PLEASE READ: This article contains excerpts from my upcoming book about how to teach drum lessons. Please enjoy this article and feel free to leave questions or comments at the bottom of this post. if you are interested in learning more about teaching drums then please join the mailing list to stay updated about the release.
How To Teach Drums (and make a living!)
Teaching drums is a great way to earn an income as a professional drummer. Not only can it pay well, but it is also a great excuse for being at the drums all day. A well rounded teacher will have knowledge on a plethora of drumming topics so that they can impart the most accurate information possible onto their students. They will be passionate about what they do, so to inspire their students to reach their maximum potential.
What you’ll need to get started
The most important items you need to teach drum lessons is a drum set and some drumsticks. From there you’ll need learning materials, such as method books, exercise sheets, and online resources, as well as manuscript paper for notating and transcribing. A metronome, either a physical one of a phone app, is important as well.
Subscribing to a streaming service is also recommended, so you can easily find and catalogue the songs that your students are working on, and do categorical research into types of music you would like to learn more about. I have two Spotify playlists that I use for my students. One is a playlist with all of the songs my students are working on, by their own choice. Usually I don't have the sheet music for these songs and we work on them with my cheat-sheet method and learning them by ear. The second playlist are songs that I have chosen that I have transcriptions for, which we analyze the song and the music, looking for themes, and trying to find groupings in the drumming that will help you to memorize the music more easily.
Earplugs are uber important as well!
Having headphones for you and the student is important, with a headphone splitter connecting the two so you can listen to music together.
Certain books could be considered “classics” are important to have. Make sure to master these books.
Here is a list of books that I always go to first with my students to provide them with a solid foundation. I am also very open-minded towards anything else the student might bring in, but this list is my go-to list. Each link goes to Amazon so you can check current prices.
Be knowledgeable and well-rounded
The more experience you have in different areas of drumming then the more you will have to offer your students. Did you take band class in high school? Have you ever played in a marching band? A jazz group? A metal group? The more times you said yes to those questions the better.
Teaching from a point wisdom is probably the most important aspect of a great teacher. Teaching from a point of wisdom means having knowledge of things through direct experience rather than just relying on book knowledge. This brings a deeper understanding of your subject matter. Be honest with yourself about your abilities, and be honest with you students at all times. They’ll sense your bs and will stop trusting you if you teach above your skill level. If you don’t know something then look it up with them, or tell them you’ll read up on it and will give your opinion at the next class.
If you don’t have a lot of experience with different types of drumming then go out and get that experience! Take private lessons, start a band in a genre you want to improve on and immerse yourself. Get a degree in music and you will have the solid foundation you’ll need to teach. There are plenty of amateur and semi-professional marching bands as well and so by joining one it will push you to improve your snare drum chops and reading abilities.
Do you know what your weaknesses are? Once you figure out your weaknesses then get to work eradicating them until you are a wise, well-rounded teaching guru.
Learning to read at a high level is one of the most important skills needed as a teacher. You will be required at different times to read through assignments for students in high school, and if you can’t then you shouldn’t be teaching at that level. Also, being able to transcribe is very important. If a student brings in a song to learn then you should be able to at least notate the key points of the songs. For example, I often make a “Cheat Sheet” where I write down the grooves for each verse, chorus, and bridge, as well as the difficult drum-fills in the songs. For learning the rest of the song, I encourage the student to learn it by ear. If they request a full transcription then I do it for a small fee. But if I didn’t know how to read music then I wouldn’t be able to transcribe, thus lowering the quality of drum lessons my students are receiving.
I would like to note however....................... (continued in the e-book)
Develop a teaching system that works for you and your students in a general way, but that can be molded to suit each individual student based on their needs, style of learning, and skill level. I always teach three things in each class, no matter the level.
#1 - Hands
This can be anything having to do with hands, including: Hand warm-ups, hand strengthening, rudiments, technique, sticking exercises, accenting, dynamics, and more….
Any combination of the above is taught first thing, as a bit of a warm-up and because the hands need to be well-oiled machines.
#2 - Coordinations
Next we work on any sort of multi-limb coordination exercises that have been assigned, including: Grooves from different styles (Rock, Jazz, World etc….), 4-limb independence exercises, Syncopation reading exercises, “drum puzzles” (playing strange patterns with all four limbs to free up their independence), linear hand-foot combinations, and more….
#3 - Musicality
This is anything that directly pertains to playing drums in a musical context, and has little to do with technique.
This can include: Playing-along to music, improvising, analyzing music, phrasing concepts, studying specific drummers, composing drum parts, composing drum solos, and more…..
This is the time to teach your student to get beyond the techniques and to teach them how to.......................... (continued in e-book).
A lot of musicians, and music teachers don’t think about themselves as entrepreneurs. They often think of themselves as artists who supplement their income by teaching. This is a grave mistake and if this is you then you need to fix your attitude immediately or you will end up failing and not making a living as a musician. It is a mistake because a musician is a self-employed independent contractor who finds their own clients to do business with. In any other field of work this type of person is considered an entrepreneur and they would take classes on entrepreneurship, management, marketing etc. But somehow not in music. Taking an accounting class is a great idea, because as musicians, we are often so much in the clouds, we forget about the basics of day-to-day life, including managing our income. Keep track of your income and make sure to do things properly as to not get into trouble down the line. And don’t forget to keep all of your receipts as many things can be written off as business expenses, thus lowering your risk of paying large amounts of money to the taxman in your country.
Regarding managing student files.................(continued in e-book)
Inspire your students to practice by showing them how much fun playing the drums can be and by pushing them towards consistent practice. Talk to the student about practicing, in every class so that the student understands how important it is. Something to consider however is that if you wish to preach the importance of practice to your students, then you yourself should be practicing on a regular basis as to set a good example for your student. As I mentioned in a previous point, you should never bs your student, they will smell it from a mile away and you will develop a reputation as being a teacher who does not practice what they preach.........(continued in e-book)
Once you begin to teach students at the intermediate and advanced levels then you’ll need to be able to play a class beforehand. For the most part, beginners can be taught step-by-step using some sort of teaching method. But people reaching the level of entry-professional, to seasoned-professional will need preparation, as each student will have specific needs that you must address.
Preparing for a class can be as simple as reviewing the class notes a few minutes before the student arrives, to brushing up on an exercise in advance so you can show them a good example, to writing out individualized lessons....... (continued in e-book).
They say that if you truly understand a topic that you should be able to explain it to a 5-year old. Well this can literally be the case when it comes to teaching drum lessons, as you might be teaching small children the drums. So make sure you have a very strong understanding of the topics you cover so that you don’t talk over peoples’ heads..............(continued in e-book)
Easy to be around
You MUST be easy to hang with, otherwise you will lose students very quickly. There are so many drum teachers out there, whether in person or online, that very few people will tolerate a bad attitude.
Also, if you are not passionate about drumming then you might come across as boring & uninteresting...................(continued in e-book)
Online activity is a must. You should have a basic website that people can find when looking up “(your city) drum lessons”, AND “drum lessons (your city)”. Do a basic read on SEO optimization. This is not a daunting task and can do wonders for you getting calls for lessons. If you do a proper layout for your website you can easily make it to page one of Google, which will boost your leads dramatically.
Another topic to discuss is your social media presence. Like your website, your social media presence doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but making Facebook and Instagram pages and posting twice per week can boost your visibility dramatically, and helps your SEO as well by putting a website link in your social media profiles, and sometimes promoting your site on drumming Facebook groups. In my city there is a local drummer Facebook group. Am I active on this page? Of course! I check it twice per week, liking posts that I think are cool, and commenting on posts when I feel like contributing. And guess what? It works! I get amateur and professional drummers alike connecting with me for lessons, as a direct result of my social media activity.
Word of mouth is still important, and I regularly get students through referrals. But gone are the days where we can ignore the internet, if you choose to then you will suffer by not having as many students........(continued in e-book)
Setting up workshops in your community is a great way to promote what you do, and you can get new students from the experience as well. Consider setting up a couple of free workshops (or masterclasses) before charging for them. This way you can get experience and confidence talking in front of groups of people. That when you start to charge for the time, people will feel like they are getting value for their money.............(continued in e-book)
If you are passionate about playing drums, still consider yourself a student of the instrument, and are interested in passing knowledge onto the next generation of drummers, then teaching is for you!
Thanks for reading this excerpt. if you are interested in learning more about teaching drums then please join the mailing list to stay updated about the release.