James is one of the rarer teachers - a group we wholeheartedly embrace - who tutors musicians his own age, and older. Passing his Rockschool Drums Grade 8 exam in 2005, James begun teaching local drummers right away. 14 years later, he's still going strong!
"I started learning Rockschool around 2002/2003 with my first drum tutor who encouraged the RSL Grades as a good way of learning drums and progressing effectively over time. I was hooked with the drums and loved learning the tracks in the grade books, so for me it was a no-brainer to pass this on as a teacher."
Can you give us a brief explanation of your teaching business?
I've had a fruitful career so far teaching the drums to individuals across a variety of age groups. Each with their own separate backgrounds, cultural influences and musical tastes. I passed my RSL Rockschool Grade 8 Drums with a Merit In December 2005 and ever since have been encouraging others to do the same with their drumming education.
You mentioned that you passed your grade 8 as a Rockschool student back in 2005 – when did you start learning with Rockschool yourself, and why did you stick with it?
I started learning Rockschool around 2002/2003 with my first drum tutor, who encouraged the RSL Grades as a good way of learning drums and progressing effectively over time. I was hooked with the drums and loved learning the tracks in the grade books, so for me it was a no-brainer to pass this on as a teacher. Much of what my initial tutor taught me about teaching has stayed with me, and even influenced my own approach as an educator to this day. He always used to say: "If you can say it, you can play it". If in doubt about an exercise; slow it right down to snails pace and start from there. Despite sounding counter-intuitive, this is the quickest way to speed up your playing!
How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you?
I've been using Rockschool Drums resources for around 14 years now. It works well for me and my students, because it keeps a drummer actively engaged with a diverse range of areas to focus on and even develop further later on. This results in - and I've experienced this as a drummer as well as a teacher - a more well-rounded player that can adapt to a variety of playing styles and situations.
What’s your favourite performance piece to teach, and how does it improve your learners?Oh, there isn't one for me - there's just too many great tracks! It comes down to the diversity available. There's so many genres and the stylistic applications of them is a separate education in itself. Recently, I've been teaching a student the grade 6 piece "Ziggy Stardust" (David Bowie) and I didn't realise how that songs syncopation is so satisfying to analyse, learn, teach and play. Combine that with the simultaneous bass drum work, cymbal stabs and some really fluent drum fills, and you've got yourself a really challenging track to learn. It's really helping my student to develop stylistic awareness in this genre and maintain consistency in groove and flow, so it's a great composition to have in the teaching arsenal. Ziggy played guitar! Incredible rare footage of David Bowie performing "Ziggy Stardust" in 1972
What’s your favourite test (sight reading, improv etc) to teach, and why is it important for your learners?I'd have to say the 'Ear Tests', as they really make a player stop, put their sticks down, and actually listen to what is being played. It also introduces beginners to the concept of taking performance notes and learning to add them to the page in front of them. It's such an invaluable tool in the learning process, and just another instance where you suddenly see a student take a huge leap forward. Seeing the change happen in front of you will never get old. It's always a really cool experience.
What’s your favourite learner success story?
One young girl I was teaching a few years ago, was totally absorbed in everything I was teaching her and excelled really quickly with her drumming. It was amazing to see the speed of her progress and to get such positive feedback from her mum almost immediately. She was clearly a very natural, talented player, but hearing that she went on to start a band and won a music award through her school is just another instance where this job gives you moments that make it all worthwhile.One of James' early drum-heroes, Matt Sorum, plays a classic solo on tour with Guns N' Roses in 1992
What musician(s) inspired you to start playing, and why?
I always remember my father used to listen to Guns n Roses downstairs when I was little. Hearing Matt Sorum's drum solo from 'Live In Tokyo, 1992' had a massive impact on me then, and still does to this day! For me, at that time, I remember it gave me my first taste of what was possible as a drummer and I knew that it for me. Thomas Lang at Drummer Live in London - 2004, I believe - was another one that just blew my socks off and made me pick up the sticks and never want to put them down!Masterclass: Drum legend, Bill Bruford, inspired James at an ACM masterclass back in 2012
Do you have any favourite personal experiences as a musician?
I spent a week in a free masterclass with Bill Bruford at the ACM in Guildford (Surrey), some time between 2011-2012. What stayed with me was how he just hung out with the students and talked about good music. He was so so natural and interested in everyones passion for the drums. It was a great time for me. The first time I got to play my local venue was another memory I'll never forget. Playing at the place where I'd gone to so many gigs, and been inspired by all the great musicians that came to town was really special.
Do you have any goals for the future of your teaching business? If so, explain what they are and why they’re important to you.
Long term, I see myself expanding more and more with the private tuition service, and eventually getting access to my own personal drumming studio. I love teaching, and only now can I can appreciate how much tolerance and patience it has given me as a person - and that's quite a profound thing when I think about it. It's important for me to keep teaching drums in general so that the next generation of drummers in this area have somewhere to go and learn from someone with experience, who also cares about their passion for the same instrument. Teaching is't just a fun pastime that allows you to earn money; it's keeping an art-form alive in your part of the world. What's more special than that?Creating a spark: James uses Rockschool to teach drummers in Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas
What reasons would you give to encourage young musicians to teach others?
I've found, throughout life in general, that there is something to be learnt from everyone. I often think of people as each having the ability to present a new piece of a puzzle that you couldn't have seen without having met them. I'd wholeheartedly encourage people to share their musical gifts with others and teach wherever they can. Even if It's for free for a short while, you should do it as a learning experience for yourself. It makes you a better player, for one, and establishes you as an influential figure for musicians in your area. Happiness never decreases by being shared!
Thanks James! I'm sure you'll agree, there's some really great quotes in there, that we hope will inspire you to either start teaching, or pick up a pair of sticks yourself and seek out your local drum tutor as soon as possible.If you'd like to contact James for lessons, you can find him on Facebook, or on the RSL Teacher Registry here!