Jeremy Hummel | The New Generation | A Modern Philosophy on Drumset Teaching
The New Generation – A Modern Philosophy on Drumset Teaching
As a drum instructor, I’ve seen my role and purpose expand greatly over the past few years. In its simplest form, teaching others was a way to share my knowledge of the instrument, and, hopefully, earn a living in the process.
However, I’ve come to realize that educating means so much more than just explaining notes on a page or sharing a few concepts I picked up from my own experience. While every generation surely feels the same about the ones that follow, I must say that kids today are different.
In this article I’ll outline some of those differences. I’ll also offer a few ideas that I’ve incorporated to better serve my students -who may be, after all, artists of the future.
I get a large number of students, and most of them come to me because they want to play drums – meaning not just the snare drum but the whole drumset. I’ve heard too many stories of young drummers not enjoying lessons – or giving up their studies altogether- because they were at the mercy of when the teacher felt they were “ready to move on”.
If a student comes to me and already owns a drumset, we are going to do drumset playing, regardless of that student’s experience. And while my instruction includes rudiments and fundamentals, I don’t feel that it does a student any good to have his drumset staring him in the face in his bedroom as he repeatedly plays “LRLL”. I think it’s safe to say that nearly every beginner who’s relegated to the snare drum quickly wonders “why do I have to do this?”
A Method to the Madness
When teaching fundamentals, I believe it’s important to show how certain rudiments can be used on the drumset. For example, a paradiddle can be applied to create many cool patterns. I demonstrate this by placing the “L” on one drum and the “R” on another, and doing a variety of things on the bass drum. Or how about showing how a double-stroke roll can be worked into cool sounding fills?
How much more motivation would a student have if what we’re teaching sounds like something musical? If we can show students how these sticking patterns will benefit them, they’ll be more likely to be willing to go through some of those “not so fun” beginning exercises.
Some teachers take the position that putting beginners on a strict diet of rudiments helps to weed out the “wanna-bes”. My philosophy is that I’d rather reel in drummers than turn them away. The comparison I like to use is when Mr. Miyagi was working with Daniel in the movie The Karate Kid. Remember how Ralph Macchio’s character wanted to learn karate so badly but all he was instructed to do was “paint the fence” or “sand the floor”? Granted, he did use all of these techniques eventually. But he had to wait a long time to see how to incorporate them into his ultimate goal. My point is: why make someone wait?
I basically strike a deal with my students. We agree to do equal parts technique/hand exercises and drumset – as long as they hold up their end of the bargain. If the hand exercises drop off we spend less time on the drumset.
Who Inspires Them?
We live in an age where Internet downloads and piracy have made record sales plummet, and when most bands’ careers are so fleeting that before we have time to realize who they are, they’re gone. I’ve noticed recently how many kids I teach don’t even have favorite bands. When a lot of us were coming up, we could have rattled off our ten favorite bands with no problem. My only dilemma was who was going to be left off the list. These days it’s more about favorite songs. We need to create awareness in our students, by passing along great music of the past and present. Sharing knowledge can go beyond drumming. Explain why the Beatles were great, point out the thunder that is Led Zeppelin, communicate the brilliance of Miles Davis…the list goes on.
While the Internet has killed off a lot of record buying, cyberspace can be used to some benefit. I like to direct people to iTunes, where they can hear samples of different styles of music- and, potentially, purchase the song. That way, if they try something new and don’t care for it, it’s only a dollar lost. The nice part about iTunes is that the artists receive compensation for their work, as opposed to people getting something for nothing.
Early last year, I happened to be in one of those phases with my students. You know, the weather was getting nicer, the days were getting longer and the extra-curricular activities began heating up. Not surprisingly, the kids were coming in less prepared. I knew that when summer officially arrived, it would only get worse. Kids would begin calling on the day of a lesson to say that “something came up” when they just wanted to swim at Johnny’s a little longer. I tended to be fairly lenient about this. However, at times my leniency paved the way for mediocrity.
Eventually I realized that if I was ever going to find a way to tighten the ship, the time was now. The challenging part was finding a way to install a mandatory practice schedule without having it feel like a chore or punishment. So I came up with a Student of the Month rewards program for my students eighteen and under. (Adults pay for their own lessons so they generally practice enough to get their money’s worth)
Here’s how it works: A student is required to practice a minimum of three half hour sessions per week. I hand out monthly calendars on which the time is documented. Before a student comes to his or her lesson, a parent or guardian must sign or initial the times the student has filled in-essentially vouching for them. For every week a student shows up prepared and has his or her time vouched for by apparent, a star goes on my board. If, at the end of the month, that student has achieved a star for the week, he or she is eligible to be chosen as Student of the Month.
The student who ultimately is designated Student of the Month wins a T-shirt that says “Drum Student of the Month” on the front and has my website address on the back. (A little marketing never hurts). The kid will wear it with pride and other kids will say “I want to be Student of the Month too”. The winner also gets his or her picture taken and displayed in my studio with “student of the Month” on it for all to see. And (this is my favorite part) the winner gets a $20 gift certificate to the local record store to be used on a CD of his/her choice. The certificate cannot be used on a video game, as the idea is to promote music. Many times a student doesn’t want to spend his or her entire allowance on a CD that may only have one or two good songs. Here is the opportunity to check out a new band or maybe a different genre of music.
Since I started this program, nearly 100% of my students have received a star all four weeks. Therefore, the final Student of the Month winner is ultimately decided by me. That may not necessarily be the best drummer. It could be the person who showed the most improvement, or who tackled some really difficult things that particular month.
The “SOTM” program works great for several reasons. In many cases it’s not that kids don’t want to practice, it’s that they need structure. I explain what a possible schedule could be. For example, if a student is only going to practice the minimum time, perhaps fifteen minutes of hand exercises and the other fifteen minutes on a new beat would be sufficient.
The program also promotes accountability. The student is not only responsible for documenting the practice time, but also for maintaining the practice calendar. I advise them to keep the paper stapled in their drum notebook, because if they don’t show up with the paper they don’t receive their star.
Parents love the “SOTM” program, too. They can readily see that their money is being well spent. And many of them have commented on the results they’ve heard.
It All Comes Down To…
I’ve been around some teachers who are far more concerned about their “regimen” than about how much they’re helping each individual student to progress. But every student has a different personality and a different learning curve. So the first question I ask someone when they walk through the door is, “What do you want to get better at?”
Some people want to get better at double bass, others need a hand at things like timekeeping, creating new fills, or learning new styles of music. Teaching is not meant to be self serving. It should be about “How can I help you?”
My motto for teaching is simple: “Teach the way you would like to be taught.”
reprinted with permission from Modern Drummer, July 2007