So Much to Teach-November 11, 2008
A student is asked to play double strokes and you realize that...they're so slow! Oh no, we have to spend far more time on double strokes. So off you go on double stroke practice; studies that focus on double strokes, technique lessons (the bounce double), etc. After all that effort, your student can play faster, cleaner double strokes, but his/her rock beat is lopsided :-(
OK, there are several essential skills I believe all of my students should have and they are as follows: reading, sight-reading, technique, musicality. That's a pretty general list and a bit of a no-brainer until you have to break it down. How good of a reader should they be? Is sight-reading going to be a big priority? What about technique? How much emphasis do they need? Will rudiments be a huge focus and if so, which ones (there are over 40)? How much time will be spent on speed? Finally, musicality...what defines it? Which styles will we focus on, rock and pop mostly? There's world music (tons of challenging beats to be learned in this category), jazz (ditto), funk....the list goes on.
Now there's the student. Is it someone who's a real keener, born to play drums? Frankly, they make up 5% of my student population. Or is it someone that doesn't play in the school band and just wants to be a rock star? Perhaps he or she doesn't care a lot for reading and thinks jazz is a four letter word. Will they be forced to work on things they don't want to learn, possibly turning them away or off drums for good?
My wife Karen took piano lessons for a few years when she was a teenager. She doesn't play anymore, but has a fond memory of her lessons and the woman who taught her. Perhaps her teacher realized that serious piano playing wasn't in the cards for Karen and so didn't scold her for not practicing the necessary material, etc. Some educators would see this as a teacher-failure, arguing that these teachers only demean the profession and take people's money. That does happen, but something else is true: many teachers gear the material to where the student's interests and strengths lie, thereby providing the student with a positive learning experience. There is quite possibly a transference of skills from music lessons to other aspects of life; I'd like to think there may be some, but I'd like to see some hard evidence. And don't tell me learning music helps you in math. Working on your math does a much better job. Conversely, being an A math student doesn't make you an A musician.
My point is this: there is a vast amount of skills to be considered when teaching a drum student. You have to look at their natural abilities, their age, their goals, and their interest level (the teacher can play a role in that one, certainly). Maybe they want to play some solid rock beats, cool fills and join a garage band with their friends and THAT"S IT. So I say, teach them the skills that will accomplish that goal. Give them the chance to feel successful relatively soon, and they just might come back for bigger stuff.