I Don't Teach Drums
I suppose that's a terrible title for the article if someone is browsing my site trying to learn about me as a drum instructor. But in any case, it's a philosophical perspective I've adopted over the years. What I believe I really teach is in fact a set of vital life skills that have helped me get through the hardest times in my life and overcome my life's greatest challenges. I was a teenage kid that had no self-confidence, very little self-discipline, and a tendency to see problems rather than solutions. But when it came to playing drums, I was able to build these, and other, skill sets. It was very helpful in becoming a better drummer, and as I got older I began to realize that the metacognitive skills that I'd unintentionally developed were helping me to become a better person, as well.
I think that it's easiest to address self-discipline before any other skills. Observing self-discipline and the resulting improvements in whatever we're practicing tends to be a pretty tangible process. So that's what I'll address today. Almost all of the students that come to me who are already playing have an easy time sitting down on the kit and just playing whatever they're feeling in the moment. But very few of them have a regimented approach to getting better, thus enters the drum instructor. Although there are other factors, if we don't have or utilize self-discipline we see very slow, very little, or patchwork progress in the things we do. We typically do whatever we feel like in any given moment we feel an impulse, unless we are being instructed by a higher authority to do something, i.e. chores or schoolwork.
Of course, it's very easy for me to just lay out more homework for the students I teach. And honestly, for some students at some times that's the right way to go. But my goal is really to give students a bigger perspective on how to build their own regimen towards self-improvement.
For instance, coming out of summer vacation, I have a student that had pretty much laid off the pad and I didn't see him but for only a handful of times over the summer months. So I hit him with a basic: the paradiddle. We set a tempo that was under what he should've been able to perform, yet he frustratingly discovered he couldn't play it smoothly. We went through some flam and double-stroke exercises as well, with varying results. Ultimately though, he came to his own conclusion that these particular skill sets had atrophied. So we talked about how to keep these things from falling apart. I didn't tell him, "you just need to go back to the pad and play more paradiddles- here's a copy of an exercise I gave you five months ago." I think that's really depressing and uninspiring teaching. Instead, we talked about how to cultivate a daily routine that helps us maintain skills and keep us on an easy path moving forward. That doesn't mean you must do it daily without fail, but that you have a routine that you set as a goal to try and play every day. For this, we came up with a five-minute process of playing through a paradiddle set, a flam rudiment, and a five-stroke roll pattern. This five minute process can be done at nearly any point in the day, it's essentially modular and the exercises can be swapped out as we feel the need to focus on other things or get bored with the current set, and is a great way to keep ourselves focused on maintaining skills that are essential.
Cultivating the self-discipline to set yourself to a routine exercise on a daily basis can be surprisingly difficult. I find that the biggest reason this can be the case is because we don't want to see something fun like drumming turn into work. But the truth is that for anything to be truly rewarding in the long run of life, you must work at it. So we find a way to turn it into fun work. Weight lifters and people in other athletic disciplines 'learn to love' the pain and exhaustion that comes with it. Although you're not exactly going to get the same endorphin release from a pad, it is equally possible to learn to love pad work. But this usually doesn't happen for most people until we push ourselves through the part where we find it boring or frustrating.
I see self-discipline as actively encountering and overcoming states of mind like boredom, fear, frustration, self-hate, distraction, and the myriad of other mental states that break down personal progress. In fact, I believe one cannot cultivate self-discipline without encountering these factors, failing to overcome them, recognizing failure, and then finding the willingness to re-approach them. The resulting effort of this process is the very enactment of self-discipline.
So while I may be working with my students on how to be better drummers, there is a much deeper process that we engage in on a one-on-one level, which is finding the student's individual blocks to cultivating self-discipline and finding ways to approach and overcome these blocks. If we cannot succeed at doing this, then we will have a hard time attacking our weaknesses as drummers and will always find our practice to be inconsistent at best and completely dissolve in times where the stresses of life are increased.
This process becomes a life skill, which can be applied to all things. Discovering the willingness to face our weaknesses, transform problems into solutions, enact these solutions, and maintain a consistent approach to addressing such weaknesses until we grow beyond them- this is how I define self-discipline. That is what I aim to teach. Drums just happen to be the vehicle.