As a drum teacher giving private drum lessons for 20 years, my #1 objective has always been to get the best out of my students and to help them realize their goals. Nearly everything in the class is about getting the student to reach their full potential, "their" definition of greatness. I say "their definition" because each student has a unique reason for being there, and so attention and care must be taken to understand the student and to help them reach their greatness. Watching students grow is one of the most rewarding experiences that a teacher can have.
Here are the points that I try to impart on my students to help them achieve their full potential:
1. The Importance of Being a Student
Help the student see that they have made a good choice to become a student of the drums. Practicing with bad habits can create difficulties down the line, and so being a student will teach them the good habits, while also (hopefully) learning about discipline, dedication, and perseverance. Drumming can teach them to be a better person and teaching them the qualities of learning this instrument can do a lot for them in realizing why they are there.
Music education is extremely important in the development of a great musician. There are very few musicians in the history of music who were completely self-taught, and behind every great musician was a great mentor. Therefore, it is the teacher's job to show the student the importance of studying music under a professional educator.
Stress the importance of long-term study. A lot of students come to me and tell me that they just want to "learn the basics". What are "the basics"? Does that mean a couple of 8th note grooves and a couple of drum fills? Enter Sandman? I recognize that people do take classes for their own reasons, but you could also make it a goal with any new student to teach them the joys of making drumming a lifelong journey! Of course the student can always look online, searching things like Free Drum Lessons for Beginners, or 5 Beginning Drum Lessons. But make sure they understand how them being in your physical studio and taking one-on-one lessons will help them immensely. There is no replacement for a great teacher,.
2. The Rudiments of Drumming
Teach them to practice their rudiments on a single surface (ie. snare drum or practice pad), and if they play double-pedals then learning the rudiments with their feet can develop tremendous control. Drumming rudiments are to drummers what scales and arpeggios are to melodic instruments. Make sure they are constantly learning new rudiments and improving upon older rudiments. Once they reach the foundational level then teach them more advanced ideas, such as how to start a rudiment on any beat, or how to play a rudiment using a different rhythm.
Check out these articles I wrote on rudiments Permutating Rudiments ; AND Maximizing you Rudimental Potential
3. Complete Independence
Independence, or interdependence as some call it, is not given enough credit, and is often relegated to teaching different drum beats. But the fact is that as drummers we are almost always using our limbs in some sort of combination, and thus we must teach the student to constantly address this topic and to work on it at all times. The better their coordination the better the student will be able to articulate their ideas. if you have a student who has developed the basic skills of drumming with three limbs (bass drum snare drum and cymbal), then it is time to add in the high hat. Start with adding the high hat on 2 and 4 and have them practice some of the coordination exercises that you previously worked on. Once the student is comfortable with this concept, then have them play their ideas while maintaining a hi-hat pattern on the quarter note, and once they are comfortable with this have them play the high hat on the “ands”. if you have a student how you think is ready to take it to the next level, then I highly recommend purchasing “Extreme Interdependence” buy Marco Minnemann. This book runs the complete gambit of four-way coordination, and if your student, or yourself for that matter, wishes to master the concept of forward coordination, then this book is a must!
4. Reading Music
Reading is an important part of musical development because it allows the student to be able to learn things on their own, and allows them to write down their own ideas. Down the line it will also allow the student to work with professional musicians that require basic reading skills. It is a must for any musician considering going into the music industry. There is not just one way to teach a student how to read music. Be sensitive to what the students goals are, and tailor the reading lessons to suit their needs. Learning to read music can also increase the rhythmic vocabulary of the student and will give them a plethora of new material to draw from.
5. Stick Control
This book is an irreplaceable resource for gaining a strong foundation in hand control. Some will dive deep into this book, practicing it every day. Others will need a gentle nudge (or a strong push) towards this book. Even if they do one line per day, it will do a lot for the student. Don't let them slide.
Be a good example by also practicing stick control exercises, be inspiring! Show them examples of how you can apply the stick control exercises to the drum set, and don't just tell them to put one hand on the floor tom and the other hand on the snare drum. There are a thousand and one ways to apply the book directly to the drumset. If you don’t know them yourself and look up the resources online, or contact me for help with it. The stick control concept doesn’t just end with the book Stick Control either. There is also a part two, titled “Accents & Rebounds”. In this book George Lawrence Stone added accents to the exercises and then different types of lines and arrows above the notes which delineate very specific hand movements and heights.
Another classic in the drum-education repertoire, this book teaches reading, bass drum/snare drum coordination, accent studies and more. It can be used with beginners in their first classes, and is also used by professional musicians performing at the highest levels. There are so many ways to play this book that it's not even funny. There are literally hundreds of resources for how to practice and learn from this book. Just Google it.
7. Studying the Music
Teach the student to find inspiration from listening to music in an analytical way. Listen to music with them and point out different things that you notice. When possible try to relate this listening exercise to what you're currently working on with them, or what you have recently learned. That way the ideas are fresh and the student can see the direct application of the lesson material.
Choose songs that you have the notes for so they can read along, and ask them questions about what they hear? “What sticking would they use for that?” That’s an interesting groove, where do you think they got that from?”. Make up exercises for things that they can’t play, with the goal being that they can play-along to the music they are studying. Choose things that are above their skill level and make long-term goals to reach that level within x months, or in a year.
8. Studying Specific Drummers
Studying a specific drummer can teach the student about developing an individual sound, and a unique vocabulary. Transcribe the drummer's playing to look at the specific patterns they are using and then listen to their music to study how they execute those ideas. Write out the patterns they like and have them develop their own exercises to create their own original vocabulary.
Get them to watch interviews where the drummer talks about influences or how they developed certain ideas. There are a ton of videos online by most of the famous drummers where they show how they developed certain concepts.
Make sure to study multiple drummers with them so they don't end up just copying another drummer.
(If you're out of ideas then check out this article about the top 5 drummers in each genre to study TOP 5).
9. Listening to all Kinds of Music Without Bias
Teach them that even if they don't love a certain music they can still learn a lot from it. By studying the music in an analytical way they can potentially learn from any source, thus broadening their scope and becoming more open-minded towards other types of music.
Some students will have a hard time accepting the validity of this concept, and perhaps won’t be interested in doing this. Always be sensitive to what they want out of the classes, but also if you teach a certain way and have a mandate that the student must learn certain principles, or about certain styles of music, then that’s equally your prerogative.
10. Studying the History
Teach them the history of the music. Focus on the music they are interested in and its history, but teach them the importance of understanding the lineage of their genre.
You could go by decade within a certain type of music, for example if it’s jazz go from the mid-1910s and each class teach a different decade or era. If looking at Rock & Roll then begin with the blues and show them how this evolved into Rock & Roll. Studying the roots of the music will deepen their understanding and teach them to respect the history of music.
11. Watching Videos of Great Drummers
Show the student the benefits of studying videos of drummers that they admire. Studying the movements of drummers can unlock a lot of the reasons as to what makes them so great. YouTube is a great resource, you can slow down the video by 25%, and even 50%.
Talk about what you see in the videos. How are they sitting? What types of grips are they employing? How are they moving their arms when doing fills? Do they look tense or relaxed? Heel-up or heel-down?
12. Having the Student Record or Videotape Themselves
Recording the student and having them listen to themselves can teach a lot about how they play. Having the student watch videos of their own playing can help them a lot by watching how they move.
Teach them that how they move is what creates the sounds that they make. If the sound is tense, or if they are unable to execute certain patterns then have them watch a video of their playing and let them figure out what they need to improve on. If they can’t figure it out for themselves then help them!
13. The Metronome is their Friend
Teach them how to play with a metronome and stress the importance of practicing with and without one. It can be difficult in the beginning to play along to a metronome so start with the basics, even just clapping with it, or tapping 1/4 notes on the snare drum. Then move to the most basic drum beats. Make it fun and stress-free and they'll catch on quickly!
Teach them how to play games with the metronome to challenge themselves. Play as if the metronome is on the “&’s”, or on the second triplet partial, or on beat 2 of each measure. Or setup the metronome to play some sort of rhythm, like a clave rhythm, and have them practice their exercises to that.
14. Practice Practice Practice
This may seem obvious but finding the best way to inspire the student to begin practicing in a diligent manner can take a lot of patience. If you can find what makes a student tick then you will see exponential development from them.
Also, sometimes it takes a while before the student realizes how fun drums are and begin to practice regularly. The beginning stages of learning the drums can be slow and frustrating for some if they are not coordinated for it. This can happen at any age and does mean they shouldn’t play drums. But be patient with them and one day you will see something click and they will begin to practice on a regular basis.
Also, as a teacher, you should be practicing daily as to set a good example for the student.
15. Clean Playing
A lot students, once they reach the intermediate-stage, will sometimes start talking about individual style or sound. That's great and all, but it must be noted that there is a HUGE difference between making the choice to play in a down & dirty manner, and excusing lack of technical skill with having an individual sound. Get them to recognize their weaknesses and to work on them.
Clean playing does not mean that you will sound unexciting and boring. What it does mean though is that you have put in the time to learn how to properly execute an idea before trying to add different inflections into it. Make to spend time perfecting techniques and not moving on to quickly, so the student understands how much work they need to put in to be able to properly execute their ideas.
Spend some time in the lessons improvising with your student. Teach them how to search for new ideas by listening in an objective manner. Record these sessions and listen back with the student, pointing out ideas that you think are worthy of attention, to help them develop their ear to listen for interesting ideas.
For any drummer who has developed a unique style of playing, they have spent countless hours taking techniques and different ideas that they learned and and creating something unique out of them. They did not just study the techniques to understand them but spent enough time to be able to apply then in unique ways. Part of achieving a unique sound comes from experimentation and this could be done in a methodical way, for example experimenting with a very specific idea or technique, or by just experimenting on the drums in a concentrated manner, or by recording themselves and listening back. For a student to be able to hear their experimentation and all of the possibilities of what they are doing, you must show them what to listen for.
Oftentimes as a teacher we are required to listen in a very objective manner meaning even if a student is it beginner it is our job to find what is great about what they're doing and to point it out to them. Record your student every couple of lessons improvising and listen back with them to point out things that you think are great about what they do. Have them learn to speak about their drumming in an intelligent manner and you will help them to develop a unique style of playing the drums.
This exercise is often difficult for certain students who are used to being told what to do in their everyday lives and who might have difficulties improvising and thinking of what they do as great. Your job as the educator/mentor is to build up their confidence and to erase these negative thoughts about themselves, do this and they will succeed. Never allow self-doubt to creep its way into a lesson, you need to cut that off the second it rears its ugly head as that will only lead to negative thoughts and stunted growth. No matter what sorts of improvisations the student does in the experimental phase, always find things that are great and point them out, tell them they are exceptional and that they have great potential. All students have unlimited potential and is our jobs to help them to unlock this potential.
17. Learning Songs
Have the student learn songs, both by reading the notes and also by ear. Have them write out a cheat sheet for the song, to help them memorize it. Listen to as many different versions of a song as you can find to teach them that analyzing the song will help them to learn it in a deeper way. Get them to try notating the song themselves to help with their transcription skills.
I have always recommended learning two songs at a time, one song the choice of the student, and one song my choice. This pushes the student firstly, to find things that they like and get them developing personal taste in music. Secondly by bringing in music that they may not know about or may not have thought about as a potential song you will open their mind to different genres and drummers that will help them to grow musically. Have the student learn by ear, and if they need help write things down for them. Sometimes the student might find a song that has all of the notes. Great, use it to analyze the drummer and the song. I will also sometimes have the student figure out things themselves by ear, which will help them to develop a high level of hearing so that they will be able to learn things on their own one day.
18. Playing the Pocket
Always stress the importance of playing in the pocket! Get them to play with a metronome for a long period of time, until they begin hearing each individual note and begin how to place them in a way that creates a pocket.
Pocket can sometimes be hard to teach for certain people, as some do not have a strong natural rhythmic feel. The best way to teach a student who does not have a strong rhythmic feel about pocket is to have them play basic rhythms for a long period of time until they understand how to mold the rhythms to create a particular feel. This can be done by using a basic rock beat of bass drum on beat one and snare drum on beat three with hi-hats on eighth notes. This simple beat that students often learn in their very first lesson is a great reference point as it is been played so many times in the history of music that you will easily be able to find examples of drummers play that beat with a great pocket. You can have the student drum along to the songs and to absorb the feel of that drummer.
If your pocket is strong then have the student play along with you for several minutes playing simple beats and rhythms, to learn from a directly from an example. Maintain your strong pocket and the student will sell soon follow. Doing things such as tapping quarter notes or eighth notes can be a way to develop pocket. Starting on a single surface can help the student to not be overwhelmed by the need to develop a strong rhythmic pulse and execute certain coordination ideas at the same time. Encourage the student and be sensitive to their abilities. No one wants to hear that they have a weak groove as having a great time-feel is every drummer’s goal!
Record the student playing these grooves and have them analyzed their playing. Give them feedback, but always get them to critique themselves first so that they can learn to hear things on their own.
19. Playing at Open Mics
Open mics are one of the best ways to gain experience at performing with other musicians. Generally speaking an open mic is a low key affair where musicians of many different levels come together to hang out and play music. Depending on the open mic they can be very supportive communities where musicians can go to meet like-minded artists. Make sure to look into the open mic before recommending it to them. As great as they can be sometimes they can be not-so-positive places as well.
Once the student has committed to go into an open mic or to a jam session, help them prepare mentally for it by explaining to them the different things that they will see.
First of all explain to them that they will need to approach the band leader or the people organizing the session to ask to get up and play.
Secondly explain to them that they should tell the organizer what their level is so that they can be put with musicians who they think will best match their abilities.
Thirdly, if the student is good at socializing, encourage them to say hello to the musicians who they see up on stage when they are hanging out. Encourage them network with like-minded musicians who they might end up playing with in a band one day.
Fourthly, prepare them for the fact that sometimes at open mics and jam sessions there are people who take it upon themselves to shut down younger or beginner musicians. Explain to them that these musicians are only expressing their own lack of self-confidence in an outboard manner, and are putting their low self-esteem onto people who they deem are lesser than them. Tell them not to be brought down by these fools and to just stay strong and be confident. Do not let toxic people bring them down.
Finally, once they get up to play make sure that they know what their job is, which is not to show people that they are the next Buddy Rich. Explain to them that the best thing they can do is lay down a strong groove, some smooth drum fills, and have a big smile and positive vibes. This will attract musicians to them to increase their chances of playing at the jam session again or even joining a band one day.
20. Starting or Joining a Band
Once the student is able to play along to music and maybe played at a couple open mics, encourage them to find other musicians to start a band with. Or if they don't want to start one themselves then encourage them to seek out a band that is looking for a drummer.
Throughout the history of Music there are countless bands that started with a group of friends getting together to play music together in their parent's garage, or in somebody's basement. Therefore, the first place a student should consider looking is in their own circle of friends and family. Even if there is only one other person they know who plays an instrument, this will make them that much stronger when they approach other musicians to join their project because they will already have somebody else on board. If the student doesn’t know any musicians and must start from scratch, then help them make their first ad.
Help them to make a poster or online ad that clearly denotes what genre of music they would like to play, and perhaps that states a couple of influences that they would like the group to have. Is it a cover band or an original music band? Is it a fun project or a serious project. Put a rough age group (teenager, 20-50 etc…..). If the student has any sort of recorded demos then encourage them to make a SoundCloud and to put the link in the advertisement so that musicians can check it out.
21. Playing with More Skilled Musicians
When thinking about who to play music with, any professional musician knows that working with musicians who have more experience and/or more technical abilities is one of the best ways to improve. Once your student begins to get into their local music scene encourage them to hang at the places where the better musicians hang. Every city has a jam session that features high-level players, so push them to go that session and to learn from the pros.
It can take courage to approach a musician who has more skill than your student. Although there is a chance that the that the person will say no, there is also a chance that they will say yes, and this can lead to incredible musical development. I have personally benefited many times in my career from asking extremely talented musicians to join my projects on stage. A lot of times I was given a no, or even no response at all, but there have been many times when the answer has been yes and what came out of it were incredible musical experiences.
Also prepare the musician for the fact that sometimes high-level musicians are intolerant of people who do not show up prepared for a gig or a rehearsal. So the student must know that if a high-level musician accepts their offer to join them that they must have their s*** together and be well prepared for the experience, otherwise it could be their last time ever playing with the high-level musician. If you don't think that the student will have get their s*** together for this experience then do not suggest it to them as it will only lead to bad experiences.
22. Listen, Practice, Play
As the title suggests, the Big 3 for improving as a musician are Listen, Practice and Play, and attention must be given to all three. Musicians can often get stuck in a cycle of only practicing, never listening, never playing. This will give them a high degree of technical ability but no ability to perform music with others (Playing), and no reference from where to draw their musical content (Listening). I once asked my favourite jazz drummer, "If you had 3 hours a day to spend on your musical development, how would you use that time?" His answer was, "One hour of practicing, one hour of playing with others, one hour of listening".
23. Living a Healthy Lifestyle
Leading a healthy lifestyle is very important and cannot be ignored. Eating proper meals, having good sleeping habits and a sound mind will help the student to focus and will keep them feeling positive about themselves.
Ever heard of the book “Effortless Mastery”? No? Author Kenny Werner’s approach to music is one of personal acceptance, and his book has influenced musicians around the world to clean up their act (including me). Get it today and begin to apply these concepts to your playing, which will filter in to your students. This book is the top resource for learning to play music with a sound mind.
24. Learning Another Instrument
Encourage them to learn a secondary instrument. They don't even need to take private classes, but learning another instrument (piano, guitar, trumpet, ukulele) can drastically improve their drumming because they will better understand things like rhythm, melody and song structure.
I remember when I began to learn Glockenspiel at music school I started to melodic ideas that I could apply to the drum set, and I still use some of those ideas today. If they don’t want to learn another instrument then at least listen to the other instruments in a song and talk about them. Open their ears to what else is going on in the song than the drums! This will help them to grow musically and not just technically.
25. Staying Strong
Through all of it, the journey to becoming great at something is a long one, and requires much diligence and patience. Don't let your student get down on the fact that it takes years to become a great drummer. Be there for them and give them the encouragement they need to become a legend.
by: Brandon Goodwin
Montreal, QC, Canada
As I often mention, there is no substitute for a good teacher. If you have questions, or perhaps need clarification then I strongly encourage you to find a teacher and work through these ideas with them. You will develop much more quickly and will eradicate any bad habits that could develop if practicing without guidance. You can always contact me about lessons at my studio in Montreal, or on Skype. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the art of drumming, so find the best teacher you can and stick with it.
Brandon Goodwin Bio
Brandon has worked with renowned jazz musicians such as Braxton Cook, Grammy-award winning artists Delfeayo Marsalis, and Kebbi Williams, as well as some of Canada’s top talent, including Fraser Hollins, Al McLean, and Samuel Blais.
Brandon has studied with some of Canada’s top drummers, including, Nasyr Abdul Al-Kabyr (Dizzy Gillespie), Dave Laing, and Dave Robbins, and has also studied privately with internationally acclaimed drummers Ari Hoenig and Dan Weiss.
He has taught masterclasses at high schools and universities in Canada and the U.S. and is the owner/principal operator of Studio Drum MTL. Based out of Verdun QC, Brandon services Greater Montreal, Lasalle, Lachine, NDG, Westmount, and Cote St Luc with his high quality drum lessons.
Brandon’s group B’s Bees has performed concerts in North America and in Asia, at major jazz festivals and in some of the best jazz clubs in the world. The group has also performed masterclasses at high schools and in universities in Canada, the U.S. and in Asia.
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