Teaching Your First Five Lessons With A New Student

Here’s a guide to what I run through on the first five lessons with my students.

Lesson One

This lesson is normally a free trial lesson. Approx 30 minutes in length. We’re assuming the student is a complete beginner. I’ll start the lesson with a little conversation:

  • “Why do you want to learn drums?”
  • “Do you have a drumming goal in mind, is it just for fun or are you joining a band, playing in church?”
  • “What music do you listen to?”
  • “Do you play other instruments?”

This is just to get an idea of what direction I’ll be taking in the long run – are we going more metal or jazz or rudimental – and is there some existing musical knowledge that can help?

Then I’ll start by demonstrating correct grip and stroke technique – I run through basic stickings – All Rights, All Lefts, RRRRLLLL, RRLLRRLL, RLRLRLRL. I don’t make the students read anything, I just verbally tell them what to do.  Some students will get the technique correct, some will need constant correcting over the next few lessons (sometimes years!).

Then I’ll move on to Reading Rhythms #1. Here I explain how to read music and I’ll guide them through each exercise – correcting technique and trying to get them to alternate their hands as directed on the worksheet. I try to get them counting at this point too. Most students can do the last few exercises on their own after doing the first 4 with me. I skip the 8 bar exercise for now.

Next up is Reading Rhythms #2. An explanation of 8th notes is needed here. I have the student count the 1&2&3&4& with me to get them used to the counting. I’ll run through the first few exercises with them, then see if they can do the last few on their own. If they struggle I get them counting in time with the metronome before trying to play the exercise. It normally helps. Again I’ll skip the 8 bar exercise… don’t want to stress them too much on the first lesson!

Then it’s time to play our first rock beat – the first one from Eighth note rock beats #1 – I tell them it’s time for the fun part now! I then have them play 8ths on the ride or hi-hat.. counting as they do it… then it’s time to add the bass drum on 1 & 3… then the snare on 2 & 4… some may be able to do it in three easy steps, others will need it broken down further. If it needs breaking down further I work all the limb pairings:

  • Right Hand on 8ths and Right Foot on 1 & 3
  • Right Hand on 8ths and  Left Hand on 2 & 4
  • Right Foot on 1 & 3 and Left Hand on 2 & 4

After that I’ll have them try the whole groove again… If it’s still not working, then we go one note at time:

  • Right Hand and Right Foot Together
  • Right Hand
  • Right Hand & Left Hand Together
  • Right Hand

I get them to repeat that sequence slowly until they get it. Normally they get it!

Once they can play it, or nearly play it, I’ll show them the Eighth Note Rock Beats #1 worksheet and explain how that groove is written down.

If they can play the groove reasonably well I’ll have them play along with a short section of a song – The Reason by Hoobastank,  Billy Jean by Michael Jackson or Another One Bites The Dust by Queen – depending on how fast they can play it… this helps give them a real sense of accomplishment – they can play a song after just 25 minutes! If there is anytime left on the session I may have them play the next beat or introduce a simple fill – like the first one from Eighth Note Fills #1 – or I’ll just answer any questions they may have & tell them what to expect in future lessons; e.g.  more technique, reading, beats & fills & songs…

That concludes the first lesson. It’s just up to you to sell them on continuing lessons, I’ve always had success using this procedure as my trial lesson. Most students sign up for further lessons straight away.

Lesson Two

I start their second lesson with Eighth Note Sticking Patterns #1. The focus is on grip and technique at the start of the lesson. I have the students playing the exercises slowly and carefully. I don’t have them add the footwork at this stage. The focus is on getting good hand technique. Once the hands look good then we can add the feet (might take a few lessons).

While going through the sticking patterns I normally point out the rudiments on the pages – doubles, singles and paradiddles – and demonstrate what they can be used for (after lots of practice). I’ll normally only go as far as the first 8 patterns, then tell the student to practice the rest at home.

After sticking patterns I move on  to Reading Rhythms #1 & #2. I’ll ask the students if they remember it from the trial lesson and see if they can play the 8 bar exercises. If they are very uncertain on the 8 bar exercise then I’ll review the whole page with them again & tell them to practice it again at home. I also demonstrate how I’d like them to practice the exercises – playing each line twice then moving to the next line without stopping until they get to the last line. Then restart again but with the opposite hand.

Next up is Eighth Note Rock Beats #1. I’ll work through the first 6 to 8 rock beats with them. Often number 5 is a sticking point, playing a bass drum straight after a snare drum seems to be tricky for a lot of students. They may need help getting past that one. I’ll ask the student to try the remaining exercises at home and then I’ll check them on the next lesson.

Normally while they are attempting these grooves I’ll observe what’s happening in terms of bass drum technique and then have a discussion with them regarding bass drum technique. I’ll introduce the 2 basic techniques – heel down and heel up and have them try both to see which feels better and discuss the benefits of each. I leave it up to the student to pick the one they like.

Following from the beats is Eighth Note Fills #1. Here you’ll need to talk the student through the placement of the toms on the stave. I often write it above the 2nd fill for them (two eighth notes on Snare, Tom 1, Tom 2 & Tom 3) and tell them to refer back to it if they are not sure. I get them to play the first fill with their favourite beat from the Rock Beats we’ve just done (most will pick beat #1). I get them used to playing 3 bars of the beat and then the fill for 1 bar. I have them repeat that a few times. After the first 2 fills are done that way, I get them to read the next few fills and demonstrate it with the beat – correcting any mistakes as we go. Again I’ll normally go through the first 6 – 8 fills with them and then have them do the rest at home.

I tell the students to practice all the beats they have done with all the fills they have done. So if we’ve done 8 of each, that’s 64 combinations and if they do 12 of each that’s 144 combinations. I briefly demonstrate with beat #1 and the first 4 or 5 fills, then again with beat 2… I play 3 bars of the beat #1 then fill #1, 3 more bars of beat #1 then fill #2 and so on until I’ve done the first 4 or 5 fills. Then I’ll start again with beat #2 and fill #1…

I also encourage them to just play the fills repeatedly on their own to get used to moving around the kit and I’ll demonstrate that with 2 or 3 of the fills – slowly at first, but then showing them where it can go in terms of speed if they practice enough.

For some students that’ll be the end of the lesson. For students that move fast, I may introduce a simple song here & get them working on it. I like to introduce my students to song playing fairly early so they get an idea about what the drummers role is all about – playing a groove consistently, making smooth transitions between sections and keeping good time. The song I’ve used most is Boulevard of Broken Dreams from the 2012 Trinity Rock and Pop Intial syllabus. If that’s not available you can try the simplified version of the song on this site – working through the first verse and chorus should be enough for now.

Lesson Three

Lesson Three starts off with 8th Note Sticking Patterns #1 again. I’ll look at some of the patterns that we haven’t already done and correct any grip/technique flaws.

After a few minutes on sticking patterns I’ll move on to reading. Hopefully they can do the 8 bar exercise on Reading Rhythms #2 fairly easily now and we can move straight on to Reading Rhythms #3. I run through the first few exercises with them, but I like them to be able to read the last few on their own to show me they understand the idea and are actually reading and not just copying me. Again I’ll leave the 8 bar exercise for them to try at home.

Attention should also be paid to their technique again. Once a student has the rhythm of an exercise in their hands I ask them to play and look at their hands and make any adjustments to their technique they think are necessary. I like to get the student into the habit of checking their own technique so they can correct themselves when at home.

I normally teach German Matched Grip to start, common errors are not keeping the hands turned down with the palms facing the floor and not keeping all the fingers on the stick – only supporting the stick from the front. Gripping too tight and not accepting the rebound are other common mistakes –  normally easy to hear as the student doesn’t get a clean stroke, but a buzzed one. Working with a very bouncy practice pad can help them to really feel the bounce and accept the rebound.

After reading, it’s back on to Eighth note Beats and Fills #1. I’ll review the exercises by having them play beats and fills I choose at random – for example Beat #4 and Fill #1, then Beat #2 and Fill #6 – I get them to play 3 bars of  the groove and 1 bar of the fill and loop it round. Once we’ve covered the previously studied beats and fills then we’ll move on to the ones we haven’t covered. Often I’ll have them working on the beats and fills at the same time – so we do beat #9 with fill #9, beat #10 with fill #10. Obviously, if they are struggling with either element then we’ll just focus on getting that element right before putting them together.

If the students can get through all the beats and fills then I ask them to do the 8 bar exercises for homework.

And then it’s song time – if we haven’t already started on the song then I’ll introduce it now. If we’ve already started on it, I’ll have the student play through it and make corrections and suggestions on how to make it sound better – normally not hitting the cymbals so hard, playing a more consistent groove, making the transitions smoother and not panicking when they come to the drum fills. I’ll also teach them about counting bars and listening for cues to get the fills in the right place.

That should just about do it for lesson 3.

Lesson Four

Keep working on those sticking patterns! If the technique is looking good I will get them to increase speed a bit – we’re still using wrist strokes only at the moment, so, not too fast. In some cases, if I think the student is ready I’ll have them start trying to add the feet.

After warming up the hands, it’s Reading Rhythms #3 – 8 bar exercise. Hopefully they can do it! Often before attempting the 8 bar exercise I’ll have the student play down the exercises, playing each line once or twice, without stopping until they reach the end.  I’ll make them start both right and then left handed to see if they have been practicing in this manner at home (as I demonstrated on the 2nd lesson). I stress the importance of developing the hands equally and being comfortable starting with either one.

Then it’s on to Reading Rhythms #4 –  the 8th note rest. This is a tricky one for some. Playing on the off beat does not come naturally to a lot of people. I have them work with an 8th note metronome at 60bpm and make them count out loud. Again I’ll run through the first 3 or 4 exercises with them and then try to get them to run through the remaining ones to see if they are really reading it. The 8 bar exercise is again assigned for homework.

Next I’ll have the students attempt the Eighth Note Rock Beats #1 Eight bar exercise. Upon successful completion I’ll move on to Eighth Note Rock Beats 2 – syncopated bass. I’ll explain the concept of syncopation and then demonstrate the first groove. Some students have trouble leaving so much space between the snare on beat 2 and the bass on the & of 3. Counting and going slow are emphasized again. Here I’ll work through the first 6-8 exercises with the student. Exercises 7-12 are a little strange as they don’t have a bass drum on beat 1. Students may need extra help here. Again, I’ll encourage the students to look at the other ones with haven’t done at home and maybe attempt the 8 bar exercise.

I always like to give examples of where they’ll hear syncopated bass drum grooves. Good examples are Heathens by Twenty One Pilots, Sugar and She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5, You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, and Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran to name a few…. Examples of songs with no bass drum on beat one: Susie Q by CCR, Roxanne by The Police, Jesus he Knows Me by Genesis.

After the beats, it’s fills time again… Check on Eighth Note Fills #1 – Eight bar exercise before moving on to Eighth Note Fills #2. These are short fills lasting just 1 or 2 beats. I demonstrate the fills using a variety of the beats the student has already looked at & I encourage them to do they same when they practice. I also show them how to take the same sticking pattern and rhythm and create different fills. I tell them if they don’t like the fills that are written down, then they can, and should, experiment and create their own. Again I’ll normally run through the first 8 and have the student try the rest on their own.

If there’s still time at the end of the lesson I’ll run through their first song again or introduce them to a new song. Again something from the trinity rock and pop initial syllabus or something like Yellow by Coldplay – just ignoring the open hi-hats for now.

Lesson Five

Let’s start with sticking patterns for the first few minutes. Hopefully your students have a good grip and technique happening and you can start the add the feet to these exercises if you haven’t already.

Reading Rhythms #4 – the 8 bar exercise is up next. If you’re satisfied with your students progress then proceed on to Reading Rhythms #5. As before, I’ll do the first few exercises with them & then let them do the final few & assign the 8 bar exercise for homework. If the student is struggling with playing accurately on the offbeat – especially on exercise 7 – then I’ll have them work through the Eighth Note Accuracy exercise. It’s a good exercise to give all students to help develop their time keeping and ability to nail the offbeats at different tempos. I normally assign it around the time of Reading Rhythms #4 or #5.

An additional exercise I’ll add for Reading Rhythms #5 – normally on the next lesson – is to play the bass drum every time they see a rest. This gets them to start integrating the hands with the feet. They’ll need this for Eighth Note Fills #5 and for all the super cool licks you’re gonna show them in the future… start it early!

Up next, the remainder of Eighth Note Rock Beats #2 and Eighth Note Fills #2 & a run through the 8 bar exercise on both of those.  If your student is making good progress then proceed on to Eighth Note Rock Beats #3. Good songs for demonstrating the left hand variations being played here: Connie Francis – Lipstick On Your Collar, Pearl Jam – Last Kiss, Meghan Trainor – All About The Bass, and Muse – Starlight.

At this point I’ll often switch the fills to Sixteenth Note Fills #1 as most students can easily pick up 16th notes at this point and 16th note fills sound a bit more exciting than 8th note fills. It also gives a little more time to work on their 8th note rhythmic accuracy before trying 8th note fills #3. On the next lesson I’ll often do the Short Sixteenth Note Fills #1 & then come back to the 8th note fills after that. I’ll leave the Sixteenth Note Fills #2 until after we have studied Reading Rhythms #8.

Hopefully by now the student has gotten through their first song reasonably well and you can introduce them to something new (If you haven’t already). I often go with another simple song that’s a little faster than the first one – maybe Prince – Raspberry Beret, The Bangles – Manic Monday. If I’m working from the Trinity Rock & Pop initial syllabus I’ll use And The Cradle Will Rock or Days from the 2012 syllabus or maybe We Will Rock You, Hot Pants or Yellow from the 2018 syllabus.

That should be enough to finish lesson 5.

What’s Next?

More of the same! It’s up to you where to take the student next, each student has their own abilities and challenges. For some the pace will be slower, for others it will be faster.  I always try to work in a logical manner and at the beginner level more structure is definitely needed to build the foundation. Once the student has a certain level of ability then you can jump around more with them. Do use the student progress checklists to keep track of what you’ve given them. I always base the next worksheet on their ability; if they can’t add feet to the basic sticking patterns, then there is no point in trying Hi-Hat Foot Independence; if they are not comfortable playing on the offbeat, then we’ll work on that more before trying fills and grooves with more syncopated rhythms.

Once Reading Rhythms #5 is finished & the students can add their feet to the sticking patterns then I’ll often move on to Singles, Doubles and Paradiddles #1 & #2, Sticking patterns #2 and then onto Flams. I’ll keep the reading going alongside the rudiments as well. Once the student can play sticking patterns while the feet are also playing, then I’ll get them to add the same foot ostinato to the Reading Rhythms Exercises. It’s a great independence exercise and it also gets them to review the reading.

After Eighth Note Rock Beats #3, it’s Eighth Note Rock Beats #4, and then I’ll often start on the Quarter Note Rock Beats as they provide a different challenge. Then after the first 4 parts of the Quarter Note Rock Beats I’ll work on the Eighth Note Rock Beats #5 and #6 and then Quarter Note Rock Beats #5 & #6 before moving through the Sixteenth note grooves. Don’t forget to challenge your students to add fills to all the beats they have learned as playing a fill with an eighth note rock beats feels very different to playing one with a quarter note beat. Also, once the students are confident with all the Eighth Note Rock Beats then I’ll also start work on Hi-hat Foot Independence and then Open Hi-hats.

For the fills, after Sixteenth Note fFlls #1 I’ll go back to Eighth Note Fills #3, #4, #5, & #6 (hopefully you’ll have studied flams by then ) and then I’ll hit Sixteenth Note Fills #2. I’ll mix the groove fills in along the way as well.

This is the approach I’ve used with hundreds of students. It gets them playing and it keeps them interested as there is plenty to work on and lots of variety. As long as the students practice they should be able to make progress.

Good luck with the next 500 lessons!

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