Teacher Spotlight – Chris Lesso

This month we take a look at Toronto’s Chriss Lesso.

Where are you located, and where do you teach?
I am located in downtown Toronto, and I am lucky to have a studio in the lower level (modeled after Dom Famularo’s Wizdom Studios) where I have set up the optimum environment to give the most inspiring and fun lessons possible!

How many students do you teach, and what is their range of ability levels?
Including schools, events, and my studio, it ranges from 35 to 100 students. My age range is really wide as I believe music is all encompassing. I have taught ages 3 to 72! The range of ability is beginners, to college level, to professional. Although I approach each student individually, I approach each student the same, in that if someone is passionate about music and is committed to learning the language to express themselves, then every student deserves everything I’ve got during the lesson time!

What are your favorite teaching materials?
Dom Famularo’s ‘It’s Your Move’, Benny Greb’s ‘Language Of Rhythm’, Steve Smith’s DVD’s, John Riley ‘The Art Of Bop Drumming’, Rod Morgenstein ‘The Drumset Musician’, Joe Morello’s ‘Table of Time’, Jojo Mayer’s ‘Secret Weapons…’ and MANY MORE! I use 100’s of books to draw upon, as well as my own handouts as well. The ‘Turn It Up, Lay It Down’ series is awesome, I use it everyday, CD’s and books!!

How are you incorporating new media (DVDs, Mp3s, Internet, etc) into your teaching?
I use an H2 Zoom to record students and email them the tracks, I use a laptop and computer for Youtube and websites,  iTunes to instantly get a song to myself and the student, an iPod for all music in lessons, a video camera to record students progress so they can take home the lesson, an entertainment system for CD’s DVD’s, and a Beatnik Rhythmic Analyzer practice pad to chart students accuracy.

Do you have any funny anecdotes or stories from your teaching?
I used to teach a really great student named Jeremy. He LOVED drums and music, and had enthusiasm to light up a room! However, Jeremy was challenged with Tourette’s syndrome. This challenge and the side effects to the medication made him easily frustrated and hyper sensitive. We still managed to have great lessons and he was learning and loving it! When I had my annual student concert come up, I wanted him to participate. I knew this would make him feel great, would help his self esteem and confidence, as well as giving him an opportunity to perform live onstage for his friends and family with the house band, and just get a huge positive charge from playing his favourite song live on stage! What I wanted to avoid at all costs was a disaster for Jeremy; I knew that he was easily distracted, and didn’t want the experience to be negative at all. I knew that if he got frustrated it could be a train wreck. It was a risk, but I knew it would mean so much to him if he could pull it off!
To “train” Jeremy and condition him to focus only on the song, we came up with something I had definitely never taught before; we came up with an idea where I would ‘try’ to distract him in the lesson, and he would try his hardest to focus on the music and groove no matter WHAT I did! I wanted to simulate anything going wrong, like a cymbal falling over, or someone breaking a glass on the ground, etc. In the lessons leading up to the concert, we came up with some incredibly fun and creative ways to test his focus! I tried everything in my power to distract him; throwing paper balls, staring at him 2 inches from his face, turning the lights out unexpectedly, drastically changing the volume level of the music, banging pots and pans, ANYTHING I could think of! Every lesson ended up being a new adventure, and was full of laughter at the crazy ideas we were coming up with to test his resolve! I laugh about it now because it was so absurd to be deliberately distracting a student in these funny ways, but also that this was the road Jeremy and I used together to build up his skills to actually getting onstage with these professional musicians, and to pull it off! On the day of the concert Jeremy was one of the very best performers, giving everyone a lesson in passion, positive energy, unbridled love of music, focus, patience, and perseverance. The audience went wild, and I’ve never seen a happier kid in all my life! I hope Jeremy permanently dealt with some demons that day, and I’m sure the experience has stayed with him to this day. We thought outside of the box together, and together we helped Jeremy conquer his challenges. We ended up having a blast thinking of ways NOT to be distracted, and ended up laughing away a potentially stressful situation!

What are your general thoughts on drumming, teaching, music?
I have written my own curriculum based on the idea of giving a student a solid foundation from which they can draw their own expression from! I cover the areas of Theory, Musicality, Creativity, Technique, and History with every student. However, I also base the lessons around the students goals, because I believe if the student is not having FUN, then they will not learn, and not accomplish their goals, and add the beauty of music to their lives. I also believe drumming lessons can also include so many other lessons that are important in the drum room, but also important  ‘beyond the cymbals’, such as playing and living with passion, being on time, patience, coordination, perseverance, fun, discipline, time management,  social skills, facing fears, overcoming challenges, getting out of your comfort zone, confidence, and assertiveness.
Also, events such as my annual Student Showcase Concert help everyone interact, meet each other, and inspire each other which is so important in music!
Here is my mission statement for teaching:

Teaching Mission Statement
My goal is to inspire my students, and help them reach for their full potential as musicians and people. I strive to find a balance in teaching using a foundation of fun and excitement, but also using a step-by-step building process to help the student achieve their individual goals.

I believe a study into each of these areas will give a student maximum expression on their instrument:
I believe drum lessons improve:
Creativity, Focus, Patience, Discipline, Right Brain/ Left Brain use, Math, Subdivisions, Melody, Rhythm, Confidence, Social Skills, Listening, Communication Skills, Balance, and Co-ordination!

Listed below are my websites, with more info about my curriculum, and my publicity photo. I’ve also attached two of my latest articles published in Canadian Musician Magazine. (I have many more posted on the Rhythm In Motion website) Thanks for the opportunity Mike, it’s a great thing we are doing here together!

Chris Lesso

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