Tips For Teaching On-Line Drum Lessons

During the pandemic, there has been a major shift to online teaching in just about all subjects, including music education. Teachers have had to focus efforts on creating a digital experience to rival that of in-person teaching, and some instruments like drums create a unique audio and video challenge to overcome.

Because of the sheer size of the instrument, its setup and arrangement, drum teachers are faced with the complex challenge of both keeping the instrument and all the movements in frame, as well as making sure specific motions and techniques are clearly visible, if not highlighted, within the frame. Virtual music teaching tips, in addition to those specific tips for remote drum teachers, will help guide new and more experienced teachers as they navigate this new world of online teaching.

What is unique about teaching drums?

Young drummer student

There are so many aspects to teaching drums that make it unique. With so many parts and pieces, additions and add-ons, the instrument itself has such a variety of sizes and elements, that there is no one answer or right way to arrange it. Some drums are individual, single percussive instruments and some drum sets have as few as 3 pieces and as many as 40+. Clearly, teaching an instrument that has such a variety of sizes and pieces introduces challenges that other instruments rarely have to deal with. A pianist will not routinely see piano students with an 88-key piano and others with 250 keys. A guitar student does have the option to add 20 frets and 20 strings.

Beyond the complexity of the instrument, it’s size, setup, and infinite variety, conducting a virtual drum lesson has significant challenges that other instruments rarely have to negotiate. From camera angles to sound and audio issues, orchestrating a successful lesson requires some thoughtful planning.

How do I become a good drum teacher?

Being a good drummer and being a good drum teacher are not the same thing. Becoming a good drum teacher takes years of experience. From familiarity with different learning styles, negotiating different personalities, and a deep understanding of different methodologies, it takes time to master the nuances that allow for the adaptability needed in almost any situation.

There are several significant factors on which to focus to become a good drum teacher. First building a connection and rapport with the student is critical to success. Forging a good relationship will build trust, a necessary component for a student/teacher relationship. This will also help the teacher figure out ways to reach the student and motivate him or her.

Second, maintaining consistency goes a long way to realize growth. Teachers who cancel often communicate a message that the music education and lessons are not important and need not be taken seriously. Consistency is the mechanism for growth and development, so cancellations should be avoided at all costs.

Good communication skills are paramount. Without them, teachers will not be able to effectively explain difficult concepts or nuanced material. Having the ability to get creative with how material is demonstrated and explained will go a long way to reach even the most challenging students.

Good drum teachers have exceptional demonstration skills. Be prepared to play complex rhythms and explain them in detail so students can understand not only what you’re working on at the moment, but where it will be going in the future.

How can I teach the drums virtually?

A virtual drum teacher may have some unique teaching methods compared to one that teaches solely in person. In order to teach drums virtually, some hardware and software components are necessary, both for the administrative side as well as the lesson delivery, along with prepared and annotated teaching aids and helpful virtual teaching tricks to work through the lesson time.

There are many tips for teaching drums, from set up to games and repertoire. Most importantly, know your audience and have a plan. Consider if your student is a pure beginner with no experience, someone who understands the basics, or an advanced level drummer.

Before the lesson begins, the student needs a way to sign in and connect with the teacher. Make arrangements to have a reminder sent to the student with a link to join the teacher’s video meeting room. Pick video conferencing software that allows for whiteboarding, screen sharing, and annotations.

Second, make sure you have a large enough screen to see your student and his whole drum set. In addition to the camera on your computer, consider investing in an inexpensive HD webcam. Especially for an instrument that has capability to be very large, more than one camera would be beneficial for both the teacher and student. Getting a chance to focus on different drums in particular, as well as the whole set, will give the student appropriate perspective and insight into smaller details. Focus on angles to capture either specific parts or the whole set, and at a height to see the point of attack.

Consider using external microphones to capture a cleaner sound, but with additional hardware will require an audio interface and some complicated arrangements. Often the computer built-in mic will suffice and avoid an unnecessary, burdensome mix of cords and cables. Plan to spend plenty of time working with the student to configure their camera settings and audio to optimize the learning experience.

How do you teach your very first drum lesson?

Teaching tips for the first lesson will largely depend on the type of student. Young children with no experience may need to focus on the role of drums, how it’s incorporated into ensembles, the parts of the instrument, and concepts of time and feeling a beat. Older students who understand music but lack experience with drums specifically, will need to get acclimated to the drum kit, it’s parts and pieces and basic posture, technique, and execution. Those with some experience may need to clean up techniques, begin correcting bad habits, and learn song form. And experienced drummers will likely focus on more nuanced musical concepts like feel, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and complex meter.

Smiling teacher giving lesson onlineThe first drum lesson should be spent getting to know the student, connecting on a personal level and learning their tastes and preferences, likes, dislikes, and working to understand what motivates them. Learning about the students personally can help build the rapport and trust needed for a great teacher-student relationship. Teachers should ask questions about the student’s experience with music, and drums in particular. Having a firm understanding of their experience will give a teacher the knowledge he or she needs in order to build a solid plan moving forward.

Some discussion about goals should be an important aspect of the first lesson. Making sure the teacher and student are on the same page with regard to the learning path is critical. If the student is not learning what they want, or moving in a direction that inspires them to practice and grow, the lessons and time spent will be futile. After some time building rapport and learning about the student’s experience, the next step should be asking the student to demonstrate any skills, so the teacher can assess technique and ability before continuing. Make corrections as necessary to improve posture and technique as the student works through any repertoire they are familiar with.

The next step would be introducing new concepts, rhythms, and exercises to help the student build on their existing skills. For a beginner, this may mean rudiments and simple patterns. For those with more experience, it may be drum fills and more challenging beats. Repetition is key, so teacher demonstration followed by the student’s attempt should be repeated until the student has a firm grasp on what they’re trying to do and the expected outcome. This portion of the lesson may take the majority of the time.

What should I teach a beginner drummer?

A pure beginner will undoubtedly need help putting together the drum set, assembling the hardware, and tuning the drum heads. Educating new drummers about the types of drums, type of sticks, and the notation for each is a good first step.

For students with no experience and can not play a beat, the most important element to consider when teaching beginners is awareness of time feel and what it means to keep a beat. Some examples should be provided that illustrate the role of drums in the band, and how the drums provide that steady foundation upon which the rest of the ensemble can lay their tracks. The beats may change, but the role and purpose remain the same.

Second, laying the groundwork for proper technique is crucial. Examining good technique both in the hands and feet, and illustrating how this proper technique will facilitate faster growth, is a sure-fire way to inspire students to make this a priority.

How do you teach a child to play the drums?

Young girl energetically playing the drumsDrum lessons are a great activity to improve fine and gross motor skills, be physically active and incorporate musical creativity into a really fun and rewarding endeavor. It’s great for children of all ages, but with very young children, special accommodations may be needed to facilitate the lessons.

First and foremost, keep the kit small. Reduce the number of pieces in the drum kit for very young children. Most manufacturers have small drum kits designed for young children. They may be only three or four total pieces, but provide enough to help build a strong foundation keeping rhythm.

Next, keep it simple. For children, the understanding of time and feel are more critical than playing a complex meter and drum beat. Focusing on proper technique will avoid long term bad habits. Find ways to simplify any drum arrangement so the responsibility of the hands and feet are minimal.

How can I make drum lessons fun?

Drum lessons are supposed to be fun! All music lessons are supposed to be fun. By focusing on what inspires the student and the songs they may like, the material is infinitely more engaging. Teachers at Forbes Music have access to thousands of song arrangements and contemporary music to make the lesson preparation easier. Prospective teachers interested in working with an organization that supports teachers with resources and accommodations should contact Forbes Music to learn more.

Small victories are important, and with that, will come the confidence to tackle more complicated concepts and repertoire. As long as the lesson material engages the student and taps into their goals and interests, the lessons will be fun and motivate them to continue learning.

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