Teaching Tips

Conducting Drum Lessons – A Rough Guide

There are 5 main areas to hit using the material contained on this website. Reading, Rudiments/Technique, Beats, Fills and Songs. During any 1 hour lesson with students I’ll try to hit 3 or 4 of these topics. If I have 45 minutes I’ll try to look at 3 areas and if it’s a 30 minute lesson I normally try to hit two and maybe have a sneak peak at what’s coming next.

The first five minutes on each area is normally spent reviewing what we’ve done in previous lessons – I’ll normally choose random exercises from the ones they should already know and see if they can still play them – if not, then it’s revision time. If I’m satisfied they have grasped the earlier material, then I’ll move on to new material.

I normally structure my 1 hour lessons as follows:

  • 0 – 15 minutes – Reading or Rudiments & Technique
  • 15-30 minutes – Rudiments & Technique or Beats
  • 30-45 minutes – Beats and/or Fills.
  • 45-60 minutes – Fills or Songs.

I go through Reading or Rudiments & Technique first as generally these are the least favourite topics. Students will always try to start with beats or songs, never reading! For the first few lessons I focus on reading and playing with a good technique. Once some reading ability and a stable basic technique are in place then I’ll start discussing rudiments.

I move onto beats next followed by fills. Obviously these two complement each other and should be practiced together too. Normally I’ll get students to practice the new fills with the beats they have just been learning – but then also get them working on the new fills with all their old beats in their practice time and vice-versa.

The selection of which beats, fills, & songs I play with the students depends on their reading ability. If they are only comfortable playing basic 8th note rhythms then I won’t give them 16th note fills to do. If they haven’t mastered playing on the offbeat yet, then I won’t give them beats with syncopated snare drums or fills with lots of offbeats.

Building up technical ability and co-ordination also take time. Don’t force your students to play fast, but do force them to focus on technique. Good technique should eventually lead to speed and good sound, bad technique will just need to be unlearned at a later stage. Likewise with co-ordination. If your students can only just play the 8th note rock beats, do not get them adding the hi-hat foot or open hi-hat immediately.  Once they are playing the rock beats with ease, then you can add the additional challenge.

When choosing songs, I look for something that is a little challenging, but not out of reach. It might be the fastest they can play, or be a very busy song. Sometimes, I’ll simplify the song for them – maybe change a fill or two – or tell them to skip something if we haven’t yet covered it (often open hi-hats at the beginner stage).

While most of my lessons follow the reading/technique – beats/fills – songs format, sometimes it’s good to disrupt the routine and give them something different:

  • Teach the basics of a new popular song – or a song they’ve been listening to – without referencing a score. I always get the students opinion on what they think the basic groove is first. Get them to do a basic drum chart for homework.
  • Introduce them to something like the Soca or Bo Diddley beat if you haven’t covered those areas yet.
  • Work on putting together a short solo.
  • Trade drum fills with beginner students and trade 4s with more advanced students.
  • Find a drumless track and let your student decide what they would play on it (with some guidance from you). Jim Riley’s Survival Guide and Tommy Igoe’s  groove essentials have lots of great tracks to play with or just search for “drumless tracks” on youtube.
  • Show them a cool lick that you know, or just created, or saw someone do on youtube – explore how to apply it and take it further.

While it’s great to have a routine so your students know what to expect in the lessons, it can get – for want of a better word – routine. So don’t be afraid to change it up from time to time.