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9-year-old’s drum cover videos take off online

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In four years, Briggs Akers has learned how to drum, gotten celebrity shout-outs for it and started posting his own instructional drumming videos.

Briggs is 9.

Since picking up drumming at age 5, Briggs has taken some area music venues by storm and has gotten tens of thousands of YouTube hits on his cover song performances.

His journey began with the video game Rock Band, which taught him to drum a basic beat.

“We owe it all to Xbox and video games,” said Evie Akers, his mother.

At 6, Briggs began playing on his dad’s drum set. “It just turned into mine,” Briggs said.

At first his father, Ray, who plays guitar and bass, taught him what he knew – which was limited. By age 7, Briggs started taking lessons virtually on mikeslessons.com, taught by Mike Johnston. Johnston, based in California, live-streams lessons online and virtually interacts with students who are watching around the world.

Briggs still takes lessons online from Mike, and is on the verge of reaching the advanced level of drumming.

He loves the challenges different techniques can present. He’s currently learning to master various polyrhythms, where each hand plays a different rhythm at the same time.

“I really like when you’re stuck on this thing for a week and you finally get it,” he said. “You scream out loud and jump out of your seat and want to smash your drums!”

In 2011, Briggs, then 7, drummed at an outdoor summer concert in Chicago, B96 Summer Bash, with his cousin, who’s a rapper. He had second thoughts about doing it when he got to the stage (“I even cried”), but afterward said he was glad he performed. Then he played with Taking Back Sunday at The Fillmore Charlotte during the band’s sound check.

“It was pretty fun,” Briggs said. “I was nervous half the time. All these teenagers were asking, ‘Is that you? You were awesome.’ There were these two teenage girls staring.”

This statement elicited an eyeroll from his mother. “His first taste of stardom,” she said.

The next year he played with the band Carson at Amos’ Southend music hall, then drummed with a disc jockey for a night at Whisky River in the EpiCentre. Briggs, who continues to battle stage fright, said he started drumming at the nightclub with a hoodie sweatshirt zipped up over his face. He’s learning that once he starts playing “all the nerves go away.”

Briggs’ dad owns a painting business, and in the Waxhaw family’s spare bedroom, he painted designs fit for a rock star where Briggs set up his drums.

He began videotaping Briggs drumming different song covers three years ago. The videos got thousands of hits, and some celebrities have noticed.

Briggs did a cover of One Direction’s “Live While We’re Young” – per his older sister’s persistent requests – and the band’s drummer, Josh Devine, saw it on YouTube.

Devine tweeted, “WOW What a little rock star! Brilliant cover, (I’m) really impressed! Tell him I said (he’s) amazing, well done and keep it up!”

Trevor Lawrence Jr., a Grammy-winning drummer and songwriter, said in an email to The Observer that he’s also been impressed by Briggs.

“I love the confidence and groove Briggs has at such a young age,” Lawrence said. He said he can tell Briggs’ dad is supportive and involved, which is helpful in making progress as a drummer.

“I will keep an eye out for him ... I know big things are ahead!” he wrote.

Inspired by Johnston’s online lessons, Briggs decided to make his own instructional videos for kids who want to learn drumming.

About six months ago, Briggs began giving instructions while his dad taped him. A weekly routine developed for the two: recording on Sundays and posting on Tuesdays. They started a website, kidsdrumminglessons.com, and Briggs has about 35 subscribers, to whom he emails new lessons and drum notations for free.

“It’s been hard,” he said. “I’m about to make a behind-the-scenes video because there have been a lot of mess-ups.”

He said he had to learn how to teach, which means slowing down and repeating more than he normally would. He welcomes new subscribers by name in his videos, and he’s got his own personal send-off: “Peace out, potato-face jellybeans!”

Briggs said he wanted to show kids to do something beyond “the basic old rock beat.” He’s posted more than two dozen lessons so far, which range from new drum fill ideas to stick tricks to 16th note grooves.

“It’s cool to teach kids,” he said. “Maybe when they grow up, they can be a rock star.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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