Why, What & How I Teach
When first asked to write an article about drum instruction, I quickly and enthusiastically responded, “Yes, I would love to”. After all I thought, I have been playing drums for 56 years, since the time I was riding a tricycle on the sidewalks of The Bronx, NY. I see on average 30 students per week, my youngest being 8 and my oldest 86 years young. In addition, I perform clinics representing major drum companies. For my whole adult life, I have played professionally in all aspects of the NY music scene. Playing, performing and teaching are part of my DNA – it is who I am! My passion and love of drumming grows stronger as I grow older. It is a great honor to share my thoughts, my wisdom and teaching techniques developed over the years (and still evolving) with my fellow drummers and educators.
With such an extensive background, I assumed the task at hand should be simple. I first sat down to outline all of the wonderful insights I would share with you about the great books I utilize, my methods and how I set out to make every student be the best they could be. I could share with you how I carefully and methodically develop their technique while exposing them to the world of drumming. I could discuss their introduction to the founding building blocks to the fusion of jazz, rock and latin music as well as the American mainstream popular hits throughout the years. All this is about what I teach and of course valuable to discuss, but..... and a very big but, is to the much more important question of why I teach.
The ‘what’ I teach in many respects can be obvious and shared by many educators. Most good drum instructors will use the classic method books, great new material, deal with rudiments, proper technique and innovative ideas as I do. I will discuss my style and tools later in this article, however, in outlining my thoughts I had an epiphany. It Is the reasons why one teaches that makes for a truly great teacher. Before discussing materials and methods to utilize in your practice I want to focus on the question “Why do I teach”? The answer to this important question is the difference between a good teacher and a great one.
Many of us define ourselves by what we do rather than focusing on why we do it. The what is the action but the why is the passion. The why is the purpose and inspiration that comes from deep within your soul. The why is what makes one drummer’s simple groove reach out and touch you while another drummer’s same notation simple groove is just that, a simple groove. I would like to ask you to join me in contemplating the why, bring out your full potential as an educator and have you experience the true joy I see every day. You will reach a level of fulfillment few people achieve in their life and provide benefits to each of your students from the mere hobbyist to the next drumming star.
Why do we teach? As a way to enhance your income, keeping a roster of students in addition to your band work has you earn a nice living. It can at times be frustrating with students not as serious and passionate about drumming as you are, but offset by those who really are serious about learning. In doing this with sincerity and a strong work ethic, you can be a good teacher and happy with what you do. However, to be a truly great teacher, you must understand that the art of teaching in and of itself is a noble profession, this understanding will fulfill you in ways never imagined. Of course we must get paid for our work, but you should not teach simply to get paid. You must teach to pass on the passion, the love of drums, your life experiences and the joy you derive from music. Your expectations should not be that every student will be the next drumming star but that every student will enjoy the drumming experience on a level that is right for them.
Teaching is both an art and a science. It is establishing an empathetic personal connection with your student. What took me many years to learn is that every student has a different reason and motivation for learning to play drums. Understanding, acceptance and appreciation of this fact is your first step to becoming a truly great teacher. A great teacher becomes an inspirational figure in another human beings life. Think about this for a moment. To teach musicality, one must learn to be aware of his surroundings, the direction band mates are moving, the emotions being felt by the band members as well as the audience. We all love to play the hottest coolest licks, show off our chops honed by many hours of practice but to do this in a musical situation is many times selfish and disrespectful to your band mates, the music and the audience. This is a life lesson, not just a drum lesson!
I am fortunate to have many very serious students that keep me on my toes, always challenging me to move them to the next level, I love these lessons. I also teach those who enjoy drumming as a fun hobby. I teach the young student needing a break from overwhelming school work to the adult whose kids left the nest and now has time to enjoy relearning what was such fun in his younger days, I love these lessons as well. In all cases I get to share something special to me and give joy to another in doing so.
Life is good!
To be really good at what you do always remember the fun you had learning, see yourself through your student’s eyes and most of all always remain a student yourself.
The What and How:
My studio is state of the art with every amenity needed for a top flight lesson. It includes:
-2 sets of acoustic drums plus a set of Roland electric.
-2 pad stations ( full size pad, accessory pad and bass pad with double pedals )
-Pad stations face a mirrored wall to monitor technique plus a flat screen TV to the side with a camera focused on hand close ups. This camera set-up can also be used to record lessons when necessary.
-Internet service and display to be utilized as needed for music or video demonstrations.
-Extensive library of method books of all styles and levels - classics to brand new.
-Extensive library of chart reading and music minus one for all levels and styles.
-Extensive library of CDs of varied eras and styles to expose the student to all genres.
-Extensive library of educational DVDs
I am a professional and at all times conduct myself as one.
I keep an organized studio, run on time and am always neatly dressed and clean shaven. One cannot expect a student to respect what you do not, always lead by example.
Reading is the language of the Instrument. Not all students aspire to back shows and play in pit bands as I do but all students must learn to read. Hitting the practice pad with a number of method books is a great way to build stamina. Working drum corps, orchestral and rudimental reading does wonders for dexterity. Reading gives us the ability to take advantage of the vast universe of material available. If a student learns a new lick, beat or exercise, write it down to remember it during the following week of practice. Every student must learn to read and you as the instructor must be able to teach it on every level.
I have come to love teaching as much as performing as it keeps me young and attuned to all that is new in the world of drumming. Not only do I teach my students, but I learn from them as well. The late greats Sam Ulano and Jim Chapin always had a pair of sticks in their back pocket ready and willing to show a few ideas or demonstrate the Moeller Method to any drummer lucky enough to cross their paths. These inspirational men loved to teach. I find myself doing much the same with delight when approached in music stores by drummers with questions or seeking advice. These two gentlemen passed on to me not only their knowledge, but also their love of drumming. They passed on their love of teaching and through example and personal encouragement, the joy of passing it on to the next generation.
So Pass it on I do with great joy and passion. I am fortunate to be in such a noble and
rewarding profession...... Life indeed is good!