4 Tips for Teaching the Drum Set to Kids

Here are 4 tips outside of the musical box that might help you teach the drum set to your students.

1) Emphasize Feel Although drummers often talk about good and bad “time”, don’t worry about it too much for the time being.  Instead answer the question, “Does the groove feel right?”  There are countless examples of musicians speeding up or slowing down in relation to a metronome while their drum part still sounds amazing.  From a drummer’s perspective, I immediately think of drummers John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Levon Helm of The Band.  Both are great drummers who are immortalized for their incredible feel and for creating the perfect drum parts for songs. Bottom line: Getting the feel right will take care of everything.

2) Encourage the Weak Hand All drummers are plagued with a hand that’s weaker than the other.  For many right handed drummers the weak hand would be the left.  What this means on the drum set is that the strong hand ends up doing most of the work and ultimately limits the choices of the drummer.  Encourage your students to lead a groove or drum fill with their weak hand.  Specifically, this will mean that a right handed student will ride on the hi hat with the left hand instead of the right.  Admittedly, this could be an arduous process, but the long term benefits are tremendous and could lead to ambidextrous drummers. Bottom line: Boosting the weak hand equals musical strength and freedom for drummers.

3) Take A Listen Ask drum students to take a step back and use their ears as a casual listener would.  Teachers can be a great help here, since many young drummers aren’t accustomed to being reflective and are often not concerned with how the overall product sounds as long as they’re meeting their drum standards.  Listening to playback of recorded snippets here would be a great idea and will help your students hear what they really sound like. Bottom line: Drummers are a piece of the puzzle and need to be aware of the musical picture the sum of the pieces create.

4) Give Notes Their Full Value Drum students should be deliberate and precise when playing notes by giving them their full value.  By nature, drummers are not taught to be concerned with the length of notes or the expression of notes (like staccato or legato).  However, drummers can express lengths of notes as well as the type of attack or sustain.  Sometimes just being aware of it is all you need.  However, if you want to take it further, you can sometimes achieve longer tones by leaving the stick on the drum head immediately after a stroke.  I think of this as “digging in”, others might call this a dead stroke.  This approach works particularly well on the ride cymbal or kick drum.  Longer sounds can also be expressed with press rolls, bigger crash cymbals, etc.  Quick hi hat splashes, smaller cymbals and quickly pulling the stick away from the drum head can help with shorter sounds.

I’m not suggesting you go crazy with this stuff–it’s simply designed to enhance your student’s feel on the drums.

Bottom line: As musicians first, drummers can express subtleties like other instrumentalists can.  By doing so, drummers contribute more to the overall presentation of the music.

A drummer and Bronx music teacher, Brian Doherty is known for his work with bands like They Might Be Giants, XTC and the Silos. Doherty has also supplied beats to Ben Folds, Freedy Johnston, Twyla Tharp, Christy Thompson, M2M, Guy Davis, Lonnie Liston Smith and Frank Black of The Pixies. E-mail him at briandrum@gmail.com or visit his website, http://www.briandoherty.net

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