The Changing Roles of The Drum Teacher

by Mike Sorrentio

As we enter this new modern age, it seems that the roles we play in everyday life are becoming more and more integrated. For years parents have been part time drivers, nurses, cooks, housekeepers, etc. In the workplace, just about every job requires that an employee become part time computer programmer. The term multitasking no longer means doing two things at once. It now refers to juggling five or six tasks, and helping someone else out at the same time! As such, the role of the drum teacher is also changing. We’re no longer just the student’s primary source of information. They can have any question answered by searching online without ever leaving the house, along with audio examples, video footage, and a forum to chat about it in. Does that mean we drum teachers have become irrelevant? I think not. But I do think that teachers who don’t take on some of the roles we’ll talk about in this article are missing out on some wonderful ways to enhance their relationships with their students.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways your students might see you.

Drum Teacher as Guide

Any information you need is available to you for free, right now on the internet. Want to know how to play a samba? Look it up. Who was Tony Williams? Look it up, find 234 videos of him on Youtube, go in a forum and talk to other Tony Williams fans.

But wait…how do you know what you’ve just read is accurate? You don’t! Of course certain sources are trusted as the authority in their field (I will now shamelessly plug Hudson here as a trusted source of information!), but not everything on the internet is accurate. Some people just get stuff wrong! Some don’t know what they’re talking about, some just made an honest mistake, and some actively seek to give out DISinformation.

One of our roles as drum teachers is that of a guide – a guide through the mountains of websites, books, DVDs etc. – a guide to the right ones, the best ones, the most useful ones. Make no mistake; that service is well worth the money we get paid. We can help our students learn more, and faster than ever before by simply guiding them to the proper website, DVD, book or CD. And we, in fact, stand to gain as we no longer need to send a student off to someone else if a question comes up that is outside our area of expertise. In researching the problem, you will gain knowledge and the student will learn valuable techniques to seek out information on their own.

Drum Teacher as Coach

Our goal is to help our students improve. We give out information and reinforce it by suggesting practice routines and drills. Coaches in the athletic world do the same thing. They teach, instruct and train by using similar techniques and drills. YouTube will never say to my student: “OK, try that page with you right hand on the Ride Cymbal instead of the Hi Hat”. “You sound great in the verse but you’re dragging the chorus” “That should be a flam instead of a ruff”. It just doesn’t work because of the one way flow of information. Engage your students in a back and forth dialogue. It is the very essence of what we bring to their education.

Drum Teacher as Mentor/Confidant

We have a more profound effect on our students than most of us realize. I know from my own experience that some of my teachers took on father figure roles. I modeled not only my playing after them, but also my professional ethics, sense of style, musical tastes, – the list is vast. We must be careful to note that anything and everything we say or do while in the presence of a student can have a lasting and forceful effect. Remember to always present yourself in a positive, businesslike and professional manner. That’s not to say you should be cold, distant and rigid. I’m just suggesting that in being a warm and caring teacher that we should also remember our potential as a mentor on many levels. While you won’t be perfect all the time, if you try to keep this principle in mind you will portray yourself in the best possible light. And students need positive role models these days. This area can get very tricky. I don’t recommend talking to students about subjects that are in anyway inappropriate, contradictory to their parents, demeaning or negative. I also can’t determine for you what those subjects are. However, I do enjoy a very open atmosphere with my students. Many times I’ve counseled students through band problems, confidence issues, mental blocks, etc. It is very important to me to be able to guide my students’ thoughts to help them perform at their best. As a result I have many students who have studied with me for several years. I’ve been able to watch a few of them grow up into wonderful players with their own careers. My own teachers served as father figures to me when I was young. I enjoyed talking to them about subjects other than drumming, and I grew as a person. I think this can be a very fulfilling aspect of teaching provided we proceed with caution.

Drum Teacher as Scapegoat

Yes, sometimes you will be the reason Johnny didn’t make the jazz band in school, or Suzie got a less than stellar grade at a recital. Sometimes that may actually be true, but most times it won’t. Use these situations to take a good look at what you’re doing – your teaching methods, preparation, excitement etc. Make adjustments as necessary. But if you feel you’ve done all you can, then take your lumps move on and know you can’t reach them all.

Drum Teacher as Motivator

When I studied with Dom Famularo I drove home as fast as I could and practiced Moeller strokes for five hours at a clip. Dom is the Tony Robbins of drumming. When I studied with Rod Morgenstein I practiced like crazy, because he was one of my drum heroes at the time (still is). It was unbelievable for me to have him to show things from his recordings I had no idea how to figure out. When I studied with Mike Lauren I practiced like crazy because he scared the crap out me! He wore combat boots and was shaving his head way before it was cool. My point is, try to find your own methods of motivating your students. While the truth is that motivation comes from within, it needs help. A simple word of encouragement, a compliment, or sometimes a stern verbal kick in the butt can get the student past a roadblock.

Drum Teacher as Historian

Yes, there actually was drumming before Travis Barker. We need to expose our students to the lineage of our instrument. I taught a lesson this week and explained the reason why I sometimes play “with one stick sideways like the guys in the pictures” as my student referred to traditional grip. He actually got a kick out of trying it once he knew the history behind the grip. Your knowledge of the history of drumming can be a great source of enlightenment and inspiration for your student. I’ve found that many students are inspired by feeling like they are part of a great heritage, especially older students. For example, I recently gave a student some pad exercises. When I explained the lineage of the exercise – Sanford Moeller to Jim Chapin to Dom Famularo to me to him – he was blown away. And you can bet he practiced that exercise like his career depended on it. Sometimes simply explaining where you got your information from can be the spark to get the student to put that extra couple of hours in. Aside from the general history of the instrument, which anyone can pretty easily read about, your personal insights can add a touch of humanity and reality to the great tradition of drumming.

I hope I’ve shed some light on some of the different roles we play as drum teachers. As we work hard to teach the various aspects of drumming, let’s remember that out biggest contribution to a student comes in the form of the human element that only we can provide. Above and beyond pure information, allow your unique gifts as a person to become your ultimate strength as a teacher, in whatever roles you decide to play.

See you in the forums!

Mike Sorrentino