As part of our Rockschool Stories series, which highlights outstanding teachers and students around the world, we spoke to drum teacher Ashley Howard. Read on to discover more about his journey, and how a certain student's fame has affected his teaching...
Can you give us a brief summary of your musical journey? Include any achievements you’d like to highlight.
I started playing drums at the age of 9 and had lessons for a couple of years before joining a couple of different bands on the Ipswich scene. By the age of 13, I was playing every weekend with the best bands and musicians in Ipswich. At 16 years old after an arduous audition, I was offered a place at the prestigious Drumtech teaching school in Acton, London where I later learned that I was one of the youngest students to ever be accepted at that time. I had an incredible time at this school being taught by some of the best teachers in the world.
At the age of 18 I was offered an opportunity to go to America to play with American band 'Girl Kicks Boy' as their regular drummer which I jumped at. On returning to the UK, I then became a drum tech for The Libertines, and was soon on tour again where I met some amazing people. It was not long after this that I began to miss playing myself and decided to pursue my own dreams of being a professional musician and began playing professionally with several different bands on the London scene. After 10 years of successful touring, I then decided I needed a new challenge and made the decision to start my own teaching business. In this time, I have taught hundreds of students who have all gone on to have successful careers in the music business. During my teaching years I decided to lead by example and have gone on to pass my grades from the Rockschool syllabus.
How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you and your students?
I have been teaching Rockschool grades for well over 10 years. The grades have everything a student needs to progress into a great musician and drummer, giving students a structure and its great to give them an exam and a goal to work towards. Students learn their favourite songs, technical beats and fills as well as the great skill of being able to sight read. I really recommend these books!
What are some of your favourite Rockschool pieces to play with your students?
I've got many favourite pieces: Kitas Five from grade 7 is a great jazz piece, Bonfire from grade 8, but my favourites have to be songs from grade 1 such as Losing My Religion by REM, and I Want to Break Free from Queen. These are the first songs I teach to a new student and seeing the joy on their faces when they are playing these recognisable songs really is something special.
How would you describe your teaching style? Is this something you adapt from student to student?
I like to think I am a very relaxed and patient teacher. I set extremely high standards and have always delivered great results with students especially with their grade exams. I teach lots of people with disabilities and learning difficulties, so I need to change my approach depending on the students needs. I think most of my students would say I am also a nice person.
What musician(s) inspired you to start playing, and why?
The first band my dad took me to see was Kiss on their reunion tour many years ago. From that moment on it ignited a passion for music and I instantly knew that I wanted to play in bands and that the drums was the instrument I wanted to play. Once I got into playing, I discovered drummers like Neil Peart from Rush, and lots of session players such as Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Gregg Bissonette to name a few.
Do you have any favourite personal experiences as a teacher?
I just love to see students learning something new, telling me they cannot do it then after lots of practice master what they have been working on, brings me lots of joy. I love getting exam results back and phoning the students and telling them what they have achieved. I have also been teaching Nandi Bushel from the age of 6 who is known all over the world now and is a famous young drummer.
Of course, we absolutely adore Nandi Bushell, much like the rest of the world! Was it always clear that Nandi had a talent for the instrument?
I started teaching Nandi at the age of 6, from the very beginning I could see she was very naturally talented and always picked everything up very quick. She passed her first 4 grade exams within a year and got a distinction for every grade. She is now about to take her grade 7 and even though she has lots of musical commitments she always practices every day. Nandi has now experienced more at the age of 10 than most musicians experience in a lifetime, having a drum battle with Dave Grohl is not something you do every day. She also has lots of cool stuff lined up which I am not allowed to say too much about just yet.
Has Nandi’s internet fame affected your student/teacher dynamic? If so, how have you adapted?
Nandi's fame has been great for my teaching business: people find out who her teacher is then I get a call asking for lessons, which is great. Since the pandemic I've been teaching online as well as face to face lessons and through Nandi I now have students across the UK including Liverpool, Manchester, and London. I even got an enquiry from a lady in Boston, USA whose little girl follows Nandi on Instagram.
You can get in touch with Ashley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out his website: ashley-howard-drum-tuition.business.site. Ashley teaches in Ipswich, England and online. And in the mean time, check out his social media.