This week we're taking a look at teaching Rockschool Debut Drums with drummer, educator and music psychologist, Michael Hutchinson from Triple-T Drumming based in the North-East of England.
Ready to roll! Michael poses for a picture with one of his drum students
Teaching Rockschool - Drums Debut
Welcome to a quick walkthrough on how to teach drums, starting with with early learners at the very start of their music education. As an instrumental teacher, many of you may not have formal training, and without structural influence teacher training can provide, building a lesson plan can be tough going when you have very little practical experience. We make mistakes and eventually lose students before we discover the right approach for them. Wrong or untrained techniques can lead to a demotivated student and your job - as a teacher is to motivate and inspire - can quickly seem jading and unfulfilling.
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In this article, I am going to take you through a couple of steps that could help you best serve the first students that come to you for help. Hopefully, these ideas will seem like common sense, but at the same time spark some new ideas, and if they do, allow you to implement them into your lessons and see how well they work. Debut grade is the longest and hardest grade to teach for the majority of students, young and old, because it is your learners' first example of music tuition - so really concentrate on making it fun and exciting, and you'll always be improving naturally over time.
Duncan Lee performs 'Z' from Rockschool Drums Debut on the XYZ Drum Channel
Things to Cover in This Grade
- Holding the sticks - German, French, Traditional
- Drum kit layout - Using terminology like ‘drum voice’
- Counting - Why we count, how we count, understanding industry-standard counting techniques
- Tempo - Can we keep time naturally, playing to metronome
- Crotchets/Quarter Notes - both UK and US variants of this value
- Quavers/Eighth Notes - both UK and US variants of this value
- Drum Beat in 4/4, using eighth note and quarter note high hat patterns - Let’s play it, let’s count it
- Moving the bass drum around that basic groove - 1 and 3 to start, then all quarter notes, then all 8th notes, then doubles
- Rudiments - What are rudiments? Why is this knowledge useful?
- Single Strokes in Quavers
- Double Strokes in Quavers
- Paradiddles in Quavers
"You can encourage reading music by standing next to the music stand and with a pencil point to the notes as they play. Younger students will take longer to master this skill, where you're older students and adults may get this quicker."
Reading music is possibly the hardest thing to teach, especially early on. In my experience, a student at this level will find it really challenging to look at the music and play the drums at the same time. Do not rush into reading music before you have both explored the drum kit first; got the grooves going; and have some fun! When you feel the student is ready, then introduce the scripted music bit by bit, recording their successes as you go.
Tip: You can encourage reading music by standing next to the music stand and with a pencil point to the notes as they play. Younger students will take longer to master this skill, where you're older students and adults may get this quicker.
Stephan Seiler Drums plays through the Rockschool Drums Debut track "My Name Is" from Eminem
Passing the Exam
To successfully pass this grade, the student needs to be familiar with all of the above (see 'Things to Cover in This Grade'), and more importantly, feel comfortable with all of the technical aspects before they can even think about entering an exam room. Using RSL books in conjunction with the above will help the student achieve a solid pass; however, they must feel comfortable, and that is your job as the teacher to get them to that level. Judging their ability to feel calm enough to perform whilst being watched by someone new is something that shouldn't be ignored. Remember, this doesn't, and shouldn't, be something to fear. But, that means ensuring that every box is ticked, including mental prep before the big day.
The student must enjoy the song to play it well, and as a teacher, you should actively encourage your students to listen to the grade songs and choose four songs (3 for the exam and 1 spare) which they can identify with in some way. Never force a song onto a student if they don't connect with it of any level.
Encouraging Personal Discovery
I’ll ask a question. Are you sure your way, is the right way? All students will have their quirks; and all players and educators will have them too! If you are teaching a technique, ensure that you've done your research on that specific technique, and identify any potential gaps in your approach. As educators, we must remember to expand our own knowledge over time. There is always something you don't know that could improve you as a teacher, and in turn, the experiences of your students.
REPLAY! RSL's interactive sheet music player gives you the ability to jam along with your favourite Rockschool performance pieces
Take stick grip, for example. Let's take the 'German Grip': I have seen so many different variants of this grip, and I know I have changed my own approach over time to match my ergonomic style. Thanks to training from guys like Paul Elliott (Rockschool composer, educator and session player) and Gabor Dornyei, I have learned how to hold the sticks correctly, while adjusting to my own bodies specific dynamics. I do not teach my German Grip technique; I teach my guided version of the method, or more importantly, the correct technique, which should provide the best platform for a young player to grow and learn effectively.
Slow-Mo: Drummer, Stephen Taylor's 'German Grip' video breaks the technique down
Good advice and correct technique training should explain to the student the right way of completing the technique, but that it’s also ok to change certain aspects of it to match their body style. Never teach an idiosyncrasy specific to you, but create an open forum where they can decide what works for them over time.
About the Author:
Michael Hutchinson is a drummer, educator, and music psychologist from the North East of England. He runs Triple-T Drumming school of drums and has been teaching privately for 12 years. He is currently researching drumming from a psychological point of view studying with Sheffield University, music psychology in education performance and wellbeing and his main interest is drumming and its effects on working memory.