I’ve been lucky enough to study with some great drum teachers. And now that I’m teaching, I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, to find ways for people who have decided to learn the drums with me to get the most out of them.
I brainstormed and thinking in reverse, I asked myself: “If I were a student, what would I want from my teacher?”.
I’m not talking about specific topics, I’m talking about approach.
So I have identified six points, six things that can’t be missing in teaching.
1) Am I teaching you how to read and write music?
“Well, of course, if you go to a music school, of course they teach you how to read and write notes.
Don’t take it for granted.
I myself have had experiences with kids who have studied for months, years in schools or with private teachers, but have never seen a stave in their lives.
And I don’t think that’s a good thing. I’m not saying that you have to read Frank Zappa’s infamous “Black Page” at first glance, but having the tools to know how to read a solfeggio, how to read a groove, that’s right, you have to have it at any age.
2) Am I teaching you the correct technical setting?
I’m explaining the differences between Matched grip, Traditional grip, what is Free stroke, what is Moeller stroke, what are the Up and Down-stroke? What is the difference between French grip and German grip? How to use your wrists, how to use your fingers…
That’s something everyone has to know, from the five-year-old, to the fifty-year-old who plays as a hobby, to the sixteen-year-old who has the “dribble at the mouth” and wants to be a professional musician.
3) Am I following a program or am I improvising?
According to your needs, I have planned a path, or one day I give you a photocopy of one thing, one day a photocopy of another… Do I prepare the lessons before or after?
I keep an electronic register with each of my students. It’s simply a Google DOC, shared between me and my student, where for each lesson we write down what we did, we write down how it went, what to do next time…
I need this for two reasons.
One: to know what you had to do before you got to class and to be able to prepare the class in advance if necessary.
Two: check that what you had to do was done.
Plus, you need it too, because if you don’t remember how you did that thing, what you had to do, until the page arrive, open your GDOC on your smartphone and you’re done.
4) Can I answer your questions?
This is a tricky question, which I learned in the field. For example, when I started to take my first steps in teaching, I remember a student who came to class and even though he needed to do much more, he asked me to show him the “samba”.
I’m not exactly Horacio “el negro” Hernandez, however I knew the pattern of the samba, I made him feel it, but I certainly did not make a great impression, because it is not the music I know best.
In short, I don’t know if for that reason or for other reasons, after a couple of times this guy hasn’t come to class anymore.
The mistake was my own, because I should have said to him: “It’s not the case that you are currently studying samba, since you miss a lot of other things, but if you want to study samba, go to this drummer. If you want to study the brushes, go to this drummer. If you want to study double bass drum and polyrhythms, go to this other drummer”.
There are huge names that specialize in these genres. I made a mistake and paid for it.
But being able to answer questions also means being up to date.
Do I know drummers?
Do I know the bands?
Do I know the music?
Do I know the history of the instrument?
What do I listen to?
If a 16 year old comes along and asks me: “What do you think about the fills that Chris Coleman or Aaron Spears plays… Do you like the Gospel?”.
If I stayed to listen to Jeff Porcaro, I don’t know what to say to him, but this is the music that the guys are listening to today, so I have to update myself.
As if the 60-year-old jazz enthusiast comes to me and says, “What a beauty Take Five is, but who’s the drummer on that track?”.
If I don’t know that Joe Morello recorded that song, I’d better put my head in the sand…
5) Am I present?
Many teachers complain that at one hour of the lesson you receive a message from the pupil to cancel the lesson.
The absenteeism of the students is a problem, but the question I ask myself is: “but I’m always there in class or once I’m not there because I have the concert, once I’m not there because I’m on tour …”.
My policy is: if I’m not here, there’s a person to replace me. I don’t take the money, he takes the money, entirely.
If I’m the first to set the wrong example, then you too will say: “Well, if he’s not there once, then once there’s not even me”.
Another thing: if I go to study with the big names of the Italian battery, are we sure that this is always there?
If I go to pay 100 € an hour to study with this or that teacher, am I sure that then there is or sends me a replacement? Maybe he sends you a very good substitute, but that’s something you should know first in a transparent way.
6) Can I stimulate you?
Can I make you want to play the drums? The teacher can’t do miracles. If you don’t study, you don’t get better, there’s nothing to do.
But what a teacher must know how to do, in addition to creating a path of study, is to convince you to pursue it.