I spent most of my early teenage years sequestered in my parents’ garage, banging on the drums. My round-the-clock thumping annoyed the absolute hell out of my mom, who was trying to work from home, but I sure loved playing.
I actually sold my drums years ago. I still play guitar, and sporadically get behind a set of studio drums if an old band member wants to play. I play a show or record something maybe once or twice a year, and I have practice pads collecting dust in my closet — but I almost never play them.
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Please Welcome the Godmother of Drumming
The world was introduced to 56-year-old Dorothea Taylor — now known as the “Godmother of Drumming” — back in February, when Drumeo released a video of her covering the contentious song “Down With the Sickness.” The clip instantly went viral, in part because the song is meme-worthy on its own, but mostly because older female drummers are almost unheard of in the hypermasculine space of rock music.
The video highlights just how unique Taylor is as a drummer. It begins with a short sketch, where other musicians assume she plays “quieter” instruments — like the violin or church organ — and refuse to take her drumming seriously. Then, after absolutely shredding on “Down With the Sickness,” Taylor wisely says, “I’ve been drumming my whole life, and every one of these experiences have happened to me throughout my life. Drummers come in all ages, sizes, shapes, ethnicities — and regardless of how good you are, how old you are, we’re all still part of a drumming family. So remember, don’t judge a drummer, or anybody, by their looks, and always, always, always keep sharing your drumming passion to the world.”
I immediately knew that I wanted Taylor as my drum teacher after watching her video, so I quickly booked a FaceTime lesson and dusted off my drum pads.
From Young Drummer to Viral Sensation
Long before “Down With the Sickness” even existed, Taylor began her drumming career as part of the drum and bugle corps in eighth grade. She spent the next few decades sporadically playing in bands and working in music shops. “Different years, I’d get in a band, and we’d play five nights a week,” she says. “I started working in some local music stores, and one of my customers was a drumline person. He always used to come into the store and show me the latest rudiments.”
However, there were times when Taylor stopped playing altogether. “By the time I had my third child, I really wasn’t playing much at all,” she says. Plus, being a woman in a man-dominated scene posed some hurdles. “They knew I was playing drums, but they just always seemed to stick with guys,” she says. “They brought their drums for me to fix, but they never asked me to play.”
Nevertheless, Taylor largely maintained drumming as a hobby and recently found a more welcoming community online. “I got an Instagram account, and I put a few things up,” she explains. One of those things was a short video of her performing paradiddles, which quickly went viral. “Within like a day, it had 200,000 views. My sons were freaking out.”
Excited about her new audience, Taylor started uploading drumming content to Instagram more regularly. “That’s how Drumeo found me,” she says. “I didn’t really believe it was them. They bring in top drummers from all over the world, so I said, ‘Do you really want me? I’m just a housewife and a mother.’ They said, ‘Oh yeah, we want you.’”
Drumeo gave her a couple weeks to rehearse and several cover songs to choose from. She landed on “Down With the Sickness.” “I just liked that one,” she tells me. “It wasn’t too complicated, but it had a really cool groove.”
Since the video was released, Taylor’s online audience has exploded, as has demand for her Skype lessons. “I have people from all over the world who contact me,” she says. “I have a lot of ladies, too.” In fact, Taylor recently joined Drummer Girls United, where female drummers gather online to support one another. “It really shocked me to find out how many female drummers there are.”
Learning From the Best
When the time comes for my lesson, Taylor leads me through a few rudimentary exercises, waxing poetic about George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control. She moves across her drum set gracefully, making my rustiness all the more apparent.
In our short lesson, the thing that sticks with me most is Taylor’s suggestion to practice on a pillow daily with heavy sticks — this helps to build arm and wrist strength, she explains, which is especially useful for returning drummers like myself. She also obviously emphasizes the importance of hammering home the basics. “Once you get the first page down, everything else in the book is more understandable,” she explains. You need to understand addition before you can even start multiplication, and the same applies to drums — or any instrument, for that matter.
Naturally, mastering a musical instrument requires dedication and endless hours of practice, and you can only expect so much from one lesson. But while I ended the lesson only slightly less rusty than when I began, I learned something much more important from Taylor than any rudiments or exercises: “It’s never too late,” she tells me.
As anyone who learned a musical instrument as a child and eventually stopped playing knows, it can be way too easy to talk yourself out of picking it back up again. It can be way too easy to feel like you fell behind during all those years your instrument collected dust. But Taylor is the perfect example of someone who never let years of not playing — and constant rejection from her musical comrades — stop her from starting up again.
Especially for women, young and old, out there, Taylor is a musical hero. “TikTok has gone crazy,” she says. “These are young kids commenting, but they’re so generous in their comments and so appreciative of what I do at my age.” In fact, she says thousands of young people, especially women, have messaged her to say she inspired them to pick up the drums.
And, of course, she says, “A lot of people ask, ‘Will you be my grandma?’”