George L. Stone
by Rick Mattingly
The small announcement that appeared in the December 1935 issue of Leedy Drum Topics gave no hint that drum history was about to be changed.
"Geo. Lawrence Stone, famous Boston drummer who conducts the country's largest drum school at 61 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., is now offering a new book of drum technique (not rudiments) which will definitely improve one's drumming by a series of exercises for the sticks. Any drummer, regardless of what type of work he does, will benefit by using this book. It is called 'Stick Control' and has the endorsement of many leading drummers as being unique in the field and a very wonderful means for improving a drummer's ability. Those interested in this new text may secure it by writing to Mr. Stone direct at the address mentioned above. The cost of the book is $1.50."
Nearly sixty years later, when the editors of Modern Drummer magazine polled prominent players and teachers in order to determine the "25 Greatest Drum Books," Stick Control received the most votes. Modeled after the Arban Trumpet Method, a book Stone often used with his xylophone students, Stick Control could be applied to virtually any type of drumming, and jazz, classical, rudimental and rock drummers alike often referred to it as the drummers' bible.
The man who wrote it, George Lawrence Stone, was born in 1886, the son of drummer, drum teacher and drum manufacturer George Burt Stone. George Lawrence learned drums and xylophone from his father, and also helped out in George B. Stone's shop, where the elder Stone tucked drumheads, turned drumsticks, made wooden foot pedals and sold violins.
"If I have had my share of success in teaching others," George Lawrence wrote in the November 1, 1946 bulletin of the National Association of Rudimental Drummers, "its origin was in the way my father taught me, and in his counsel, so often repeated: 'If you accept a pupil you accept a responsibility. In one way or another you've got to go through with him. There's no alibi if you don't.'"
George Lawrence also studied with Harry A. Bowers and Frank E. Dodge, learned timpani from Oscar Schwar of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and studied music theory at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Stone joined the musicians union at age 16, becoming its youngest member. In 1910 he was a xylophonist on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit, and he played timpani and bells with the Boston Festival Orchestra. Stone played in the pit of Boston's Colonial Theater under the baton of Victor Herbert, and was a member of the Boston Opera Orchestra for five years.
After George B. Stone's death in 1917, George Lawrence ran his father's drum factory and became principal of the Stone Drum and Xylophone School in Boston. He also wrote articles on drumming technique for International Musician and Jacob's Orchestra Monthly.
Stone was a founding member of the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD), which began in 1933, and served as its president for fifteen years. The publication of Stick Control made Stone even more in demand as a teacher, and drummers such as Gene Krupa, Sid Catlett, George Wettling and Lionel Hampton sought out Stone's expertise.
Jazz drummer Joe Morello started taking lessons from Stone when he was sixteen. "Every lesson was a joy to go to," Morello says. "If you did something wrong, he had a way of letting you know about it, but without belittling you. He was a very gentle kind of man, and he had a good sense of humor. He had a way of bringing out the best in me."
Stone, in turn, was inspired by Morello, who would add various accents to the exercises in Stick Control. Stone incorporated some of Morello's ideas into his book Accents and Rebounds, which he dedicated to Morello. And some of the exercises Stone wrote out for Morello appeared in Morello's 1983 book Master Studies.
As Stone's renown as a teacher increased, the George B. Stone & Son drum manufacturing business began to decline. The factory closed in the late 1930s and the equipment was idle until 1950 when Ralph Eames purchased it, using it to make Eames rope-tensioned parade drums. Today, some of Stone's equipment is still used by the Eames Drum Company in the manufacture of its drum shells.
Stone continued to be active as a teacher through the 1940s. One of his students during that time was Vic Firth. "Mr. Stone was a droll Yankee type," Firth recalls, "but a very sweet man. He was probably one of the first technique builders of the teachers, and he felt it was terribly important to make music. His theory was that you can be a sculptor by virtue of owning a hammer and chisel, but you don't really sculpt anything until you have the technique to do it. Likewise, before you can do anything 'shapely' in music, you've got to have the hands to do it with."
George Lawrence Stone died at the age of 81 on November 19, 1967. His wife died two days later, and his son, George Lawrence Stone Jr., died thirty-two days after his father. Eulogizing his friend in The Ludwig Drummer, William F. Ludwig Sr. said, "George was always helpful to everyone - his motto was 'Service before self.' May he rest in the satisfaction that he did his best for the percussion field for many, many years."
Following are excerpts from George Lawrence Stone's "Technique of Percussion" columns that ran in International Musician during the 1950s and '60s.
The Carbon Paper Check-up
The carbon paper method of reproducing drumbeats has long been a part of the teaching equipment at the Stone School. Just lay a sheet of white paper on a desk or table-top, place the carbon inked side down upon this, put a pair of drumsticks in your pupil's hands, direct him to execute a rudiment on the carbon, lift the carbon off and there it is - his drumming signature on the paper before him!
Drumming in Two Easy Lessons
A reader writes: "A brother drummer claims that there are only two rudiments in drumming, the single stroke and the double stroke, and that these are all you have to know. Is this right?"
Yes, reader, it's right as far as it goes. Tell the brother there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and that's all he has to know, until he finds out they have to be strung together in some sort of way before they make sense.
The Wheat From the Chaff
An eager seeker after more light on the whys and wherefores of percussion beats his breast in despair over the conflict of opinion apparent in the writings of various drum authorities.
Don't let it disturb you, brother. Conflict, or difference of opinion, is and always will be with us, and it is only through the aforementioned that a meeting of minds on any given subject will finally, we hope, be achieved. Get information on your favorite subject from all sources, then separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say up-country, and settle for whatever meeting of minds you may detect.