photos, descriptions, and illustrations. Covering over 800 pedals from dozens of manufacturers and with over 50 exclusive interviews, Pedal Crush also delves into pedal techniques, tips and tricks, pedalboards, software, and more.

Pedal Crush, by Kim Bjorn and Scott Harper, BJooks, www.bjooks.com.

stick bag

QUIVR Tour Dekade Edition Drumstick Bag

The QUIVR Tour Dekade Edition drumstick bag by GruvGear has all the design features of the original version plus a new, detachable drumstick sleeve allowing drummers to hang up to seven pairs on their floor tom and an additional large flat inside pocket which can be used to store up to 14 more sticks. Features cargo pockets for storing drumming accessories, thick and padded adjustable backpack straps, updated locking strap hooks, and Gruv Gear’s Global Recovery Tag.