Beginning the Search…
So you are searching for a drum teacher for your son or daughter. Maybe your kid is in the school band and the music director has recommended private drum lessons. Or your child has shown an interest in music, (here’s your opportunity to get them off the computer).
Maybe you are looking for a new adventure in your adult life, or learning to play the drums has been on your ‘bucket list’. Regardless of the situation there’s a good chance you don’t know where to begin.
When searching the web you will realize there is a wide range of opinion about what makes someone a good drum teacher. Dive in a little deeper to figure out what constitutes as ‘qualified’ and you will see what I mean. The world of private drum instruction isn’t governed by a set of standards or protocol.
Before we get into the actual details of what you want in a drum teacher, let me explain a little about how I came to writing this article…
No Experience With Taking Lessons?
If you haven’t played an instrument, or maybe you have but are self-taught
, this whole process can seem daunting. Who should you consult with? What questions should you ask? What actually makes a drum teacher good? These questions can lead to anxiety and ultimately procrastination.
For these reasons, I decided to share my experiences to help you through the process. But before we get into the what makes a good teacher, let’s talk sources.
My personal experience as a drum teacher
Through my own experiences of teaching drums for over 18+ years I have learned something about what works and what doesn’t. The desire to improve at my craft, (a characteristic we will discuss later) actually helped me begin the process of creating a mental catalog long ago, identifying the things that build great student/teacher relationships which lead to success.
My personal experience as a student
I am a lifelong student. It’s a piece of my fabric. I can’t tell you how many lessons I have taken over my life. It’s been 30+ years worth of them though, (and I’m still going strong).
I’m guessing I have studied formerly with approximately 15 different teachers.
I have had one off lessons here and there with a handful more. I have been to countless clinics and workshops. Oh yeah, can’t forget about that Bachelors degree.
Through these environments I have witnessed a variety of teaching styles and methods. I have had first hand experience as a student. I know what it feels like when there is a disconnect between teacher and student. But I also know how rewarding lessons can be.
What other drummers have to say…
Some of my favorite conversations have been with fellow drummers, discussing both the giving and taking of lessons. I love to talk about not just what we teach, but how we teach.
This sharing of knowledge between drummers, of both students and teachers is what makes the history of drumming so rich and powerful.
What the students have to say…
What better source of opinion than the consumer? Obviously a professionals knowledge can’t be replaced. But the common sentiments shared by students must be the foundation on which we build. Let’s face it, if you are not enjoying lessons you won’t continue. Drumming isn’t mandatory like school or work.
Some of the best advice given has come from students. When they all agree on what makes a great drum teacher it has to be right! Let’s see…
6 Traits of a Great Drum Teacher
Before you can establish any sort of valuable relationship with a teacher you need to have some level of trust. Definitely before dropping your child off at lessons you must have absolute trust in their safety and wellbeing. Before you even bother thinking about anything else start here. How do you know whether or not to trust someone? Here are a few tips:
- Ask around, check with other parents, students or former students. See what they have to say about their experiences. References are key!
- Make an initial visit to the facility or home where the lessons will take place. You not only want to check on the instructor, but the safety of the location.
- Do a background check. No you don’t have to hire a P.I., but you can get a surprising amount of information through social media outlets, and you can check state and federal databases for free.
- I am a firm believer in the importance of first impressions. If you get a bad vibe don’t dismiss it! Maybe take a little more time doing research and reassess later.
- It’s important that you feel comfortable. The teacher should gauge you and/or your child’s demeanor and adjust accordingly, providing a relaxed yet professional environment
The whole intent of private instruction is that it’s one on one, where teaching and learning is individualized. Problems can arise when a private instructor is too rigid with their approach.
A teacher with deep knowledge and a broad history in education and performance will usually be more capable of adapting to a students specific needs. For example:
- Is the teacher willing to work with you or your child on playing by ear and playing by reading, or do they feel that learning to play has to be accomplished in a specific way without exception?
- Does the teacher have a variety of resources available such as; different books, a diverse collection of recordings, instructional videos, and internet access?
- Is the teacher willing to work with someone who may have a certain set of challenges? These can range from physical, mental, or emotional. Do they have prior experience with this? If not, are they willing to try?
- Does the teacher work well with all age groups or only certain ones?
- Is the teacher watching body language? Are they focused intently on what you or your child is doing and saying? If so, do the react quickly? Are they able to change gears on the fly?
- Does the teacher have a diverse background in performance?
- Is the teacher willing to work on any style of music?
#3 Inspiration = Motivation
The passing of knowledge in and of itself has little value if the student doesn’t know how, or isn’t inspired to use it. Learning to play drums is an extracurricular activity which requires inspiration to fuel the motivation which pushes the student to reach for a higher level.
If a teacher is unable to inspire then the outcome at best is the student moves on to find it somewhere else. The worse case scenario is when the student becomes discouraged, or bored and quits.
The actual process of inspiration can come in many ways:
- the right words at the right time
- being firm enough but not overbearing
- showing the student new and different techniques
- sharing of music and ideas
- playing for the student
- encouraging the student to create music with others
- teaching the student critical listening skills
#4 Humor & Patience
When polling people for this article I was surprised how often humor came up. After some thought it only makes sense. How much enjoyment can one have in a sterile, bland and boring environment? How is someone supposed to look forward to lessons if there is no fun, especially for a child who has been in school all day, or an adult who has the stresses of work, bills and everyday life?
Having a good sense of humor can disarm a potentially negative situation. Sometimes a funny word or action can relax a child just for enough time to let go of whatever may have been frustrating them at that moment.
Sometimes a joke presented in the right way, at the right time can help. I’m not necessarily talking about one liners. Just something humorous. One of my personal favorites is when someone uses the wrong hand and I say, “your other right hand”. It cracks them up every time.
As far as patience goes, its a necessity, and honestly I don’t see a difference in how much is required for a child as compared to an adult. The difference I find is what you need to be patient about.
I never get frustrated when teaching something, even if it takes the whole lesson to get across one point. I have loads patience, which I think contributes to my success as a teacher.
#5 Confidence Not Arrogance
Generally speaking I believe confident people are usually good at what they do. A confident teacher will be open and truthful with you. He or she won’t be afraid to share their limitations. A great teacher is always open and honest. They should be willing to share stories of not just their successes, but of their failures as well.
These traits are a stark contrast to the arrogance of the proverbial ‘know it all’. If you find a teacher to be on guard, defensive, or acting as if they are doing you a favor by gracing you with their presence, turn around and run!
You can study drums with the greatest drummer on the planet, but if he can’t get an idea across to you what good will it do? Great communication is essential!
In a one on one environment the need for smooth, flowing conversation is more important then ever. This can come in the form of more then just verbal, but body and facial expression. A great teacher will not give up on trying to convey a concept. Instead the y will reassess and try a different approach.
Now You Have A Starting Point, So…..
Obviously fundamentals like technique, reading, listening skills and performance experience are crucial, (some would even say that they are of upmost importance). But personally I would rather study with someone who is exceptional at the 6 traits listed above, even if they may not be the most technically advanced.
So now it’s time to hit the pavement so to speak and start your own research. You know what to look for, and what to be cautious of. All of the details will fall into place if you find someone you can build a strong foundation with.
As far as where to look… check with schools, friends, coworkers, friends at church, other parents, music stores, and musicians. Look online, Craigslist can be hit or miss but it’s worth a try. I post on it and have made some great connections with drummers who have studied with me for years.
Whatever you do, don’t procrastinate! The sooner you get going the sooner you can really start to experience the joys of music!