Carmen always shows up with a smile on her face and frequently a painting for me to hang up in my studio. She always knows when something needs to be corrected and is usually able to do it on her own without the need for me to say anything. Every drum lesson Carmen takes is a highly interactive one. She always asks questions when she doesn’t understand something and has a thoughtful point of view on the subjects we cover. We began incorporating a piano into our lesson plan so Carmen can play beats along to different melodies. Sometimes I will even challenge her to play something on the piano with the goal of keeping the rhythm aligned with my bass drum pattern. Carmen is currently traveling and enjoying her summer but we look forward to getting back in the groove as fall approaches.
I recently had a very interesting conversation with a student that led me to some shocking conclusions about the drumming process. This student had focused so much on reading music and understanding note values that she was not actually hearing the notes she was playing. I then realized that some drummers are quite lucky to have the necessary senses instinctively kick in at certain times and that maybe I had taken a few things about the learning process for granted. I’ve always used my sense of sight to read music simultaneously with my ability to hear the sounds that resulted, so it was a slight adjustment for me to understand that this is not instinctual for all drummer. However, it makes perfect sense. So I had the same conversation with some of my other students, which further validated the need to explore ways of connection sight and sound.
First, I want to establish the goal we set that necessitated a further look at this topic. These are students who want to be able to sit down and play without having to read music or think too hard about what they are playing. They just want to sit down and jam, and have fun doing it. So to get this into motion, we want to build confidence in the following areas:
- Understanding note values
- Ear training
Most musicians learn about note values pretty early on. As we seek to understand the musical process, it becomes important to understand what notes are being used to put musical ideas together, how longer spaces and shorter spaces between notes are created, and when certain things change during a piece of music. So we often spend time reading exercises and musical snippets that contain different notes, rests, dynamic markings, and other symbols. This shapes our visual understanding of music. It also lets up perceive music as a language. Just as we learn to read words in order to verbally communicate with one another, musicians must learn notes to musically communicate.
I began having my students begin this process by learning beats without even playing them. First, they read the notes off of staff paper and count the rhythms out loud to understand the rhythmic connection each note has to the next. In the example below, they would look at the beat and focus on the TOTAL rhythm, not the rhythm of each part. This way, you are training your ear to listen for the whole rhythm.
The next step is to play the rhythm on the drums while counting and making a conscious effort to hear the rhythm played out on each drum. This can be a longer process and requires a lot of focus in order to read the notes, develop a feel for them, and truly hear how the whole things sounds together. In the example below, we can clearly SEE how each color-coordinated part is counted. The goal in this exercise is to HEAR each part when the beat is played all together.
Once it starts to feel good, I urge my students to look away from the music. How did it work? Not well? Repeat the process a few times and see if it improves. It’s important to be resilient here. If it worked out, stop playing for 10 seconds. Without looking back at the music, start playing the beat again. Did you remember the groove? Once we are able to use these senses to develop musical ideas and remember them 10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 days later, we have really achieved something special. This is when someone can truly sit down behind a drum set and JUST PLAY!
Gifting drum lessons to that person in your life that just can’t stop tapping on things? Aspiring drummers now have the opportunity to take advantage of our Holiday promotion via Groupon. Buy a 30-minute drum lesson for $15 (a $30 value) without any obligation to continue. However, we certainly hope you stick around after the first lesson because with us, you get the following:
- A lesson plan customized to your goals and interests
- A professional music studio with 2 drum sets and plenty of learning tools
- Instruction from a formally trained drummer
- Opportunities to play with other musicians
- A fun and educational approach to learning the drums
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I write about this topic semi-regularly. I didn’t anticipate the health benefits when I started playing the drums but here I am 22 years later and the they are obvious. Check out this cool video by TED-Ed to see what other beneficial results have been discovered.
You may have heard people say the music industry is suffering, or worse… That it’s dead. Certain areas of the business have taken a hit in the last decade but the live performance side of the business is THRIVING and full of opportunity. Lucky for us, playing the drums is very much a part of the live side of the business. Musicians and bands play everywhere from concert venues to music festivals, bars, country clubs, casinos, art exhibits, private events, corporate parties, street festivals, and more. The challenge is that there are so many good drummers and competition for work can get kind of thick. While the recording business hasn’t been very kind to drummers lately, there are still opportunities there as well. The key is getting ahead of the competition and learning how to be the drummer people want to hire and you have a much better shot at landing live and recording gigs.
This is why drum lessons at The Jon Ardito Drum School are not just focused on drumming, but also how to put those skills to use for professional gains including networking, building your individual brand, and pursuing musical career opportunities. I feel a responsibility to set expectations for my students as well as upcoming musicians because it’s different being a drummer in 2015 than it was in 1975.
So what is a “good drummer” in 2015? To me, it’s a lot more than someone who can play. Read any job description out there. They all have a long list of responsibilities. Very rarely is the job title itself the only thing you will be doing. Drumming is no different. The ones truly up for the task have a full package to offer. Sounding good is part of it but I believe a “good drummer” is someone who also has the following:
Knowledge of the business: As I said, the business has changed. I can’t even have a conversation with an “old head” about the music business because it is so drastically different from when bands were bringing in money by selling albums and when pop music didn’t all sound like regurgitated garbage. I won’t be a broken record to make a case for the changes technology has caused, but I will echo the learnings every businessperson has endured in the new music industry. Today’s landscape is different. If you have the most amazing chops in the city, that might be enough to get you the gigs you want. Knowing the landscape, understanding the business, and adapting to the new way of doing things will enhance your chances for success. The challenge is that it is a very experimental process. Musicians didn’t quit when the record industry tanked. Actually, the DIY paths actually created MORE musicians since we now have access to resources that weren’t as available in the old days. And yes, I’m referring to technology. So be prepared to compete in a saturated space with a challenging revenue model, but keep a peripheral view of nontraditional avenues that may help you.
A sales-minded approach: In addition to knowing the business, you need to get comfortable as your own sales team. When a real-estate gets someone to buy a house, they make a sale. When you book a gig, you make a sale too. Musicians frequently struggle with the sales aspect of their careers but our goals are the same as every salesperson out there. Develop a plan, know the right people, network, and learn from other successful musicians. To my previous point, there are those who will get a chance simply by being a great player. Some just know the right people. Others are rewarded by being at the right place at the right time… But most people in this world have to sell there skills to some degree.
A passion-driven attitude: Simply put, following your passion will get you further than chasing the dollars. If you are a musician because you want to be rich, you are in the wrong business. Many many musicians make very little money but love what they do so much that it trumps their need for nice shoes and fancy cars. Assess your financial needs and come to terms with the fact that your desire to be a musician requires a lot of hustle that may never lead to a fat paycheck.
An ethic people want to work with: Nobody wants to work with an asshole. If you have a good personality, attitude, and show others that you are on top of the “non-musical” responsibilities, people will want to play with you. Don’t have an ego, show up on time, know the material, make sure your equipment works, and don’t create conflicts. This goes a long way but isn’t always easy. You will have to put in many non-billable hours, work with difficult creative types, take direction from others, and maybe even play music you don’t necessarily enjoy. Rise above the emotions and do your job… With a smile on your face, and occasionally bringing donuts!
A multi-faceted skill set: I have friends that are now Instagram celebrities because they tapped into social media to build a fan base. I know drummers who book more gigs because they can also perform live with Abelton. I know musicians that became so good at marketing themselves, that they actually learned their talents were a better asset on the marketing side of the business. As for my story… It’s still being written but I noticed a passion and skill for teaching, along with an interest in the special events business. So I still play at local clubs but I make a living teaching and booking talent. The point is to consider all avenues. I’m one of those jerks that needs nice shoes and a fancy car so quite simply, the hustle was difficult for me. I did some research and noticed areas that have a better chance of producing the income I desire, so I adjusted my plan. I face challenges all entrepreneurs face but I feel a little better about my ability to bring in money while staying connected to music every day of my life… and I’ve never played the drums more on a week to week basis.
Competence on the instrument: These are the tactical things we go over in drum lessons, the subject matter in tutorials you watch, and other functional elements directly related to your instrumental abilities. There is no substitute for amazing chops. So whether you want to improve tempo, play cooler fills, develop a better groove, or anything else, you should always be honing your skills and seek ways to become a better player. This is very rarely enough, although the extremely talented ones tend to get noticed more quickly. The cream rises to the top but it takes a lot of practice and experience to get to that level. Once you are the best player in town, you might be able to weight your responsibilities a little more heavier on your practice routine and less on some of the areas we discussed.
The Jon Ardito Drum School is devoted to preparing students with the tools and abilities they need to succeed in today’s musical climate. While the words “Drum School” are in our name, we also have an obligation to educate aspiring drummers on the field they are entering. So when a student comes to us and says “I want to be a professional drummer,” we give them the option to designate a portion of our time together towards education of the industry. This allows you to move forward in your drumming endeavors with clear expectations of the business and a plan to succeed.