Welcome to the second instalment from drum tutor and guest blogger, Michael Hutchinson, on how to teach Rockschool Grade 1 Drums.

Your student has moved forward from Rockschool Drums Debut to Rockschool Drums Grade 1... let us celebrate! Grade 1 is a significant achievement for them and you. They can successfully read music and play their instrument, and as their teacher you now need to focus attention onto the more delicate movements and technicality of playing the drums.

What to teach in Grade 1?

Grade 1 is about building speed and acquiring the skills to move around the drum kit.

It would be best if you were focusing teaching technique on:

  • Hi-hat openings – open the hi-hat on all the quarter notes, and then on all the eighth notes and then freely when improvising
  • Bass drum independence – placing the bass drum on all the quarter notes, all eighth notes, and then doubles in eighth notes, once comfortable then freely while improvising
  • Cymbal crashes – with the lead hand and non-lead hand
  • Ride cymbal – including ride line embellishments and playing on the bell of the ride in quarter notes
  • Drum fills – eighth note fills, and sixteenth note fills in single strokes, double strokes and paradiddles, using the full drum kit and make use of exploring drum sounds. The student will be able to identify musical notation from debut grade, so allow them to navigate through the chosen piece by themselves, with guidance from you, if needed, however, there is some new notation within grade 1 you need to explain.
  • Repeat signs within the piece
  • Ride cymbal
  • Bell of the ride notation
  • Hi-hat opening and closing
  • Crash cymbal
  • Ties – e.g. allowing a cymbal to ring on

Music theory to reiterate

  • Time signature – what does the top number mean (Numerator - Beats per bar) and what does the bottom number mean (Denominator – Note value)?
  • BPM – beats per minute

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Practice plan

It's now an excellent time to start getting that practice plan in place, starting with time management. How long should a student practise? Intrinsic practice is what you aim for, and the student needs to want to practise rather than forced to practise.

Fifteen minutes is a good start, starting with a warmup and ending with a cool down, preferably playing a song that they want to play, with the middle section focusing on lesson content, a section of the piece, or a technique the student struggles on which was identified in the lesson. Practice should be aimed at feeling comfortable with the rehearsal set out and not aimed at speed, unless this is what is lacking.

A good practice plan should involve some or all of the below:

  • Listening to the piece that the student is learning – familiarising the student with listening to the piece they are learning allows them to prepare mental strategies and performance cues when they play the song live
  • Repetition practice – going over the bar or exercises including rudiments over and over to place into long term memory will allow them to access this information in performance using implicit (unconscious) memory
  • Counting out loud – note value, the rhythm of the piece, allows the student to hear what they are trying to play, which allows the processing of this information to sit within auditory memory and can be used as a performance cue
  • Reading music – This allows the student to become aware of reading notes and identifying patterns but also allows visual memory of the piece they are playing which, again, can be used in mental strategies to prepare for performance
  • Implicit practice – I would say that this is the most important variant of any practice. The student needs to want to practise, without feeling that it is “homework” or a chore.

  • 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.