Don got his start when he was 11 years old and formed a band with his two older brothers. They were hired around town to perform. "So, in the community, we were kind of known as the Famularos. There is no greater joy as when you can perform for someone and people get up and start dancing, and they are happy. It's a celebration; it's fun and then afterwards, you get paid," he chuckled.
By the time Dom was 12 or 13 years old, he began taking lessons, and then was introduced to the Beatles, a huge influence back in 1964. A year or so later he went to a Buddy Rich Concert, and he was hooked. Dom recalled his thoughts at the time, "My gosh, the excitement, the fun, and just the energy, and the people's reaction. This is incredible. I knew that was for me."
Within the drumming community, Dom is perhaps best known as for his teaching. He lives in Long Island and has over 400 students that travel from over 15 countries to study with him. "I just had a student these past couple of days, who flew in from Australia and booked two solid sessions of eight hours a day and we began to work on technique and grooving and playing fills and playing different styles, jazz, rock, fusion, funk," he said.
Dom is truly a master of the drums, with most of his students being drum teachers themselves. Dom had some good advice as to how to tell a good teacher from a mediocre one.
"I ask people to interview their teacher and ask them how long they have been playing and if they have any recordings or any video of them playing and can you go to hear them live? It is not just about how you play technique-wise, it is really about how you know to explain it. So, the communication skills are a big part of it."
Dom says if the teacher can articulate an explanation clearly about playing the drums, and if they have a really good sense of the skill so that when you watch them and hear them, they really impress you as to what you are experiencing, that's a good combination.
Through Dom's teaching he developed a method of success, "Cycle of Self Empowerment." Dom describes it as a system of notes and a formula he has been teaching for over 20 years. Over time, many of his students' parents saw the formula, and were so impressed that "the next thing I know is that someone says `I have this team of salespeople, can you come by and explain this formula to the salespeople? Can you come by and show my school, I'm a teacher and teach in a university. Can you come by and show this to my students?'"
As demand for Dom's system grew and an interest developed, he compiled his notes and wrote a book, "The Cycle of Self empowerment."
Today Dom lectures at high schools and universities, taking his drumset and setting up in gymnasiums in front of 1200 kids. He explains it this way, "They sit on the floor all around me and I begin to talk about self empowerment and certain words that are needed, certain tools like perseverance and integrity and values, it's so exciting when these kids hear it. Then, when I want to explain or demonstrate discipline for example, I sit down and I play the drums and they go crazy. What a great way to reach the kids through music, such a great hook to grab the kids!"
If you want to hear a great example of Dom's drumplaying, visit www.sabian.com and select the Multimedia link. There is a great MP3 file that can be downloaded of Dom playing at the Cape Breton Drum Festival. Although it is a big file, it is definitely worth the download.
By Cheech Iero
His attitude is positive, his enthusiasm is infectious, his dedication is evident, and his playing is inspirational. Aptly referred to as the drumming worls Ambassador Of Goodwill, Dom Famularo is perhaps the most widely traveled drum clinician/speaker in the world today.
"Goodwill Ambassador is a reference I don't take lightly," says a smiling Dom. "It's the ultimate compliment. It's my job to go out and find new drummers and make the pie bigger. And for those who are already players, I try to keep them inspired and keep the fire burning."
Lining the wall of Dom's home office, just below the clocks that show the time zones around the world, are two large maps. "I've put pins in all the cities and countries I've performed in," says Famularo. "This is where humility comes in. It's not a matter of saying, 'Look where I've been!' It's more a matter of saying, 'Look where I still haven 't been.'"
After a brief perusal of the two maps, one can't help but notice that drumming has taken Dom Famularo to China, Sweden, Israel, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Britain, South America, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and clear across the United States. "I've been with Vic Firth since 1979, Sabian since '88, and the last three years with Premier drums," states Dom. "I've been blessed to be associated with companies who believe in me enough to make me a voice for them around the world."
Looking back on the early years when drums first became an important part of his life, Dom recalls a humorous incident that started the ball rolling. "At twelve years old I was in a band with my brothers," he says. "The Beatles' 'Ticket To Ride' was popular at the time. We played the song over and over, sometimes for eight hours straight in the basement of my house. Guitar, bass, keyboard, and three vocal mic's all running through one amplifier. It sounded like Radio Free Europe. It was terrible!
"Finally we convinced my father to take the money he was saving to buy my mother a dishwasher and use it to buy us an additional amp instead. Well, now we were a real band. We could actually hear the vocals and the chord changes. What a difference! We thought we were hot stuff.
"My dad was involved with the local fire department, and one day we got asked if we wanted to play at a fireman's party. 'Can you boys play four hours' worth of music?' we were asked. 'Absolutely,' we said. We never bothered to tell them we only knew one song. The night of the party we performed our song and they loved us. Lots of applause. So we played it again...and again...and again! Well, this went on for quite some time, until the fire chief came up and asked if we could please play something slow so he could dance with his wife. I said, 'Of course we can,' and we immediately went into 'Ticket To Ride' at sixty beats per minute! We just played the same song - slower.
"Despite it all, they loved us," laughs Dom. "You see, it didn't matter that we only knew one song, What mattered to the crowd was our spirit, and the effort we had made as young boys to get together and play music. We got paid at the end of the night and the next day we used the money to help buy my mother that dishwasher!"
Moving forward a good number of years, one can't help but wonder how this lifelong drummer would eventually become one of the worls most highly regarded and in-demand motivational clinicians.
"My first clinic tour started with Simon Phillips and Billy Cobham," recalls Dom, "After that I was an opening act. The music stores where I did my clinics were inspired by what I did, and they asked me back. One store would talk with the next, and it just snowballed. It was a matter of a high-quality product, combined with the desire to share information in an enthusiastic manner. I felt if I could get the message across, this would he a great life. The next thing I knew, I was performing with top players in foreign countries, and the following year they'd ask me back. It's amazing how it built up. Now I even do these music camps in France, Germany, and Italy. It's a more specialized type of learning: one-on-one, with master classes, clinics, and drumming events. It's a little bit of everything."
On another wall in Dom's office hangs a picture of him with a young boy, over an engraved plaque. "This was a boy who came to one of my events in England," recalls Dom. "The boy had cerebral palsy and no use of his legs. But he wanted to play drums. His father told me he was trying to raise money to send his son to a clinic in Budapest. There was a chance that his disease could be reversed through treatment. I asked the father how much money he'd raised thus far, and I realized he didn't have nearly enough. So I asked if he'd mind if I used my clinics to try to raise more money. We collected money at every clinic, but we were shy $1,000 by the end. Fortunately, Chad Smith came in the following week, did a clinic, and then donated the $1,000. We gave the money to the parents and they were ecstatic.
"Well, two years later I went back to perform at that English store, and the same boy came running up to me and gave me a big hug. The emotion was beyond comprehension. I keep this photo on my office wall to stay focused on the potential we have as drummers. You see, it's not just about playing in a band, getting a record deal, and making money. There are other things that can happen that are much greater than that. They're right there waiting for us, if we choose to go after them."
A well-schooled player, Dom doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the many teachers who guided him along the way. It's one of the reasons he now enjoys teaching as much as he does. "Al Miller was a great rudimentalist who gave me a solid foundation in reading and rudiments," recalls Dom. "Ronnie Benedict gave me focus, and Joe Morello opened me up to the techniques of George Lawrence Stone and Billy Gladstone. Later, Jim Chapin showed me the Moeller technique and helped me achieve more power and speed. When I moved to California I studied with Shelly Manne, Joe Porcaro, Colin Bailey, and Johnny Guerin. Each experience was extremely memorable. Shelly, in particular, focused on imagination and the different things you could do with rhythms, sticks, brushes, and different sound surfaces."
An author as well as an in-demand clinician and teacher, Dom's book It's Your Move was ten years in the writing. It features drumset exercises, along with interesting explanations of the Moeller stroke. "I had an artist draw the pictures for the book to make it clearer, so students could see the various positions of the strokes. It makes the topic come to life. In essence, the book is about understanding movement in order to obtain a higher level of expression. It's what I refer to as motions and emotions."
Dom has also authored The Cycle Of Self-Empowerment, a motivational book that came about through his teaching experiences. "When someone comes to me for lessons, I first try to find out what they want," says Dom. "But there's nothing worse than someone with desire but no discipline. If that's the case, they're not going anywhere. I try to help them understand more about discipline, and show them ways to improve. If you say you're disciplined, but you're not practicing the instrument, then you're really not putting the right value on it. You need to make it a priority. If I don't teach a student discipline, then I can be accused of stifling that individual's talent. I'll do whatever it takes. Even if a student doesn't have the money to pay me, it won't stop me from teaching him or her. It's not about that. We'll work the money thing out later."
Dom's teaching stuclio, located behind his home, is a freestanding structure that houses the ultimate teaching environment. "We built it on a foundation of patio blocks so it's actually movable," explains Dom. "The inside is insulated, plus there's 1.5" of air space, a middle wall of 1.5" soundboard, 1.5" of sheetrock, another 1" of air space, and then the interior wall. It's literally a room within a room. I'm also putting in a complete air exchanger system for fresh air, in addition to the heating and air conditioning system that's already in place."
The studio is outfitted with two miked drumsets, a concert snare drum, a marching snare, two practice pads, mirrors, videotape equipment, and a complete sound system for play-along and listening. "I've got all the options to teach at a high level," comments Dom. "Plus I can come in here at 2:00 A.M. to work on something if I want, without disturbing my family." Having taught professiona11y since the age of seventeen, Dom often takes a philosophical approach to teaching drums. "Sometimes a student's problem can be caused simply by low self- esteem," he says. "If a student doesn't think enough of himself, or thinks he can't do something, I need to work on that and build his confidence. I've even gone so far as to stand on a chair, screaming, 'C'mon, you can do it!' When they say, 'No, I can't,' I just respond with, 'I don't know the word can't.' When they finally do do it, and I capture it on videotape and let them see it, they leave with a much higher level of self-esteem. That's what teaching is all about.
"Students have to learn the meaning of the word perseverance," Dom continues. 'You remove the option of quitting. When you hit a roadblock, you find a different path. Perseverance is like the opening scene in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Hitting that beach was the greatest example of perseverance I ever saw. Quitting just wasn't an option.
"Actually, my strategy with students is pretty simple and strnightforward. First, where do you want to be? Second, now that you know where you want to be, visualize a plan to get there. Third, stay on course. If you go off course, it isn't going to work." There's no mistaking Dom Famularo's love for the art of drumming. One need only spend ten minutes in his presence to sense the intensity of that love. "I've pushed this thing with drumming as hard as I could," claims Dom. "I've given it my very best shot. As a result, I've been fortunate to live the life I always wanted to live."