Thomas Lang is considered one of the epitomes of the modern drummer. Few are the things he can’t play with his killer independence, speed, control, and precision. He’s seen as a focused clinician, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, but above all else he’s an intense musician.
Born in a small town in lower Austria called Stockerau, about 25 miles of Vienna, Thomas Lang was raised there by his parents Kurt and Helga. They were very into music but not professionals of the business by any means. Thomas Lang’s father played violin as a child, and his mother was a very gifted singer who sang at a local choir.
A 4 year old Thomas Lang was initially intrigued by the drum set when he was watching a band perform on television. Thomas noticed the drummer was the only member of the band sitting down, while the other musicians had to stand up, and that he had this huge impressive instrument to play on. The drummer then proceeded to count the band into the music, playing this huge drum fill as the music started. That whole image gave Thomas Lang the impression that the drummer was in control of the whole band, that he was the boss.
A few days later he saw a drummer playing live in a local church. Thomas Lang sat right in front of the drum set. The bass drum’s power and volume, alongside the size and looks of the drum set impressed him tremendously. From that moment on he was hooked and wanted nothing more than to learn how to play the drums. A 5 year old Thomas Lang harassed his mother to let him have drum lessons. Helga, thinking formal lessons would demotivate young Thomas from wanting to learn how to play drum set, enrolled him immediately in the local music school.
His first drum teacher was Johann Hengst, a classical percussionist for the “Vienna Symphonic Orchestra”. Johann started teaching Thomas Lang how to play traditional grip, how to sit correctly, how to read music, and most important of all, how to practice. Johann Hengst’s primary focus was on teaching Thomas proper technique on the snare drum. Due to his classical background he also taught Thomas how to play classical instruments like timpani, marimba, and vibraphone. Helga’s original plan backfired, and since Johann made the whole learning process very enjoyable, Thomas Lang continued playing and practicing drums under Johann’s guidance until his early teenage years.
During his first year of drumming Thomas Lang only had a snare drum to practice. He gradually increased the size of his kit over the years, by requesting additional parts on every Christmas and birthday wishlist. His biggest inspirations while starting out were Ringo Starr and Buddy Rich. Thomas loved Ringo’s way of band playing and how musical he was, and Buddy’s showmanship, speed, and control.
Thomas Lang used to jam along to a lot of the old 50’s and 60’s rock n’ roll bands, especially to “The Beatles”. He was first introduced to English 60’s and 70’s heavy rock bands some years after by local musicians he used to play with. Thomas Lang started listening and practicing along to “Deep Purple”, “Black Sabbath”, “Led Zeppelin” and “Free”. This was one of the first times he started taking his practice routines to a whole new level, spending a lot of hours behind a drum set. He and his band started covering songs from those English hard rock bands. After about 2 years of rehearsing they began searching for opportunities to perform locally. However, Thomas Lang’s first live gig was with the local choir his mother sang with, playing bongos instead of a full drum set. He was 9 years old at the time and got a pair of sticks as a reward for his performance. He debuted playing live with a drum set with his cover band when he was 11 or 12 years old.
The though of making a career out of drumming only crossed Thomas Lang’s mind when he was 13 years old. People around him, and especially his teacher, though he could really make a career out of it, due to his high level of skill. Thomas Lang’s teacher hook him up with a teacher named Walter Grassmann from the “Vienna Konservatorium”, a music academy described by Thomas Lang as the Julliard of Europe, but with a distinctly classical bent. Thomas took lessons with Walter and ended up by enrolling in the “Konservatorium” when he was only 15 years old. This was something unheard of at the time. Thomas stayed there for 2 years but eventually had to leave, because he had to finish his last year of high school first before continuing his studies in the conservatory. At the time he wasn’t that into the classical repertoire of the school. The curriculum included the standard training on timpani, snare drum, mallets, vibraphone, marimba, and percussion instruments, and had a lot more emphasis on reading than on playing. He was introduced to jazz and fusion, and was trained to play in big band style. He was also taught drum set, but Thomas Lang did most of the work by himself since that was his main focus.
Those years were very important for him because since he wasn’t really interested in the classical side of drumming, he felt pressured to squeeze in more work than the other guys in the conservatory did, to be able to work on his thing behind a drum set. So he had to do them both, and found a way to practice very efficiently. Since Thomas Lang was not able to really get into what he was learning in the conservatory he decided to leave. During his stint there he met a lot of other young, ambitious musicians and started playing loads of regular club gigs in and around Vienna.
At that time, Thomas Lang spent his modest income on trips to drum and music schools in America, on private lessons, and on equipment. When he was around 19 years old Thomas went to Los Angeles to attend the “Musician’s Institute”. After the fiercely competitive atmosphere of the “Konservatorium”, the “Musician’s Institute” open-enrollment policy felt a little too casual for his taste. Already self-motivated, he doubled down on his evolving practice regimen, eventually honing a curriculum that rivaled, and probably exceeded, anything the academies had to offer. His parents were helping him out with his various trips and musical endeavors, both morally and financially. They also provided Thomas with a very good practice space in the cellar of their house.
His initial breakthrough moments came after he left the conservatory and started working professionally with some of the biggest artists from Austria and Germany from the 80’s – “Falco” was one of them. The great gigs Thomas Lang was getting allowed him a very comfortable financial position, which enabled further developments as a player. Those were very important years for him because he established a lot of important connections with people with who he works with to this day.
He slowly worked his way through the European pop, rock and jazz scene, and was booked to work on increasingly popular productions. During this time Thomas Lang worked with up to 15 different bands and artists at the same time, squeezing as much work as possible into his schedule. His growing amount of gigging and touring gave him a very good idea of what to work on and how to apply his experiences creatively. Still, Thomas Lang continued working his very strict practice plan, religiously following a constantly evolving daily practice routine.
Around the mid 1990’s Thomas Lang moved to England. At the time he wanted to not only get his name out there, but to absorb international artists musical influences. When he first got there he taught at the “Musician’s Institute” and the “London School of Music” from 1995 to 1996. During this time Thomas started working with very successful pop artists like the “Spice Girls”, “Take That”, “Westlife”, and Kylie Minogue.
In 1999 Thomas Lang made his first appearance at an international drum festival – “Austrian Superdrumming 1999”. At this point in his career he was not at all into doing solo performances, avoiding doing clinics for a lot of years. He agreed to work this festival due to the man who was organizing it – a friend of his named Gerhard Jessl. The reaction he got from the audience he was playing to, got him hooked on performing live and solo for drummers. Having people really appreciate everything you do on stage struck a chord with Thomas Lang. The drummers in the audience were reacting to his drumming, were understanding it, and showed appreciation for what he was doing. They weren’t clapping because of a famous singer taking the stage or because of a huge guitar solo, the claps were all directed to him, to his drumming. After playing the drum festival Thomas Lang felt inspired like he hadn’t been in many years.
Thomas’ clinic at the festival propelled him to the limelight of the world of drumming. One of “Sonor’s” directors – Karl Heinz Menzel – saw Thomas Lang perform for the very first time. After the show Thomas Lang was invited by Karl to try the prototype of the “Twin Effect” pedal. Thomas was able to perform some interesting patterns on the pedal from the get go, and as a result was invited to promote the “Giant Step” pedals in a series of clinics and interviews. Coincidentally, his first line of signature cymbals was being released. Norbert Saemann, artists & repertoire for “Meinl Cymbals”, was at the festival representing the brand and invited Thomas Lang to do some promotion for the cymbals as well. Two months prior to the drum festival Lang found a distributor for an instructional video he had recorded in 1995. Just like “Meinl” and “Sonor” the distribution company asked him to consider doing some clinics and interviews to promote the instructional video.
After this his career as a clinician just took off. Thomas Lang recorded a “Giant Step” video to demonstrate the new pedal, and did a clinic tour a few months later. He did some interviews and more clinic tours in between band tours he was working on. He started performing at drum festivals and at every major international drumming event on the planet. Thomas was also getting a lot of press in drum magazines. He eventually was introduced to Rob Wallis and Paul Siegel from “Hudson Music” and was asked to do another instructional DVD – “Creative Control”.
Thomas Lang has worked as a session musician for John Wetton, Robert Fripp, Glenn Hughes, Robbie Williams, Kelly Clarkson, “Sugababes”, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham, Ronan Keating, Steve Hackett, “Boyzone”, Falco, Nina Hagen, Steve Jones, Mick Jones, “The Commodores”, George Michael, Doogie White, Bill Liesegang, Gianna Nannini, Sertab Erener, “Vienna Art Orchestra”, Bonnie Tyler, and many more; and as a band drummer for “Save the Robots”, “Stork”, “Terabite”, and “Schwarzenator”. Thomas has performed at every major international drum festival, and has toured the world many times over as a sideman, as well as solo performer. Thomas Lang has appeared everywhere from “Top of the Pops” to the “Eurovision Song Contest”, from sold-out football stadiums, to the Modern Drummer Festival in 2002 and 2006, with this last one being released on DVD.
In 1995 Thomas released his first solo album – “Mediator” – which topped the charts in Europe and garnered rave reviews for its innovative jazz/ dance/ progressive rock sound. His second solo album – “Something Along Those lines” – was released in March of 2007. This album was a product of 4 years of hard work and inspiration. Just like with his previous work, this album amalgamates sounds of electric contemporary jazz and progressive rock, with great overtones of guitar and intense drumming.
To this date Thomas Lang has written 4 instructional videos and 2 instructional books. His first products were “Ultamatives Schlagzeug (Ultimate Drums) I & II” which were originally released in 1995. Due to overwhelming demand, these videos were re-released on DVD in 2004 by “Hudson Music”. The daily practice regime Thomas Lang followed eventually became the basis for that product. 2003 saw the release of his second instructional DVD – “Creative Control” – a 2-disc set containing the unique and innovative system Thomas Lang used at the time to develop his awesome speed, control, finesse, and coordination. In 2006 the follow up to that product was launched and named “Creative Coordination & Advanced Foot Technique”. This is a 3-disc set detailing Thomas Lang’s methodology to allow you to practice technique, endurance, accuracy, timing, independence, coordination, mechanics, and stamina all at the same time and with your 4 limbs. In 2007 the books for “Creative Control” and “Creative Coordination & Advanced Foot Technique” were launched.
Throughout the years Thomas Lang has won a series of awards from various high profile drum magazines, and from an independent film and video competition. His awards include:
Besides his musical endeavors and educational products, Thomas Lang has worked cooperatively with the research and development team at “Meinl Cymbals” to create “Tom’s Becken”. This is a pitch-matched range of crash cymbals that provide drummers with sounds that resemble artificially engineered cymbal samples. In 2004 Thomas Lang continued developing products with Meinl, but this time around to design a hi-hat – the “Fast Hats” – and a whole series of china cymbals – “Filter Chinas”. In 2002 Thomas Lang approached “Remo Cooperation” with the idea for a practice pad kit, which ended up being called “The Thomas Lang Practice Kit”. Thomas Lang signature products include Vic Firth’s “Thomas Lang Signature” drumsticks and “Bigfoot’s” “Thomas Lang Signature” bass drum beaters.
In 2010 Thomas Lang created the “Thomas Lang Drumming Boot Camp”, an event that has taken place in various countries, where the man himself shares his drumming concepts and his hardcore practicing approach with students in a radical new setting. Thomas guides small classes through 8-days of serious drumming, making sure to check on and improve each student personally during the lessons.
Thomas Lang started dabbling with control, independence, speed, interdependence, and ambidexterity at an early age. The books “Bass Drum Control” by Colin Bailey and “Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer” by George Lawrence Stone were some of his practice tools for it. He went through Colin Bailey’s book leading with both feet. Since he didn’t have a double bass pedal he would use the hi-hat pedal for his left foot practice. If he could do the book with one foot, why not do the same with the other one?! Stone’s book exercises one’s hands with various patterns that give use to the standard 26 American drum rudiments, and is naturally geared towards giving equal control to each hand. So by going through it with his hands, and later with his feet, Thomas Lang started gaining command over all of his limbs. Lang used book that are standards in the world of drumming education to develop a greater control over his limbs. Making sure simple things sound as good as they should, will give you that much level of facility when trying to play and learn harder things. Start simple, learn the basics and work your way up.
After reading this last paragraph, and if you’ve already seen Thomas Lang play, for some of you the answer to the question – What Can We Learn From Thomas Lang? – may seem quite simple – control, independence, speed, interdependence, and ambidexterity. If you have answered using some of these adjectives then you really don’t have an understanding of what Thomas Lang is all about – musicality and expressiveness. Yes, you can learn all of those aspects of drumming through him but you have to realize that all of that is only relevant if used for creating music and to take your expressiveness to a whole new level. So those aspects of drumming are not the most relevant things you can take from Thomas Lang’s drumming.
Thomas Lang has an aspiration in life – “To Play the Unplayed” – but in the end it boils down to musicality and expressiveness. The more complicated patterns he can execute between his 4 limbs, and the more independent he becomes, the better he will get at expressing his musical ideas. Technique only makes sense when applied to a musical context. The more technique you have, the more facility you’ll have for playing what YOU want to play and feel, and hence the better musician you’ll become.
Thomas is not only a great progressive rock/ heavy metal/ fusion drummer but also extremely good in styles like jazz and funk for instance. The man loves to groove, and it has been his main focus throughout his drumming career. Being well versed in any style of music and knowing how to read music very well have been some of his best aids in making a living out of drumming. This is also something that a lot of professional drummers will tell you about. But with the way music making has changed in the past 10 to 15 years, Thomas feels that any modern drummer needs to add a new set of abilities to his résumé, that is if he still wants to make a living out of his craft. Having the ability to write music, to produce music, to play other instruments – Thomas Lang plays guitar, bass guitar, piano, and he even sings – to know about electronics, about sequencing, and even other percussion instruments, will make you that much more of an asset to any one looking for a drummer. This will increase the probabilities of you being hired.
You must have listened to this over and over again, but speed comes with control and repetition, meaning: start slow, and work your way up as you gain control with repetition. Thomas Lang has never worked for acquiring speed, but rather for achieving control. He has stated that his speed came as he gained control over his hands and feet. So if you think for one minute that teachers exaggerate when they say: “Take your time, you’ll be better off in the long run.”, Thomas Lang is here to prove you how right they are in their assessment.
There are three other technical aspects very peculiar in Thomas Lang’s playing – the way he plays fast doubles with his feet, his use of “traditional” grip, and bass drum dynamic and rudiment playing. Usually drummers tend to play double strokes with the feet giving use to either the “Heel-Toe” or “Slide” techniques. Thomas on the other hand uses a sort of “Swivel” technique. He pivots his foot on the pedal board, swiveling it in one direction twice, instead of in between left and right directions. Thomas Lang has been using “traditional” grip throughout his entire career, and in very contemporary settings with great mastery. He used it to play in any style of music – from heavy metal to jazz – and even with lots of drums and cymbals on his right side, which is know to be extremely hard to play with “traditional” grip due to the angle the hand and stick make with the instruments. However, in an interview given to “DRUM!” magazine, he stated that since 2010 he decided to switch his grip to “matched”. One of Thomas’ biggest victories in pursuing expressiveness, came with the work he has developed with his feet. He can play with dynamics, using heel up for accents and heel down for quieter strokes, and has learned to play rudiments with the feet, which he can break between a huge array of pedals. Learning to master heels down, heels up, and rudiments with the feet work just as learning how to use fingers, writs, and rudiments with the hands, it builds a lot more control and expressiveness into your playing.
Lastly, don’t forget to check out Thomas Lang’s stick tricks. He is a master at coming up with lots of intricate and cool looking tricks that can add a lot of visual to your playing.