Many drummers sign up for lessons and just assume that their instructor is qualified.  This assumption is understandable.  Lessons often take place at music stores or commercial lesson facilities.  Simply being associated with this type of business adds an air of credibility to the instructor.  However, there are no certifications necessary to teach music lessons, so it is important to ensure that the instructor is credible and experienced.

Instructor’s Bio and Credentials

A competent teacher will be open with his or her experience and credentials.  Here are a few things to inquire about:

Education

A teacher’s job is to communicate information to students.  Obviously, instructors cannot pass along subject matter that they have never learned.  It is good to know the following information about a potential instructor.

Has the instructor himself/herself had the following:

  1. Formal lessons with a credible instructor
  2. Classes at a music institute such as Drummer’s Collective or Musicians Institute
  3. College-level instruction or music degrees

Performing Experience

Drum instructors will draw upon their performing experience when teaching students.  Music is not only an intellectual topic; it is an active one.  The more performing experience a teacher has, the better he or she will be able to prepare students for their own performances.  Skilled instructors often have experience in most of the following situations.

  1. Contemporary ensembles – This includes wedding bands and top 40 ensembles.  These bands usually learn music by ear and aim to authentically replicate the original artist’s songs.
  2. Concert bands and symphony orchestras – These ensembles require drummers to follow a conductor while playing an assortment of percussion instruments.  The ability to read musical notation is essential in these ensembles.  Drummers may have experience performing in these ensembles in school and college.  There are also many community and professional ensembles in these genres.
  3. Marching bands – This ensemble is heavily based in rudiments, see (__WHAT ARE RUDIMENTS__) page for more information.  The musical equipment is a bit different, utilizing high-tension drums.  Drummers often have experience in this area in high school and college.  Some instructors may have performed in a drum corps.
  4. Small jazz ensembles – These ensembles often consist of a drummer, pianist, and upright bass player. Other instruments such as trumpet and saxophone are often added.  Due to the small ensemble size, the musician’s (including the drummer) have room to stretch out and improvise.  Drummers may have school and professional experience in this area. 
  5. Jazz big bands – This is a band with full horn instrumentation.  In this type of ensemble, drummers must read and interpret drum charts.  Most high schools, colleges, and communities have jazz big bands.  There are also many professional performing and touring big bands. 
  6. Musicals and other stage shows – These shows often feature singers and dancers.  The band is usually in the “pit,” the area below the stage.  The musicians must be comfortable following a conductor and/or playing with a click track. Cruise ships shows, Broadway-style musicals, and theme park shows are examples of these performing situations.  Some musicals may be performed in high school or college.  Most musicians gain experience in this area from performing professionally.

Teaching Experience

Experience plays a major role in the effectiveness of an instructor. 

  1. Number of years teaching – Teaching is an art that is refined over time.  Experienced instructors, through trial and error, have often found clear and concise methods of explaining even the most involved concepts.  They also can pinpoint mistakes and bad habits that less-experienced teachers may miss.
  2. Experience preparing students for auditions, performing situations, etc. – Experienced instructors should have an overall knowledge of requirements for auditions.  Drum and percussion instructors often need to help students prepare for audition-based ensembles such as district band, regional band, all-state band, marching band, and school jazz band.  The teacher may also prepare students for rock and top-40 bands.

Curriculum

Experienced instructors have developed a curriculum that will allow students to progress through the various stages of development.  This is extremely important since percussion method books are usually concise and specialized.  A number of books are often needed in combination to develop a well-rounded curriculum.  Skilled instructors do not merely regurgitate information from books: they also have numerous methods to conveying information.

Background Checks

Many instructors have passed a background check.  This gives the parents of young students a sense of security. 

Proceed with Caution – or Keep Looking

There are some “red flags” that drummers should be cautious of when seeking out an instructor.  A teacher may talk a good game, but there are a few clues that someone is not as competent as they claim.  Here are a few signs indicating that students should proceed with caution – or simply keep looking.

  • The instructor who only teaches beginners – There are some teachers that only teach beginners.  This calls into the question the amount of knowledge that the teacher has. There are obviously teachers who specialize in teaching beginners.  This is common.  However, if one is not willing to teach someone past the beginner level, they may not have much more than a basic knowledge of the instrument.
  • The instructor who does not teach reading (musical notation) – There are some teachers who don’t even have a music stand in their teaching room!  They teach by ear, showing the student a drum beat in a “repeat-after-me” fashion.  One has to wonder how much these students will actually learn.  Students of these teachers must memorize everything that they are taught.  If students are not able to read or write music, they cannot even take notes on their lesson material.

    Some teachers use makeshift, self-created notation similar to hieroglyphics.  Unfortunately, students of these teachers cannot read or write music in a standardized format.  Drum music utilizes the same rhythmic notation as other instruments.  Students should be able to read standardized notation.

    If someone was taking piano lessons without utilizing books or sheet music, the student (or parents of the student if it is a child) would be very confused.  Surely, everyone knows that piano teachers use written musical notation with students.  This allows the student to progress and seek out sheet music.  Drummers should also be able to read and write musical (rhythmic) notation.  For more information, please visit the (__DO DRUMMERS READ MUSIC__) article on this website.
  • The teacher who teaches a number of different instruments – Students often encounter instructors who teach numerous instruments.  The teacher is obviously keeping busy (and making money) by teaching guitar, bass, drums, and other various instruments.  It is quite unusual for an instructor to be an expert on each instrument that he or she teaches.

This does not pertain to instructors who teach multiple percussion instruments. It is very common for instructors to play and teach the percussions instruments that students will need to play: snare drum, drum set, Latin percussion instruments, and mallet (pitched) percussion instruments.

  • Teachers who play games for the entire lesson – Many teachers think that young students cannot absorb musical concepts, so they play repeat-after-me games and allow for “free play,” where the student gets to bang on the drums. 

    Young students can certainly be taught the basics of drumming such as coordination patterns and hand technique.  They can also learn to read musical notation.  Younger students may be assigner less to practice than older students.  This is normal.  They also may need to switch from subject to subject sooner during the lesson (for example, 5 minutes on stickings, 5 minutes on foot pedal exercises, and so on).

    However, if an instructor feels that the student is too young to learn the instrument, lessons should be postponed until a later time.
  • Teachers who don’t accept adult students – There are some teachers who only teach young students.  They turn down requests to teach adult students (even adult beginners).  If a teacher is confident enough to explain drumming concepts to young students, he or she should also be able to teach those same concepts to adults.
  • Teachers who wander from topic to topic – Instead of having a curriculum, some teachers will teach whatever comes to mind.  Some teachers will actually ask the student, “What do you want to work on today?”  Obviously, the teacher should be flexible enough to help the student with parts for band class or other student requests.  However, the teacher should have a well-rounded curriculum (as discussed above). 

    The teacher should also issue clearly-defined assignments.  The student should always know what he or she has to practice for the next lesson.
  • Part-time teachers – Some people believe that teaching music is an easy way to supplement their income.  They may work in another industry during the day while teaching a few nights out of the week.  This does not pertain to full-time performing musicians who teach, since they are still working in their area of expertise. 

    Many people do not realize the amount of education and experience that is required to be a competent teacher.  A part-time teacher may pass along the information that he or she has learned, utilizing the same books and methods as their teachers used.  In contrast, professional instructors may purchase dozens of method books, searching for the perfect ones to use with students.  Because of their experience, they can usually explain concepts in an easily understandable manner.

Where Should I Look for a Drum Teacher?

Drum teachers can be found in most areas.  Some cities have numerous teachers, while others only have a few.  Below are some places to look to find a teacher.

  • Music stores – Most music stores offer lessons.  This is convenient, since the students can sign up for lessons when they purchase a drum set. They can also purchase books and other necessities at the store.

    There are some downsides to studying at a music store.  The lesson rooms may be small and loud, especially if there are other music lessons being taught at the same time. 

    Stores usually pay the teachers a low lesson rate. This does not offer much incentive for teachers to remain at the store. When a teacher leaves, the store may rush to hire another teacher, even if the instructor is not highly qualified.  At some stores, the turnover rate is so high that students may have multiple teachers within the same year.
  • Commercial lesson facilities – These businesses focus exclusively on lessons.  They tend to be more selective than music stores in the hiring process.  The lesson fees might be higher than those charged by music stores, since lessons are the facility’s only means of income. 
  • Drum shops – Drum shops specialize in the sale of drums and other percussion instruments.  They tend to hire more experienced instructors since the drummers that frequent drum shops are usually looking for specialized instruction.
  • Private instructors – Many experienced instructors have their own teaching practice, often teaching from a home studio.  This allows then to get paid the lesson amount that they deserve.  Many private instructors can be found through online searches.
  • College or university music departments – Most universities have performing arts departments where students major in music performance and music education.  Some of these schools have community programs, offering lessons to non-college students.  Those that don’t have community programs often have music majors who teach.  Sometimes the percussion professors will also teach private lessons. 
  • Recommendations from other students – It is often said that word of mouth is the best advertising.  Students of skilled instructors will often stand out as some of the best musicians in the area.  If someone is in need of lessons, they would simply need to ask prominent area drummers who they study with.
  • Online lessons – In areas where there are few or no drum instructors, students may opt for online lessons.  These lessons utilize platforms such as Skype and Zoom.  The lessons are one-on-one instruction, similar to any other private lesson.  The audio and video problems that existed years ago have largely been solved through advancement in technology and faster internet speed.

Other Factors to Consider when Choosing a Teacher

There are other factors to consider when choosing a drum teacher.  A few are listed below.

  • Pricing – Many people assume that studying with a less experienced instructor is a good way to save money while learning the basics.  They figure that they can switch to a more experienced instructor when needed.  While this seems like a money-saving idea, students would usually progress faster with a skilled instructor.  They would also develop fewer bad habits with a qualified instructor.  Therefore, it is not a money-saving idea after all.

    Every area has its going rate for music lessons.  It is common for teachers with more education and experience to charge a bit higher of a rate for lessons.
  • Area of expertise – If a student already knows the fundamentals of the instrument, he or she may want to seek out an instructor that specializes in a certain style or concept.  For example, someone with a goal of playing in marching band may seek out a rudimental percussion specialist while someone interested in double bass drumming would seek out an expert in that area.  Students interested in school band would want to seek out someone who teaches drums and pitched percussion.
  • Frequency of lessons – For beginning and intermediate drummers, weekly lessons are encouraged.  The consistent reinforcement of techniques and concepts is important in the foundational stages.  Drummers who are working on advanced concepts may benefit from extra practice time between lessons.  In this case, lessons may be on an every-other-week or as-needed basis.

    Teachers should not cancel lessons on a regular basis.  When an instructor must cancel a session, an opportunity to reschedule should be offered.  If the instructor must leave for an extended period of time (such as a musical tour), a qualified substitute in an acceptable accommodation.
  • Lesson length – Beginning drummers will often start out with 30-minute lessons.  Drum students who are at an intermediate level may benefit from 30 to 60-minute sessions. 45-minute lessons tend to work well with students at this level.  Those at an advanced or professional level will often take lessons that are 60 minutes (or longer) in length.  These are simply guidelines.  The lesson length would be decided by the teacher and student.

    Students who need to learn pitched percussion instruments for school band may opt for a longer lesson length.  For example, a beginning student who wants to excel in school band may request 45-minute lessons (instead of 30-minute lessons).  This would give the instructor a greater amount of time to cover snare drum, pitched percussion, and drum set in each lesson.
  • How long will I need to take lessons? – This question can only be answered by the student him- or herself.  The student will have a goal or set of goals when starting lessons.  One can study until those goals are attained.  It is interesting to note that these goals often change and evolve over time.  In this case, the student will extend lessons even after reaching their original goals. Many drummers simply study for years, as there is always something more to learn.  For more information, please see the article on this site, (__HOW LONG TO GET GOOD AT DRUMS__).

    Some students will sign up for a only few lessons.  In this case, the teacher’s role is similar to that of a tutor.  The teacher will help the student by clarifying information and concepts, allowing the student to get over obstacles in his or her playing.  Students may only sign up for a few lessons to prepare for an upcoming audition.  In both situations mentioned here, the information is usually something that would have been coverer in regular, structured lessons.  Therefore (if schedule and budget allows), it would be better to take lessons on a consistent basis.

What about teachers that come to my home? 

There are some teachers that travel to students’ homes. While this is convenient for the student, there are fewer experienced teachers who offer in-home lessons.  There are a few reasons for this:

  • The in-studio teacher will have a professional setup – Many professional teaching studios have practice pads, one or two drum sets, sound system, and educational materials.  A student’s home will simply not have the same setup.
  • The teacher that visits your home would have a good amount of travel time between lessons.  The travelling teacher would have to charge a much higher rate to make up for the lost time. 

    While there are some good teachers that travel to students’ houses, most are just getting started with teaching – and often have less experience than established teachers.

I hope that the information in this article helps you to select an instructor. In the meantime, please feel free to use the material provided in this website to help guide you on your musical journey.

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