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Cora Coleman-Dunham: Dancing Queen

On Maceo Parker’s Soul Classics, Coleman plays with a popping feel that makes every track dance. She recalls Al Jackson, and Motown drummers Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, driving the music with energy and confidence to burn.

“Once you get the rudiments down it’s easy to make it dance,” she explains. “Grady Tate would say that: ’If you can make it dance then everybody else can dance.’ Sit with a metronome and play a paradiddle, then accent the downbeat, then move the accent to the second sixteenth of the paradiddle. Then the third sixteenth. It’s gotta be relaxed, your shoulders have to be relaxed, you have to sit with good posture. That’s what I did, then add the hi-hat: opening and closing the hi-hat with my heel and ball of my foot to make it splash on 2 and 4. Then your left foot is on autopilot, then add the kick. Do that until it feels really good. Then put the e accent of 1 on the snare, the e of 2 on the bell of the ride, the e of 3 on the ride, and the e of 4 on the floor tom. Then alternate. I would do that until it felt good, from 15 to 30 to 45 minutes.”

cora coleman dunham

Drums DW Collector’s Series (Stark White finish with white hardware)
1. 22" x 18" Bass Drum (with 22" x 8" “sub kick”)
2. 13" x 5" Snare Drum
3. 8" x 5" Tom
4. 10" x 5" Tom
5. 12" x 6" Tom
6. 14" x 11" Floor Tom
7. 16" x 14" Floor Tom
8. 18" x 16" Gong Drum
9. 20" x 16" Gong Drum
10. 12" x 6" Secondary Snare Drum

Cymbals Sabian
A. 13" AAX X-Celerator Hi-Hat
B. 8" HH Splash
C. 10" HHX Splash
D. 16" Spiral Prototype (x 2)
E. 18" HHX Evolution O-Zone Crash
F. 10" AA Rocktagon Splash
G. 18" HHX X-Treme Crash
H. 21" Vault 3-Point Ride
I. 12" Chopper
J. 14" HHX Evolution Mini-Chinese
K. 12" Signature MaxStax

Electronics Roland
L. SPD-S Pad

Percussion LP
M. Studio Windchimes

Cora Coleman-Dunham also uses DW hardware and DW 9000 series double pedal, Vater Cora Coleman-Dunham signature sticks, Remo heads, Audio-Technica microphones, Mono cases, Gallien-Krueger thumper, KRK Systems monitors, Auralex soundproofing, ToonTrack software, and Phatfoot bass drum harness.

Shedding Toward Perfection

Watch any video of Coleman playing, and witness a true performance master. She telegraphs her hands high off the set, adding drama but also control and power where some might simply flail for attention. Her control, often under the stress of performing with a superstar (and we’ve all heard how temperamental they can be), reveals a level of maturity beyond her years. Her high-handed drumming recalls marching band theatrics, but as always with Queen Cora, it comes from a place of control and rudimental awareness.

“I encourage drummers to sit with the metronome and practice holding the stick really high and then coming down and hitting the drum as softly as you can,” she says. “You want to create that sense of intentionalism – is that a word? Playing it high like your arm is almost all the way up then bringing it down quickly but hitting it very softly. You can choose whatever rudiment you’d like, a double-stoke roll or paradiddle, then playing the paradiddle accent really high and the inner strokes really soft. Or playing the accents equally, and dynamic, but really drawing your stick up high when you play the downbeat. When people play double stroke rolls everyone naturally accents the first beat of the double, so instead, accent the second note of double. Then move the accents around once you are comfortable.”

And she doesn’t stop at the hands. She incorporates her feet at every opportunity in her practice regimen, though she admits the double kick pedal is not her strong suite. Not yet, anyway.

“Another thing I do with my hi-hat is when you play it and your foot is up and then you strike the hi-hat, then bring the foot down to close the hi-hat; I will make sure that the screw underneath the bottom cymbal is adjusted so that the bottom cymbal always lightly touches the top cymbal. Then the hi-hat always sizzles even if I just hit it and I don’t have my foot on it. It will always ripple and rattle. It always gives me that same tone. Then sometimes I lift my leg as high as possible with my knee, it’s almost like being in marching band again. With everything I do that is flamboyant or flashy, I want to make sure I never compromise the sound or the music.”

With her busy schedule touring the world with Beyoncé and Maceo Parker while extending her own projects and plans, she has little time to practice. But when she does hit the woodshed, she brings out old favorites. George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control, Marvin Dahlgren’s 4 Way Coordination, 1001 Drum Grooves: The Complete Resource For Every Drummer – they all figure into her routine.

“I am writing a book for my own grooves,” she says. “It’s about how to get finesse without losing power.”

While the evolution of Queen Cora continues, the message remains crystal clear: “Don’t focus on doing things for money,” she says. “Treat every gig like it’s the greatest dream of your life. Don’t treat it any differently whether it’s a free gig or church or a weekend gig, or a little club or the drum set is ragged. Treat every situation like it’s prime. That will create more opportunities. I was playing a small gig with a piano player once, and that’s the night Prince came down. No one cares if you left your snare drum stand at home, or you don’t have a drum key. When it’s time to play the music that is what matters. It’s a gift to be able to play music. Not everyone gets the opportunity.”

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