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
Encouraging students to realize the value of formal drumming education is crucial. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to break, but proper instruction can help students cultivate beneficial habits from the start. Beyond techniques, they can also learn vital life skills such as discipline, dedication, and perseverance, which make them not just better drummers but better people.
Music education is pivotal for any aspiring musician. Few legends in the music world were entirely self-taught; behind each great musician was often a great mentor. Hence, it's the educator's role to highlight the significance of professional training in musical development.
Some students may express a desire to "just learn the basics," but it's essential to explore what that really means. Is it a few simple 8th note grooves or something like "Enter Sandman"? While students may have various motivations for taking lessons, it's valuable to inspire them to see drumming as a lifelong journey.
Though online resources like "Free Drum Lessons for Beginners" are abundant, the benefit of hands-on, one-on-one training in a physical studio can't be overstated. There's simply no substitute for personalized instruction from a skilled 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, so 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!
Click here to check current prices for "Extreme Interdependence" on Amazon
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.
Check out this article I wrote about the top resources for learning to read rhythm
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.
Click here to check current prices for "Stick Control" on Amazon
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.
Click here to check current prices for "Syncopation" on Amazon
7. Studying the Music
Guide students to derive inspiration through analytical listening. When you listen to music together, point out specific elements that tie into your current lessons or recent topics. This ensures that the concepts are fresh in their minds and show real-world application.
Select songs for which you have sheet music so that students can read along. Engage them with questions like, "What sticking technique would you use here?" or "What's the origin of that unique groove?" Tailor exercises to help them grasp elements they currently find challenging, with the ultimate goal being their ability to play along with the music they're studying.
Choose material that stretches their current skill set and establish long-term objectives—be it several months or a year—to reach that level. This approach not only challenges them but also provides clear goals to strive for.
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.
Incorporate improvisation into your lessons to help students explore new ideas. Record these sessions and review them together, highlighting aspects that merit further exploration. This practice sharpens their ability to recognize intriguing ideas when they hear them.
Every drummer with a distinct style has dedicated substantial time to assimilating techniques and transforming them into something unique. This involves methodical experimentation—be it working on a specific concept or technique, engaging in focused drumming sessions, or reviewing recorded practice. Teach your students what to listen for, helping them grasp the full range of their own experimentation.
As educators, we need to listen objectively to find the positive aspects in a student's performance, regardless of their skill level. Periodically record your students' improvisations and review them together, pinpointing what they're doing well. Encourage them to articulate their thoughts about their drumming intelligently; this contributes to developing a unique style.
For students who struggle with improvisation or self-doubt, your role is to bolster their confidence and counteract any negative self-talk. Nip self-doubt in the bud immediately; it's an obstacle to growth. Reinforce that every improvisation holds value and potential. Your ultimate objective is to unlock this potential, affirming that each student has unlimited possibilities awaiting discovery.
17. Learning Songs
Encourage students to learn songs both by reading notes and by ear. Have them create a 'cheat sheet' for quick reference, fostering deeper memorization. Expose them to multiple versions of the same song to enhance their analytical listening skills. Introduce transcription exercises to refine their notation skills.
I advocate learning two songs simultaneously: one of the student's choice and one of mine. The dual approach accomplishes two things. First, it encourages the student to explore their musical tastes. Second, my song selections introduce them to new genres and drummers, broadening their musical horizons.
Assist with notation only when necessary, but aim to cultivate their ear-training skills. If a song comes with complete notation, seize the opportunity to dissect both the song and the drummer's techniques. Occasionally, task them with figuring out aspects of the song by ear, fostering their auditory skills so that they can eventually learn independently.
18. Playing in 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 offer invaluable experience for performing with other musicians. Generally low-key events, they attract musicians of varied skill levels and can be nurturing spaces for artistic growth. However, do your research before recommending an open mic, as not all are supportive environments.
When your student decides to attend an open mic or jam session, offer mental prep:
- Initial Contact: Guide them on how to approach the organizer or band leader to ask for a playing opportunity.
- Skill Level: Advise them to disclose their proficiency so they can be paired with suitable musicians.
- Networking: If socially adept, encourage them to mingle with on-stage musicians. Networking can lead to future collaborations.
- Dealing with Negativity: Forewarn them about musicians who may try to discourage beginners. Stress that such behavior reflects the critic's insecurities, not the student's abilities.
- Performance Mindset: Remind them that their goal isn’t to be the next Buddy Rich, but to deliver a solid groove, smooth fills, and positive energy.
Doing so will not only make their experience enriching but also enhance their likelihood of getting invited back or joining a band.
20. Starting or Joining a Band
Once your student has gained some experience jamming to songs and performing at open mics, nudge them toward forming or joining a band. Many iconic bands have their roots in casual gatherings among friends and family, so encourage your student to look within their social circle first. Having even one other musician onboard can strengthen their position when seeking additional members.
If your student lacks musician connections, assist them in creating their first ad for bandmates. Here's how to make an effective ad:
- Genre and Influences: Clearly mention the musical style and any influential bands or artists they'd like to emulate.
- Type of Band: Specify if it's a cover band or focused on original compositions. Is it for fun or a serious pursuit?
- Age Group: Indicate a rough age range for potential band members (e.g., teens, 20-50, etc.).
- Demo Tracks: If they have any recordings, encourage them to create a SoundCloud account and include the link in the ad.
An effective ad will not only attract the right musicians but also give your student a strong starting point in their band-forming journey.
21. Playing with More Skilled Musicians
When aspiring to enhance musical skills, aligning with musicians who are more experienced or technically adept can be invaluable. Encourage your student to immerse themselves in local music scenes known for high-caliber musicianship. Many cities have jam sessions featuring top-tier players; urge your student to attend these and absorb wisdom from the pros.
Approaching a seasoned musician can be intimidating but can also yield significant growth. While the prospect of rejection exists, so does the potential for transformative musical experiences. I've personally benefited from involving skilled musicians in my projects, despite facing my share of rejections.
Caution your student that skilled musicians have little patience for unpreparedness. Should a top-tier musician agree to collaborate, it's crucial for your student to be impeccably prepared. Unpreparedness could make it a one-time experience, squandering a golden opportunity. If you doubt your student's commitment to prepare adequately, it's better to withhold the recommendation, avoiding potential disappointments for both parties.
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”? 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