Saturday, December 07, 2019

Leave them kids alone

Dumbest, wrongest quasi-educational thing
I could find to illustrate this post.
This little rant has been kicking around my drafts folder for awhile. I wasn't even going to post it, but then I had another frustrating lesson with the student mentioned in it, and I got mad all over again.

True story: I have a young student whose last teacher— a local guy who is into technique, and is fairly active online—clearly viewed him as some kind of lab specimen for trying out his technique theories. He had the kid playing “open handed” on the drumset, and counting drum beats with some kind of weird verbal method. They obviously spent way too much time working on rebound-centric techniques, and already the kid is talking about tendinitis... I'm trying to reteach him how to hit a drum and he's worried about tendinitis. It's like talking about VD on the first day of Sex Ed. The only thing the guy “taught” the kid about playing the drums is that he has a million choices about how to hold the sticks, and he's going to get tendinitis if he does it wrong. No idea what a quarter note is, or how to hold the sticks, he has to be untaught this bullshit counting system, which he now doesn't want to give up... it's totally insane. It's malpractice.

It's time to get serious, people: if you don't know what you're supposed to be teaching, you have to find out, or do something else. If you're not an expert player, do not teach according to your personal theories, even if you believe they are vouched for by Marco Minneman or Dom Famularo or the internet or whoever. Lessons are not your time to try stuff out on people too trusting and uninformed to defend themselves against them.

What you do is:

Know how things are normally done
Know when you're teaching something normal, and when you're teaching a fringe technique, and then don't teach the fringe thing. If a student is going to get into your specialty thing later, that should be his or her informed choice.

Know what a normal musical life looks like
Your school-age students' musical lives are going to consist of taking band class in school, practicing lesson assignments, listening to music, playing with friends. The serious ones are going to try to get into the higher level band and orchestra, youth symphony, theater, maybe drum corps, and will maybe consider majoring or minoring in music in college— jazz, percussion performance, or music education. A very few of them may eventually play some professional gigs. They may eventually want to focus on drum set, concert percussion, marching percussion, or “world” percussion, playing a wide variety of percussion instruments. This is what your lessons are supposed to be preparing students for.

Get a beginning snare drum book
Open it to page 1. Teach what is there. Continue thusly on the following pages. You're supposed to be teaching people about rhythm and meter, how to read music, basic musical terms, and the basic rudiments.

Teach basic technique, “German” grip
So-called German grip is the foundation technique for most of the percussion world using sticks or mallets. It is simple, versatile, easy to teach, and easy to understand. Moeller technique, finger technique, “French” grip— all of the special techniques that are so fascinating to hobbyists— will be totally useless if the kid ever wants to take up mallet percussion, for example. The way you're teaching French grip will probably be useless for actually playing timpani— the instrument for which it was developed.

Believe it or not, technique is not a primary issue in drumming. Most of the time, drummers learn a basic grip, a basic stroke, and then get to work learning music, acquiring and refining technique as it becomes necessary.

All these things you think are choices are not choices
Right handed or left handed? French grip or German grip? Open handed or “crossed” handed? Should we do double bass from the beginning, or hold off until the second month? Maybe they should use a “symmetrical” set up!

Seriously, forget it all. Even teaching left handed vs. right handed, regardless of which hand the student writes with, is virtually arbitrary as far as their development is concerned. I encourage all students to play right handed, on a “standard” set up.

The Hippocratic Oath says to first, do no harm
The drumocratic[???] oath should go do not teach things the next guy is going to have to unteach.

Ask yourself what your best local players and teachers will think when they take up working with the kid after you're done with him. Are they going be happy you have him playing open handed, so they have to devise a whole curriculum to accommodate that, or will they be unhappy? Will they be impressed that your 8 year old former student knows a lot of useless crap about stick bounce, but has no idea how to read simple rhythms?

This is all baseline stuff for teachers having clearly no idea of what they're supposed to be doing— basic guidelines for becoming a mainstream-of-drumming hack. Which would be a major improvement vs. the kind of candyland teaching I'm ranting about. Becoming better than a hack teacher requires living a full, music-centered drumming life.


  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    Genius! Absolutely spot on!!

  2. Anonymous was actually me..think I've got the hang of this blogger thing now. Great comments. Put them in a book!

  3. Anonymous4:49 PM

    I've seen some adult beginning drummers (after a few lessons with a good drummer) playing basic rock beats by seesawing the sticks with a French grip, using only fingers and no wrist/arm movement. It looked bizarre.
    Rebound and finger technique seem to be emphasized in the online drum community currently, but it makes sense to me to wait until those kinds of techniques are needed to introduce them.
    I got Wrist Twisters based on your recommendation a while back, and Bailey's explanation of his technique concept was eye opening in its simplicity and lack of emphasis on fingers.

  4. Thanks you guys-- I wasn't sure how this would be received. I think it is an internet thing-- guys who aren't that into music, and have no regular musical life, get fascinated with technique videos, and high performance chops, and get into developing technique in ways that have nothing to do with musical reality. Like this guy.

    There's a quote of the day from Bill Evans coming up in which he says technique is the ability to handle musical materials-- that's a totally different orientation from these pure physics/mechanics guys.