Matt Garstka: Let’s Get Technical

The idea of crib sheets is intriguing, maybe because they’re superfluous for Garstka. In this guy’s highly qualified opinion, memorizing parts is key to making the music second nature. “Cheat sheets are certainly helpful in the learning process, but I think they should be just that – unless you’re trying to sight-read on a gig, but that’s very rare these days,” he says. “I see cats using cheat sheets as a crutch or as a reference, but I think that prohibits really becoming unified with the music and embellishing it.”

Animals As Leaders is but one course on a broad rhythmic navigation. Two areas concern Garstka right now: African rhythms based on two against three. “The other thing would be getting creative with the ostinato,” he says. “I guess it comes down to the bass drum and left hand because it’s such an integral part of all music.”

Sometimes drummers suffer from image confusion at the earliest stage of their career. Garstka, who was featured on the third DVD from the Gospel Chops series, may be the only prog-metal drummer who has roots in the church-based genre.

“Everyone was like, ’Oh he’s a gospel chopper,’ but then the metal was in the limelight, so that’s all they saw.” For all the superficial differences between the prog-metal and gospel chops camps, the drummer feels the same forces drive both. “They’re really pushing the limits for patterns,” he says. “They’re not just thinking of how it sounds; I feel like they’re dancing on the drums. It’s like kung fu at times. I like adding different elements like that into my playing.”

Misperceptions ought be a thing of the past with the imminent launch of a new drumming portal:, featuring lessons, performances, the works. It’s part of Garstka’s master plan to un-typecast himself as the typical technical-metal guy. Besides YouTube vids of him playing country, pop, and groove styles, there is French fusion guitarist Louis De Mieulle, on whose 2011 album Defense Mechanisms Garstka played, as well as a new release dropping soon. “There’s other sides to me that people haven’t seen yet.”

Those sides will be evident in this summer’s Big Drum Bonanza, the week-long band camp created by Thomas Lang, plus clinics in Europe and Asia. “Typically I get asked about my ghost notes, linear playing, learning Animals stuff, or deciphering drum parts and how I expound upon what’s already written,” he says of previous clinics. “I don’t just want to teach chops. I’m trying to teach what’s behind the chops.”

Garstka got the ultimate validation when AAL played the Tama 40th Anniversary Party at last winter’s annual NAMM convention, just two years after he first met his future bandmates there. It wasn’t just because the band graced the same stage as Lenny White, Simon Phillips, and other drum royalty (though that was part of it), but for reasons closer to home. “My dad and my sister were there – that was the coolest thing.”

matt garstka

Inside Tracks

Animals As Leaders
The Joy Of Motion

Does the idea of instrumental prog send you running for the hills? If that’s a yes, you need to check out The Joy Of Motion, the third full-length from Animals As Leaders. Between eight-string maestros Tosin Abasi and rhythm guitarist Javier Reyes’s layered arrangements, keyboard plug-ins, and synth-bass backing tracks, you’ll never miss the vocals. And we haven’t even gotten to Matt Garska’s superhuman drum parts, an onslaught of odd times, linear playing, and whatever drummistic insanity it takes to enrich this harmelodic tapestry. The flamenco-tinged “Para Mexer” shows off Latin influences reconfigured for the djent crowd. In “Crescent” and “The Future That Awaited Me” Abasi deigns to play a blatant melody. Elsewhere hooks reveal themselves more gradually. Unlike the excessively weedly axemanship of previous albums, Abasi has found a spot where melody and rhythm become the same thing, or at least play off each other in ways that will startle.

Quick Licks

Matt Garstka is one sick drummer. Like most metal drummers today, he has scary fast feet, but surprisingly has more in common with fusion drummers like Vinnie Colaiuta and Gavin Harrison than he does with his metal peers. Odd times, displacements, and metric modulations seem to pose no problems for Garstka. On this track he shows his ease playing in 11/16 while superimposing a dotted eighth-note feel on top of the pattern. This guy is incredible!

DRUM! Notation Guide

matt garstka


Latest Release The Joy Of Motion
Age 24
Birthplace Hopewell, Virginia
Influences Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Gary Novak, Yahnn Hunter, Ronald Bruner, Chris Coleman, Thomas Pridgen


Drums/Hardware Tama
Cymbals Meinl
Heads Remo
Sticks Vic Firth

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