Setting up Your Teaching Studio: Part 1

tip-logoby Mike Sorrentino

Setting up a teaching studio is not nearly as simple as it may seem at first. There are multiple factors to take into account. For example:

  • Are you going to teach at your own place? At a school? In a store? On the road? Some combination of places?
  • What about the cost of setting the place up – are you paying for the gear and construction or is someone else?
  • How much space do you have? Can you fit two drumsets, or will you have to suffice with one? Where will you fit the technology to make yourself competitive in today’s market? How much of that technology will you actually use?

This series of articles will take a look at some of the challenges we face when establishing our teaching spaces. While only you can decide what will work for your situation, hopefully some of these ideas will give you some insight and inspiration. Let’s begin with a look at the first question of location. I teach mainly at my own private studio, which is located at my home in New York. For years, however, I taught at the Long Island Drum Center and I do keep a small number of students to whom I travel. Let’s take a look at the benefits and downsides of teaching at each location.

Teaching at Your Own Studio

studio-layoutHere at my home, my studio doubles as my teaching studio and my recording studio (click here to view a large pdf diagram of my studio layout). It is the size of a one car garage, with three layers of sheetrock on the walls and ceiling, a floated floor and Auralex foam for tuning the room. I have my main kit set up and always mic’d. It’s a four or five piece kit,depending on whatever the last session I did called for, with twelve mic’s (Letter A in Diagram).That many microphones are not at all necessary for teaching, but they stay in place for recording purposes and there is no reason to move them to teach. There is a student kit with double pedal (Letter B in diagram). I mic that in stereo with some inexpensive microphones. The mic’s all go through two MOTU 896 HD (Letter F in diagram) interfaces into my Mac G5 running an older version of Digital Performer (Letter E in diagram). I have mirrors, pads, metronomes and all the required accessories for a teaching room.

There are some fantastic benefits to having this place at my disposal.

  • First and foremost, I’m already here. I don’t spend a dime or a minute on travel, and I get to write off a portion of my home as business space. Cool!
  • Second, it gives me a tremendous amount of flexibility in scheduling.
  • Third, I know the gear is in good shape and I am quick enough with all of it that there is very little downtime in the lesson spent on technological issues.

march-teaching-studio-0121I can email tunes, assignments and recordings directly to my students from the room via a high-speed Internet connection. I can also show them real world examples of my playing by simply opening up my DAW and playing the raw tracks I’ve recorded, recording them playing or anything I can think of. The technology offers tremendous flexibility to tailor a lesson plan and inspire the student. It’s one thing to talk about how great Steve Smith is, but it’s better to play them some music, show some DVD footage, record the lesson and send it home with the student. I also have a Sony digital camcorder that I use on special occasion, but honestly it has limited use for me at the moment. I use it mainly to point out technique issues some students might be encountering.

There are some downsides to teaching here, but they are limited in my opinion. The first downside is that I incur any and all costs associated with setting up and maintaining the gear. With some relationships with manufacturers, that cost is reduced but it is still my expense to handle. The other downside is that I don’t get walk in traffic, or the benefit of the advertising budget a store or school might have. So I do all my own marketing – emails, websites, Myspace, phone calls, gigs, word of mouth – they all come into play when you’re on your own.

Teaching at a Music Store

I taught at the Long Island Drum Center from 1988 until around 1997. Granted, this was before the technological explosion of the last ten years so a lot of what I have in my studio now was impractical back then. At the store, there were several teaching rooms. Each had two drumsets (sometimes we were pretty cramped) some pads, some rooms had marimbas or other mallet percussion and some amps. We all shared tape players (yes, TAPE!) and that was about it. Laptops weren’t as good as they are now, so playing a video of any kind was a little difficult.

While being very limited technologically, teaching at the store had a few very good benefits.

  • First was a steady stream of new students, due to the established nature of the store and constant foot traffic. It was pretty easy to build a student roster.
  • Second, I didn’t pay for any gear. Everything was provided.
  • A third, and very important, benefit was the ability to interact with other teachers on a daily basis. I can’t stress enough how much I learned by just hanging out with the other teachers. And did we have some good laughs! Some of those relationships have been very fruitful and continue to this day.

Teaching in the store had its downsides too. I can’t remember how many times I was teaching a concept on a drum pad while Bobby Rondinelli was playing double bass with his student the entire lesson. Not easy. (But it was very cool to hang with Bobby between lessons!) I had to pay the store for the use of the room. so it wasn’t as lucrative for me. And, I had to get in my car and drive, incurring expenses of time and money.

The Mobile Teacher

Some of my students can’t get to me during the time I’ve allotted to teaching, so I go to them. I try not to make this the norm, but sometimes I get a feeling that a particular student is worth it. Teaching a student in their home can present a few unique challenges.

First, I recommend never scheduling a lesson in a student’s home when a parent is not present. The second challenge we face is that we’re going to teach on whatever gear the student owns and whatever is feasible to carry. Typically, I bring my laptop, Ipod, Zoom H2 recorder and a practice pad. I usually haven’t needed anything more than that, and it all fits in a briefcase. One student’s father is also a drummer, so they’ve got a nice set of drums and a pretty decent library of books and videos. He is also in construction and built a very cool mount for a flat screen TV with built in DVD player that swings out from the wall – It’s great for using materials like Groove Essentials.

A major benefit of teaching a student on their own gear is that you can identify technique and setup problems right away., and more importantly, you can hear their sound on their instrument. Sometimes you’ll find that more than one person plays that same set of drums, for example, a father and son sharing the same set, which makes it difficult to adjust the setup too much.

The obvious downside of teaching in the student’s home is the travel expense of time and money, which is compounded if you have several students in different locations. Most teachers I know that travel try to group students by their locations, and try to minimize driving times.

In the next article in this series, we’ll take a deeper look at the technology that teachers are using in lessons and explore the benefits of each. In the meantime, if you want more information about this subject or anything else related to your teaching I encourage you to join Hudson’s Teacher Integration Program, if you haven’t already. It’s free and you’ll have access to many members’ only materials. You can also checkout our interactive forums and take part in the discussions going on there.

Until next time, good luck and have fun!

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