Music TED Talks

How I fell in love with the drums

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By Clayton Cameron

As a 5-year-old kid, I barely knew what the word rhythm meant. At least no one told me what banging on inanimate objects and creating my own little beats might be called. It was like rhythm chose me and I really had no say in the matter. My favorite elementary school pastime was tabletop drum battles with my friends. I’d play on the table using every part of my hand to get a sound: the base of my palm for low sounds, the middle of my hand for a higher-pitched sounds and then my fingers for fast rolls and pop sounds.

At home, inanimate objects seemed to come alive with the rhythmic time. Oatmeal boxes were my favorite. My parents always thought I just loved oatmeal for breakfast—but I knew that the sooner I emptied the box, the sooner I’d have a cardboard drum.

In regards to a real instrument, I really did not know what I was missing until I was given a pair of bongos as a gift at 6 years old. Wow, it was like a whole new world opened up. I was now playing on the soft animal skin that draped the frame of this wonderful percussion instrument. The sounds resonated like echoes in a canyon and I was on a wonderful journey of rhythm and sound.

Several years later, while walking back to my house from a friendly neighborhood game of padless tackle football, I noticed that there were a bunch of things strewn about on my neighbor’s lawn. As I got closer I realized that those things were six different drums—metal poles, pedals and large metal disks, which I later learned were cymbals—all lying on the lawn waiting to be loaded in for what I now know was a band rehearsal. I asked myself, “How does that guy know how to put those things together. How do you actually play all those drums? I was mesmerized. It seemed impossible.

Unbeknownst to me, my mom and dad would give my first drum set at age 11 and my first drum lesson at age 12. I have been in love with rhythm and the drum set ever since then.

Clayton Cameron is a drummer who is perhaps best known for his brush technique. He got his first big break as the drummer for Sammy Davis Jr.’s big band. He then began a longtime collaboration with Tony Bennett, recording 15 albums with him and touring with him for the same number of years. In 2012, Cameron released his debut album, Here’s to the Messengers: Tribute to Art Blakey.