A Review of Baby Steps to Giant Steps, by Jeff Johnson

By Jeff Johnson

I was asked to review Baby Steps to Giant Steps by Peter Retzlaff and Jim Rupp and offer my opinions on how it may fit in a university setting. I will attempt to give an unbiased opinion as well as offer suggestions as to other educational applications of the book. This is not necessarily a  review of the content, but of the application of it in a university music program.  When looking at a book to determine its use in a university program, one must take into account the fact that there are many different types of students or majors in colleges and universities. I will attempt to address the applications in multiple settings and discuss the advantages and disadvantages (if any).


Jazz Majors

For use with jazz drum set majors, I would assume that many of the students would need a firm grasp on the material in the book before they even audition for a university jazz program. The coordination exercises in the book are basic. I can’t see a jazz drum set major being accepted into a program and then learning much of the written exercises in the book. That being said, I can see an instructor forgoing the written exercises in the first part of the book and going right to the charts and play along examples. It is here that I can really see the value of this book in the university jazz setting. The student will be able to analyze the form and also challenge him/herself with the progressively increasing tempos from chart to chart. It will also be of benefit to record the student playing with the recording and listen back for swing interpretation, balance, and musicality. There are a few things missing from this book that other methods may have – Latin and three quarter time (other than ¾ brush patterns). There are no Latin beats or ¾ (with sticks) which are both very common in jazz. Instructors will still have to look to other methods or play along examples when introducing those techniques.

 Music (Non-Jazz) Percussion Majors

Unlike the jazz majors, I can see non-jazz majors benefitting from the coordination, fill, solo, and brush ideas in the first part of the book. Many percussionists come into the university setting with the ability to play snare drum, tympani, and mallet percussion. They often do not have the same proficiency on drum set. While drum set was not a requirement for classical percussionists in the past, many drummers will find that they need to do a bit of drum set in recordings, musicals, or pops concerts. Baby Steps to Giant Steps can be of extreme benefit to classical percussion majors who need an introduction to jazz drumming.

 Percussion Pedagogy Classes

One area where band directors are often inexperienced is jazz drum set. This is often not their fault. Music education majors whose main instrument is not drums or percussion will often be required to take only one year (or one semester) of percussion methods class before they are sent out into the classrooms to teach. Since there are so many percussion instruments to study, there is little time devoted to drum set. I believe that Baby Steps to Giant Steps can be a great resource for introducing future band directors to jazz drumming. It will not only be a learning tool during the methods class, but will also serve as a reference when the student graduates and starts teaching band. It does have the same drawbacks mentioned before – lack of Latin rhythms and jazz waltzes (with sticks).

 Other Methods on the Market

John Riley has a number of books such as The Art of Bop Drumming, Beyond Bop Drumming, and The Jazz Drummer’s Workshop. Many teachers prefer to use these books because they are progressive. The Art of Bop Drumming is similar to Baby Steps to Giant Steps, but Riley’s book does go more in depth. This may make teachers more prone to use the Riley book, but the play alongs in Baby Steps to Giant Steps make the book a good companion to The Art of Bop Drumming. Another reason that John Riley’s books are so popular is that they are progressive. I would suggest the possibility of a sequel to Baby Steps to Giant Steps. The music and content could be more challenging and could offer a bit of Latin and ¾ time. This would increase the appeal of the method among university instructors.

Steve Houghton has a number of books that are very popular with university instructors. The most popular one in my opinion is Essential Styles for the Drummer and Bassist Book One. It is very popular as a play along – similar to Baby Steps to Giant Steps. However, Essential Styles is a study in multiple styles such as funk, reggae, Brazilian, Latin, and jazz. The jazz focus of the Baby Steps play alongs make it attractive to instructors who need to get their students playing jazz right away.

Contact Jeff at his website,

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