In 2006, “The Total Package” Lex Luger retired from the world of professional wrestling. Little did he know that soon after, and with the release of The Moeller Method Secrets, the world would get acquainted with its new total package, but in the form of master drummer, educator, author, hand percussionist and session musician, Mike Michalkow.
Born to Alex and “Kay” Michalkow, Mike Michalkow was introduced to the world of drumming at a very young age. In 1976, when he was only 5 years old, his parents offered him a cheap little drum set they had bought from a local department store. Alex and “Kay” set it up for him in the hallway in front of a mirror. After a couple of months of Mike bashing away on the drum set while listening to some rock ‘n’ roll, the kit disintegrated.
For the following years, Mike Michalkow’s wish of learning how to play drums was put on hold, mainly because he lived in apartments where, obviously, making noise was an issue. However, his desire to learn was still pretty much alive and well. Mike even tried to learn another instrument. He played clarinet for half a year on the school band when he was in grade 7. He eventually quit, since he disliked it so much.
In his mid-teenage years, Mike Michalkow met a cousin of his who worked at a music store that offered drum lessons. He still wanted to learn how to play drums, but was a bit intimidated with the idea of hooking up with a teacher. So, learning how to play drums was postponed once again. After finding out that one of his school’s coolest guys was a drummer that actually looked pretty geeky, a 17 years old Mike Michalkow decided to ask his cousin to sign him up for some drum lessons in the music store.
Mike Michalkow’s initial excitement was soon taken over by discouragement. His teacher arrived late, ate lunch during his session and would even shorten them by 10 minutes, not to mention his very poor teaching methods. After six weeks of having to go through this, Mike decided it was time for a change. He opted to sign up for lessons with Norm St. Hilaire, another drum teacher from that same music store. Norm started Mike on the basics. He taught him rudiments, drum beats, drum fills, how to play along to songs, and even got him to listen to different styles of music.
It was at this time that Mike started working on one of his main features, the ability to play almost any style of music you can think of. He was always really into heavy metal and hard rock, but because of his drumming he started working on progressive rock, country, blues, funk, pop and even Latin drumming. This led to the discovery of an assortment of great drummers like Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Stewart Copeland, Alex Acuña, and Terry Bozzio.
Some time after, Mike Michalkow was forced to hook up with a different teacher due to the touring schedule Norm was facing with his different bands. The teacher who took over Norm’s students was jazz/ fusion drummer Mitch Dorge, who some years after would start playing with the Crash Test Dummies. Mitch added to the basics Norm had taught Mike, reshaping some of the things Mike was doing at the time. He was also instrumental in introducing Mike Michalkow to drummers like Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Dave Weckl. This is something Mike is very thankful of, since being exposed to these awesome drummers did wonderful things for his playing.
Mitch Dorge also introduced Mike to jazz drumming and music by lending him an audio cassette of the album Parallel Realities by Jack DeJohnette. It was at this time that Mike started working on jazz soloing, comping, and even playing with brushes just so that he could play along to jazz music.
Mike’s growth as a drummer, along with his willingness and motivation to learn anything drum related, helped him realize the potential he had as a drummer and musician. After he began working on jazz drumming with Mitch, he started taking his drumming more seriously than ever before. In 1989, Mike Michalkow graduated from River East Collegiate and decided on taking his drumming to a whole new level. Thus, Mike moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to sign up for music studies in Grant MacEwan College in 1992, where he intended to dig deeper into jazz drumming and music.
His knowledge of Latin drumming was actually what got him into college. During his audition, Mike Michalkow was able to play some Latin beats (including the bossa nova and the tango), something the teachers were very surprised of, since it wasn’t common to have students audition with such a knowledge of Latin drumming. However, Mike’s music theory skills weren’t up to par at the time. To fill this gap of his, he began taking piano lessons with Charlie Austin at the same time he was developing his drumming. At college, he studied under Brian Thurgood, a great teacher who worked on Mike’s reading, orchestral drumming, snare drumming, and in different styles of music.
In the summer of 1993, Mike Michalkow headed down to the Drummers Collective in New York city for some lessons on drum set and conga drums. In 1994, after majoring in jazz and Latin studies at the top of his class, Mike moved to Vancouver, British Columbia so he could jump start his drumming career. At the time, he was developing some serious arm pain due to improper technique. He then was informed of a great technique teacher in Vancouver named John Fischer. John taught him how to hold the sticks properly, and concepts like “The Motions” and the “Moeller Method”. This helped Mike get more power, control, finesse, and speed than ever before, improving the overall tone he got from the drums also
In 1995, Mike was introduced to Dom Famularo, taking lessons from him soon after. Dom further refined Mike’s technique and introduced him to the great late Jim Chapin, Sanford Moller’s best student. The years following his graduation from college, Mike Michalkow toured with various original and cover bands across Canada and the United States. In 1997, Mike decided it was time for a change. Thus, he auditioned for a spot as drummer for a cruise line orchestra, which he was able to secure. This proved to be a great learning experience for Mike Michalkow. For one entire year he cruised the world playing drums, learned new styles of music, and best of all, got paid to do so.
In 1998, Mike Michalkow returned home eager to hone his craft even more. Music wasn’t only to be his career, but a way of life. In July of 2000 he opened “The Drum Lab” where he now teaches over fifty private drum students on a weekly basis. In this same year he was invited to head the drum department for the west coast in the United States for the National Guitar Workshop, something he’s been doing every year since then. This opportunity arose out of Mike’s knowledge of different styles of music, technical facility, and musicianship.
In 2001, a drummer by the name of Jared Falk went to Mike Michalkow for some lessons. Mike taught Jared some cool independence exercises and Latin grooves, and also worked on improving his speed around the drum set and overall technique. Jared Falk continued working with Mike for the following years. This partnership of them would actually work as a catalyst to expose Mike Michalkow and his teaching methods to the world, when in June of 2006 Jared’s Railroad Media Inc. published Mike’s first instructional DVD Moeller Method Secrets.
Who would’ve thought that a late bloomer like Mike Michalkow would end up like this, a proficient and professional master drummer?! This comes to show where determination, passion and a lot of hard work can really take you. Mike Michalkow is living his dream for some time now, something he created for himself from scratch.
Throughout the years, Mike Michalkow has worked with artists like David Foster, Lionel Richie, Nathan East, John “J.R.” Robinson, The Canadian Tenors, Michael Johns, Neil Stubenhaus, Randy Waldman, Dean Parks, Larry Carlton, Mo Pleasure, Greg Howe, Bill Frisell, Andy Summers, Robben Ford, and James Valentine (Maroon 5), among others. Aside from this, Mike has been keeping himself busy developing some of his own musical projects.
In 2002, Mike joined Symphony in DeMeanor. In 2004 they debuted their first CD – The First One – which went on to win the award for “Best Album” from the International On-Line Music Awards (IOMA) in 2005. In 2006 they released their second studio effort – The second one. In 2008, Mike’s drumming was recorded for the album Summertime, Brent Ellis‘ first studio effort in more than ten years.
In 2009, Mike’s duo with Jim Meyer released their first album – “Arbutus and Jade”. In that same year Symphony in DeMeanor released their third studio album – Time Goes On – which went on to win two awards – “Best Band – Rest of the World” and “CD of the Year” from DJ Todd Dillingham in his 2009 Bamboo Awards. Additionally, this album was elected as one of the “Ten Best CDs of the Year” by rock critic Tom Harrison in the Vancouver Province newspaper in 2011.
In 2010, the band Cinnamon Toast Funk released its first album Feels Much Better, with Mike on percussion. In 2011, you’ll be able to listen to Mike killing it on the drum set with the release of Brent Ellis‘s third studio album Cruisin’ Jackson Road. The title of the album is taken from one of its tracks, which was written by Brent for Mike Michalkow’s son, Jackson. Mike is also working with a blues band called The Blue Voodoo, with progressive metal tribute band Oracle, and with John Cameron Entertainment.
Between 2006 and 2009, Railroad Media Inc. published five instructional packs (DVDs, Book(s), CD(s)) written by Mike Michalkow – Moeller Method Secrets (2006), Latin Drumming System (2007), Jazz Drumming System (2007), Drum Tuning System (2008), and Drumming System (2009) – and two instructional packs where Mike is featured – Drum Gear Buyers Guide (2008) and Drum Play-Along System (2008).
The Moeller Method Secrets takes you through all aspects of the advanced Moeller Method, along with other important subjects of hand technique like finger control. The Latin Drumming System takes you through some of the most famous and played Latin rhythms out there, on a step-by-step approach, so you can learn the grooves faster and more accurately. The Jazz Drumming System instructional pack is a massive resource for learning how to play in the jazz idiom. It teaches comping exercises, playing with brushes, different ride patterns, playing in odd times, fills and a whole lot more. Both these systems include a play-along pack that will let you sit in with professional Latin and jazz musicians while going through various styles of Latin and jazz music.
The Drum Tuning System is a complete resource for drummers who are trying to achieve and maintain a great drum sound, it even teaches drum maintenance tips, and tuning tips for different styles of music. The Drumming System is the biggest drum educational product ever produced, with twenty DVDs, fifteen CDs, and five spiral bound workbooks. It’s a comprehensive training package covering every aspects of drumming from rock, to jazz, funk, hand technique, foot technique, soloing….you name it, no stone is left unturned here.
Mike is also one of the drum teachers featured on the drum lessons for the website FreeDrumLessons.com launched in 2007. You can find him on the Latin Drumming and Jazz Drumming sections of that website.
In addition to his work with Railroad Media Inc., Mike Michalkow has written two other instructional products – the book Building A Foundation For The Modern Drummer (launched some time before the Moeller Method Secrets DVD) and the book/CD combo The Total Rock Drummer (2008). The Total Rock Drummer takes you in a very thorough journey through the world of rock drumming. In 2010, this book won the Modern Drummer Readers Poll for Best Educational Book.
Like any other art form, music is all about expression, communication and feeling. Playing an instrument is just another way of communicating ideas and feelings, as if talking to someone. Expressing exactly what one wants to is what separates a preacher from a toddler, an experienced musician from a beginner. It takes a certain level of knowledge about an instrument to use it as a communication medium, and it takes a certain level of sensitivity to play it expressively. Mike Michalkow’s years of experience and of dedicated study have helped him develop a very acute sense of musicality and a very unique ability to communicate through the drums. His solos are a blatant example of just that.
A drum solo is a drummer’s sanctuary, a place where technique and musicality can be expressed at will, without any type of boundaries attached to it. This is why we chose to tackle Mike’s ability to solo in this section of his bio. This is only one of the things you can take from his playing, there’s really a lot more to learn from this great musician. However, his solos are also a great vehicle to showcase some of those things. Mike’s solos are a very powerful and entertaining experience. He’s one of those drummers that will leave you thirsty for more, even after playing solos which are longer than most songs out there. This level of quality is not just an outcome of inspiration but mostly of a lifetime of study.
“Genius: 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” – Thomas Edison.
You see, Mike has studied some of the finest drummers the world has seen, their styles and their phrasing on the drums. Even players who are not soloists have been inspirational to Mike’s approach to this art form. Studying solos from great drummers as Neil Peart and Max Roach, “stealing” some of their ideas and concepts, further propelled Mike in his quest to attain a greater level of understanding on how to come up with expressive and musical ideas on the drums, for solos and for his overall playing.
It’s also important to consider one’s own style as a big factor in the outcome of a solo. Mike’s ability to play drums in different styles of music also gives his solos a very special flavor and edge, which would not be possible otherwise. Another interesting feature in his solo work is the rich use of drum rudiments and dynamics. Mike has studied rudiments to a point where he can use them without even thinking about them. This means that when he plays a paradiddle during a solo he’s actually not thinking of playing a paradiddle. Mike uses rudiments as tools for more expressiveness on the drums.
As for what concerns dynamics, he doesn’t limit himself on using them for volume purposes. Mike Michalkow’s use of dynamics can be seen on the way he builds his solos. He tells a story with each solo he creates. Therefore, much like a movie or a book, he builds on the emotion of the solo as he goes along, using different textures, rhythms, note values and volume levels, to come up with a plot that will get you interested from start to finish. He doesn’t go full tilt from start to finish, since this would instantly kill the interest of the listener or of the viewer. His solos are extremely diverse, but as you take time to listen or watch some them you’ll notice his heavy use of tom-toms and of different percussion instruments like timbales and cowbells.
“I’ve always enjoyed naming my drum solos, because each one inspires me differently, and gets me playing in the style of the inspiration – style of music, drummer, etc.” – Mike Michalkow on his approach to creating drum solos.
Mike Michalkow’s soloing ability shows us exactly how important it is to learn about drumming as a whole, and not limit oneself to a single style or concept. It’s just like creating a painting from scratch. You are free to do whatever you want, to use whatever colors or techniques you’d like, so the more you know about your art the easier it will be for you to paint whatever you feel like.