The Teaching Chain by Rob Hirons
Having just returned from Long Island, New York after a study session with Dom Famularo, I’ve been thinking about the whole process of teaching and the passing of knowledge and skills to others. Actually, these reflections started on my journey home. Long bus, train, and plane trips can certainly be a time to get people thinking about all sorts of things.
During my studies with Dom we discussed how teaching in music is looked at by different people, musicians particulary. The usual way musicians make their living, and indeed their mark, is to play in a group and tour, make videos, albums and such. Therefore, teaching is often looked at as a kind of hidden secondary status that we do when we’re not doing these former activities – something to fall back on. And yet, Dom travels the world several times a year performing to huge audiences and shaping drumming’s future – purely on a teaching level, completely throwing this theory out of the nearest window!
Then there’s me….
So there I was, a guy who spends so much time teaching other drummers of all different styles and levels, taking a trip to Long Island to put myself in the drum student’s seat – a great experience.
With Dom we spent a good long time studying the technicalities of modern playing, specifically the “Freestroke” – a technique allowing the sticks to rebound as naturally as possible, controlling this rebound and using it to maximise efficiency, as well as studying the Moeller stroke utilising the whipping motion to create accents and controlled bounces. We also spent a long long time discussing teaching techniques, networking, organisational techniques, personal skills and much, much more. Inspiring stuff it was!
And indeed, there I was a day or so later, within two hours of arriving back at home, grabbing something to eat, leaving the house and going back to my studio to teach – again, a great experience and as always, truly inspiring. This got me thinking about the subject of teaching, and specifically the imagined teaching “chain” that can exist in our minds.
I often hear in discussions with my students talk of “who is more advanced than whom” and other such comments. The words “better than…” often get flung around the room, rebounding off the walls of my studio like a nicely executed freestroke!
Ok… It’s good to want to be “better than….’ – this creates inspiration to improve. But I believe that the most interesting person to be “better than” is oneself. Let’s face it – there will always be others that play better than us, and others that are less technically advanced.
The important thing is where we are ourselves and how we can advance, using others – “better” or not, for inspiration as we go.
This imaginary teaching chain I spoke about then is interesting…
For example, I chose to go see Dom in New York because he is considered a wonderful teacher and player as well as a source of great motivation throughout the world. My students choose to take lessons from me because they see me as an advanced player who can inspire them and guide them to become the better players they want to be.
But who learns from whom in reality..?
One of the reason I love teaching is because it is a two way process. I have never learned so much as I have while being with my students, solving their difficulties and looking forward with them, guiding them and joining them for the journey. I’m convinced that we all learn from each other and I strongly suspect that my students underestimate the amount that I learn from them by sharing their journey. This breaks the teaching “chain” and opens the door to so many more enriching possibilities leaving egos behind on the step. At this point, the so heavy previous question of comparing one’s individual technical level to others becomes nothing more than a detail compared with our personal voice and what we have to offer to others.
While speaking with a student only yesterday at the end of a lesson, he asked me if he thought that it was still possible to invent new things on the drums with the surge of so many incredibly advanced players on the scene. A good question, and a deserved one considering the new players we see on the global stage today. What these guys do is unbelievable! Is it indeed possible to create anything new?
After a short moment of reflection, my answer to this student was, “You’re doing it every time you play!” As long as this guy is using his own voice, he is creating new material, and I for one respect him for doing it! My job as a teacher is to assist this voice and to encourage it to be used to its full potential. Whatever the level of technique each person may have, everyone has something to say, and everyone certainly has something to learn from listening to them.
Rob Hirons Drum educator, Marseille France.