Maddie Scott is a percussion sensation

"It's my everything," Maddie Scott says of drumming. — Photo by Kathryn Antonsson

At the preliminary round in Boston for the nationwide Guitar Center Drum Off, the world’s largest drum competition, there was only one female drummer, and she happened to be the youngest of the competitors as well. And, although she didn’t win the opportunity to move on the the quarter-finals, the performance by 16-year-old Maddie Scott of West Tisbury was met with enthusiasm by everyone in attendance.

“Not to sound conceited,” she says, “but they stood up and screamed for me. I gave it my everything, but there were drummers who had been playing for 20 years.”

Maddie, on the other hand, has only been drumming for just over two years, but her talent trumped a number of other contestants — many of them professional musicians. She came in third among 10 competitors, just one place shy of moving on to the next round. After a series of rounds, five competitors from the nation’s 230 Guitar Centers will travel to Los Angeles to compete for a grand prize of $25,000, a chance to record in New York City, an endorsement package, and a feature in Modern Drummer Magazine.

The Vineyard teen will try her luck again next year, having learned from watching the competition what it takes to win.

“I need to broaden what I do more, instead of just playing the type of music I like,” she says. “I have to vary the beat a lot.” Maddie’s music of choice is heavy metal and she plays it loud, fast, and with intent.

The talented Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School junior shows up regularly at the Friday Open Stage nights at The Base Collective at Alex’s Place — the YMCA teen center’s performance space. Whether executing her self-composed solo or drumming freestyle, she displays remarkable skills and dexterity.

Not a show-off performer who plays to the crowd, Maddie’s talent speaks for itself. She is all attention to her craft, as her sticks fly around the multi-piece drum set, her hot pink hair falling across one eye and at times obscuring her vision totally. She knows how to turn a solo into a crowd-pleasing performance — slowing the beat at times only to build up the tempo to frequent crescendos of impressive audio fireworks and a cymbal-rattling finale.

However, despite her rock and roll look and fierce playing, Maddie is a quiet and thoughtful girl once she steps out from behind the drum kit. She is modest about her talent and gracious in response to praise. One thing is clear to anyone talking to her about music. She is dedicated to the point of obsession.

“It’s my everything,” she says of drumming.

Maddie is a recent Vineyard transplant. She was born in England to English parents. Although her family lived briefly in Newburyport when she was a preschooler, Maddie has spent most of her life in Europe, primarily France. The Scott family — Nik Scott, his wife, Pauline, Maddie, and eight-year-old son Jake — relocated to the Vineyard from France last year.

The teenage drumming phenom is basically self-taught, having learned the basics during two months of lessons.

“The teacher was teaching me jazz. I didn’t want to do that,” says Maddie. What she wanted to do was play heavy metal — the music that she had grown to love listening to her parents’ favorite bands. “I learned by playing along with songs I liked,” says Maddie.

As a 14-year-old in France, Maddie formed a rock band with two boys from her school. They played heavy metal covers at parties and competed in a local battle of the bands. Maddie is now the only female member of a band made up of her schoolmates here. The trio, I Killed Cupid, just got together in August of this year. They are working on writing original songs for which Maddie contributes the drum parts.

This past summer, the aspiring rock musician completed an intensive five-week performance program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The program was attended by adults as well as teens, and Maddie had the chance to perform with a variety of musicians. She also took a number of music classes and practiced around five hours every day. “It was amazing,” she says.

Maddie plays the drums using the double pedal method, a difficult technique to master that involves coordinating both feet as well as both hands. She notes that double-pedal drummers are not that common, especially “not with other styles of music and not with girls.”

She has composed a drum solo of about three minutes that is her standard performance piece and what she wowed the crowd with at the recent Drum Off in Boston. “It just evolved. I’m changing it every day.” She practices for at least an hour every day — two on weekends. Maddie is also a self-taught pianist but she has less interest in that instrument.

She draws inspiration by listening to her favorite bands – Bullet for my Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold, and Papa Roach among them. Along with her parents and brother, she attends as many off-Island concerts as possible. Maddie estimates that her little brother has seen more than 200 bands. Although they are all music fans, no one else in the family is a musician. Maddie’s inspiration as a young girl was, instead, a family friend in France, another female double-pedal drummer.

Maddie’s dream is to play with a metal band some day, but she’s practical and systematic about her plans for the future. After graduation, she hopes to attend music school — preferably Berklee. “I want to be a performer,” she says. However, she has a backup plan to teach private lessons and play in bands on the side.

Working toward her ultimate goal, she spends an hour a day playing along with recorded music and an hour practicing technique — “Doing stuff I haven’t done before or odd rhythms that screw with my head.”

So far this dedicated teen has managed to master whatever she has set her mind to.

You can witness Maddie in action at an upcoming showcase at the teen center on Saturday, Oct. 20. Teen talent — musicians and poets — will be featured at the Base Collective at Alex’s Place, starting at 7. All are welcome. Admission is $5.