Teacher Spotlight – Fran Merante
Where do you teach?
I am located in Northford, Connecticut (U.S.A) which is a suburb of New Haven and I teach out of my home.
How many students do you teach and what is their range of ability?
I am forced to keep my student roster small due to time constraints. Right now I have a roster of 15 students, with a waiting list of about 12. In the beginning, I was teaching students of all ages and abilities. Over the years I have worked very hard at improving as a teacher and a player. I continually find myself trying to get to the next level. As my skills and internet exposure continue to improve through the years, I find that I am becoming more in demand by advanced players. Eleven of my fifteen students are advanced players. Two of the eleven students are successful drum teachers that teach in local music schools as well as privately.
What are your favorite teaching materials?
Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials 1.0 and 2.0 are just amazing. The grooves in the books are fantastic and the play along tracks are world class. However, in my opinion, the greatest asset of the package is the play along tracks. Aside from using them with the grooves in the book, being able to take new fills and grooves from other material that I work on with my students and teaching them how to apply them within the element of music, by using the play along tracks, is invaluable. I am completely shocked at how many students are out there that believe that once they learn the notes of a groove or fill, feel they are done. In my opinion, that is about 50% of it. As musicians, we need to be able to adapt to as many musical situations as possible and the Groove Essentials tracks allow us to get as close to that as possible without actually playing with live musicians. Tommy’s “Great Hands for a Lifetime” is also an invaluable tool for developing your hands. If you are really truly serious about reaching your full potential on the drums, I highly recommend both of these packages. I use many other “staple” materials as well but if I were stuck on a deserted island and only had the GE packages and Great Hands for a Lifetime, I would have everything I really need!!
How are you incorporating new media (DVDs, Mp3s, Internet, etc) into your teaching?
I discovered some time ago, when I was doing a lot of recording work, that my playing was improving in leaps and bounds. I determined that this was due to the fact that recording enabled me to listen to my playing from the perspective of the listener as opposed to the perspective of the player. The difference between the two is quite amazing! Some of the things you hear yourself doing are eye opening to say the least. These are things that would have been overlooked had they never been recorded.
In light of this, I record myself and my students regularly, both video and audio, which they absolutely love. They usually play along to tracks minus the drums as I mentioned previously. We take the performances and with their approval, post them on YouTube for feedback from the drumming community. Constructive criticism, especially from our drumming peers, is extremely invaluable. They really look forward to what people have to say about their playing and really listen to the comments and use them to get better.
To record , I am currently using Audix’s D series mics and the PreSonus FirePod as my interface. For video, I use two very simple, inexpensive Sony MiniDV camcorders. I like to videotape because I feel that seeing yourself play is an enormous benefit when it comes to proper technique and economy of motion.
Do you have any funny anecdotes or stories from your teaching?
I was doing a first lesson with a teenage student and was asking him what he wanted to learn. He proceeded to tell me what he did NOT want to learn. He said, “I don’t want to learn any rudiments. I don’t want to learn any Jazz or Swing or whatever you call it. I just want to learn Green Day and Godsmack and stuff like that. Plus I want my feet to be really really fast”. I responded by saying, “so Latin and 3rd world would be WAY out of the question I take it?” He said, “Yes, WAY out of the question.” I said OK. So the next lesson, I made sure that before he came in I was in the middle of playing the groove to “Use it or Lose it” by Motley Crue. It involves a double bass pattern and a cool ride pattern. So he walks in the door to the drum room while I am playing it and the look on his face was priceless! He was FIRED UP!! He said, “can you show me that?”. I said ABSOLUTELY NOT. He said, “why”? I said, “because this ride pattern is based on a Mozambique pattern which is a 3rd world rhythm and you said that was WAY out of the question. Let’s just stick to some straight up rock patterns to get you started for now.” He was disappointed. The next week he comes back and I make sure I am working on the ever popular BLUSHDA lick. The Tony Williams lick based on the Flam Drag. “WOW”, he said. “That is sick!!” I said, “AWW YEAH, you can use this like this going into a double bass groove, and then solo with it like this. It is CRAZY!” “Show it to me”, he said. “I am afraid I can’t show it to you”, I said. Ya see, THAT would be a rudiment and you said they were out!”. Anyway, long story short, he got my point and now he is all about learning everything!!
What are your general thoughts on drumming, teaching, music….?
Currently, I am quite concerned with the state of affairs of the young drummers that are out there. Many of them are getting the wrong message regarding drums and their place in music. My approach to playing drums is one that completely involves playing for the music. I love music first, and drums second. Drums are the voice I choose to express what I am feeling when I am involved with music. It seems that nowadays, the approach for young players is to learn and do the things that will give the illusion to people who don’t know any better, that they are better musicians than they really are, when in fact they are not musicians at all. IE, stick twirling, super fast singles on the double kick, crossover patterns, and you get my point. To me, the “circus fills” and “drum trickery” are great for entertaining people. Much in the same way that watching someone do trapeze tricks at the circus is entertaining. It is amazing for about 10 minutes and then, “OK, I get it, lets move on to the next act”. On the contrary, we can listen to a piece of music for hours and not get tired of it. Almost like we can’t get enough of it. That is because it moves us in a way that makes us want to hear more and more of it. As a musician playing drums, you are one part of the music interacting with all of the other musicians. What you bring to the table inspires the other musicians and vice versa and the end result is ALL of the talents coming together to create something unique and invaluable that moves people.
I think that these “Drum Off” competitions that have become so popular are really negatively affecting our youth drummers. Basically, they are turning drumming into a sport. What I would say to the young drummer that is into all of the stuff that involves winning one of these events, ie twirling, speed etc., is that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with it. Have fun and be the best you can be at it. BUT, whether you win or not, don’t kid yourself into believing that these tricks you have learned makes you a musician. It DOES NOT. Recently, I watched one of the winners of these competitions, who by the way, I found to be absolutely amazing in his “drum off” performance, play to a piece of music. He basically used the music as a time source for him to just spew licks over. The disturbing thing was, people commenting on the video thought it was phenomenal. And to them, maybe it was. But what is dangerous for this kid is that this leaves the kid thinking that what he is doing is OK and it is how he is supposed to interact with music as a drummer, and that is frightening.
Someone needs to revamp these competitions providing music to all of the contestants in advance. Then the day of the competition, give the crown to the kid who is the best musician. The kid who’s playing compliments the music most. The music should also have a solo section in it so the contestants still have the opportunity to show those skills as well because I do believe they are very important, just not the “end all be all”. Then you can score on 2 categories. A score for soloing and a score for musicality/groove/feel etc. No doubt that this type of competition would be a huge benefit for our up and coming players.
Contact Fran via his website at www.cidrumming.com