November 12, 2016 | Emma Woolfrey
Lang Zhao was just four years old when he discovered his passion. Moving his fingers along the black and white keys of the piano, turning single notes into a tune, his love affair with music began. He slowly transitioned from piano to all percussion instruments, but it was in junior high that the drums caught his eye. This was when he first started exploring his niche.
Since that time, Zhao has become an international success as a drummer and percussionist. Originally from China, he has performed all over the world with celebrated musicians, including concerts with Linda Chung and Rocu Chan, at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Café and the San Jose Civic Center, as well as multiple concerts for Steven Ma and Shahkar Bineshpajooh.
He has placed at multiple contests, and won many awards. He was the first Chinese drummer to ever win the Most Outstanding Player at the Musicians Institute.
He has performed for DRUMCHANNEL, and is also working on his own album that he composed, recorded and produced himself. The CD is a crossover of cinematic orchestration and modern contemporary music, and will be released this month.
With all of this success, many would think that would be enough, but not for Zhao, who is currently writing a book titled An Analytical Approach to Linear Application-Integrating Gospel Drumming into Your Grooves and Chops. The goal of the book is to introduce the industrial dominant gospel drumming style to drummers who are not coming from this background and culture. It will also feature video demonstrations by Henry McDaniel IV (drummer for the George Duke/Stanley Clark band, as well as Big Sean during Rihanna’s Anti-World Tour). The book is the first part of a project that will be consisting of an abundant amount of information in different format such as books, documentaries, live concerts, recordings, and social media platforms.
“My goal is to present this learning method, that not only to approach this linear applications under the gospel drumming content, but also any other style of music. In China, there’s a lack of information on such topics so I hope to work as a bridge to transfer this information and modify them into a way that could benefit the Chinese drumming community,” said Zhao.
“For a long time there’s been a misunderstanding to gospel drumming, when people think about it they can only think of chops,” he continued. “I feel it is important to change that mindset to start from music again, to build that musical mindset a step ahead of the technical side then use the musical side to lead the technical side.”
Zhao was inspired to write this book when he decided to research gospel drumming. He was astounded at how little educational material there really was on the topic. Having very good research skills himself, he started to analyse his gospel drummer friends’ playing and gradually figured out a way to establish a connection to the playing style.
“At least from my point of view, it is a very valuable playing style that really could bring your playing to another level. Working on this style of drumming will greatly improve your timing, consistency, control, groove, feel, endurance, phrasing, improvisation, musicality, etcetera,” he said. “It is a beautiful art form.”
It was Zhao’s coordinator and assistant Ziyin Zhao that really pushed him into turning his ideas into the tangible format of a book. Ziyin did a lot of research and co-designed the content of the first book. She also will be the translator of the project to publish it in the Chinese market, as well as working on the construction of website and other media resources.
“Being a talented musician makes Lang’s understanding in drumming valued by many people in this music world,” said Ziyin. “Lang is the kind of person with strong persistence and self-control, and he has faith and passion in what he does. He is generous and genuine to all the people he works with, and the trust he gives to people really make him ideal to work with. He knows his gift in music and he never stops learning in every possible occasion.”
These thoughts are echoed by the book’s publisher Jan Rivera, with Violet Anamnesis Publications. He says that although publishing a book is no easy task, Zhao makes it so.
“Lang has displayed an incredibly humble and respectful demeanor that is to be admired. He is willing to listen to suggestions, and is always open to new possibilities,” said Rivera. “Lang has a solid background in both the rhythmic and harmonic elements of music. Having studied both piano and drums during his musical foundation has certainly broadened his view as a musician. As a writer, his nearly obsessive attention to detail is exactly what you would want from someone who has to break down a style of play in order to present it to the reader in ‘digestible’ pieces,” said Rivera.
The book will have two parts. The first part establishes a mindset to obtain the proper tone, touch, feel, note placement, etc. of the style. The second part of the book contains the analytical approach to linear applications which is very commonly used in gospel drumming. It covers the analysis to the construction of grooves, fills and improvisations.
“Drums are the most acoustic instrument perhaps. A change of any factor of playing could change the sound. There is endless possibility that I can dig out from the drums,” Zhao concluded. “To speak via drums could be very abstract, due to the fact that it is not a definitive pitch instrument and most of the time it is rhythmically oriented. To make valid and meaningful statements via drums is a fun and challenging process, and It is just fun to do that. I also love the raw energy that this instrument could bring that resonance with me.”
Keep an eye out for Zhao’s album, which comes out this month, and the first book An Analytical Approach to Linear Application, which will hit bookshelves later this year.