Lesson Planning Tips for Drum Instructors

By: Rich Standley

From a very early age, I was fascinated by rhythm. Apparently, as a toddler, I used to stand in front of the washing machine when it was spinning and roll my head in time with the sound! I have been very fortunate to have very lovely parents who paid for private drum lessons in my early teens and I can remember the excitement travelling over to a little music studio in Lichfield where a really cool teacher called Matt would show me something new each week. After that I had several other teachers over the years one of which helped me to read and understand drum notation which at first I struggled a bit with as it felt almost like a step back from the level I could play practically but boy I’m so grateful I persevered with it now as I can’t imagine how hard teaching would be without the ability to read music.

Fast forward to just over three years ago when I was made redundant from my spray painting job and my dad suggested taking up drum lesson tuition. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to explain things well enough and have the confidence to get the important facts across in an interesting way and to be brutally honest I was very anxious before my first lesson, to say the least! After all, I hadn’t read drum music for nearly twenty years (no joke) and had stupidly thrown all my drum lesson books and sheet music away from when I had learnt.

Although looking back I was probably very underprepared (story of my life) I really enjoyed teaching my first couple of lessons and it helped a little that my first student could already play quite a few beats as he’d picked it up by ear. I managed to explain how to count the notes he was playing and to hang back on the speed going into the fills and use the correct sticking etc. I now feel after teaching many many lessons that I’ve got a good handle on what the key ingredients are to keeping students interested and inspired and the best way to organise and plan my lessons and I’m extremely excited to pass on some general tips and tricks to keep your lesson diary full!

If you are first starting there are a few essential things you’re going to need so here’s a little checklist before we go onto the subject of lesson content.

Teachers Tools Checklist:

  1. An iPad or tablet for scanning music and rudiments from exercise books
  2. A printer
  3. A whiteboard to keep track of student progress and what sheets you need to sort out for their next lesson.
  4. Folders and stationary
  5. Some decent drumsticks (Collision 7A Standards are always a good shout!)
  6. A music stand
  7. A Cajon if possible ( I will explain more in the next paragraph)
  8. YouTube app and a soundbar or speaker

That should be all you need to get started and now I will run through some super useful lesson planning tips. Firstly when you have a new student it’s very important that you find out before their first lesson what experience they have behind the kit and if they can read drum music. This will help you to know roughly where they have progressed to already and help you to sort out the topic for the lesson. The first lesson for a complete beginner I normally start with explaining what the 4/4 time signature means and then how to count quarter notes and rests, eighth notes (but not the 8th note rests until lesson 2 or 3 as I’ve found this can confuse students too early on). Then I give them a piece of sheet music to play on the snare and write the count above for them. Then it’s a case of running through the names of each part of the drum kit, correct sticking and putting together a basic quarter note groove on the kick, snare and hi-hat. Moving on forward from that, I’ve found the best way to mix theory with building practical skills is to pick a topic, let’s take 16th notes for example and start with demonstrating a bar of notes played on the snare and explaining how they are counted. Then get the student to move them around the kit. Next, I would write out an exercise which contained previous rhythms that the student had possibly learned and mixed the new 16th note patterns in with those to show the relationship between note lengths and how they affect each other in the bar. I often play along on the Cajon which I sit on during the lesson as it helps to hear the patterns if they’re a bit stuck. Then it’s fill time as we throw down some beats for three bars and try out some the new patterns as a fill on the fourth bar. Now here’s the part that I’ve found work’s great, try and find a well-known song that features the types of beats or fills that you’re studying in the lesson and either write out the sheet music yourself (I do roughly 80% of my own) or print from online or a scan from a book. I’ve found that students massively enjoy the sense of achievement from playing along with a song especially if it’s one they like and put their newfound skills to use.

While we’re on the subject of new students there are a few ways to recruit new leaners like Facebook selling pages in your area, leaving a business card in your local music shop or just letting friends and family know that you teach as I’ve had a quite a few students from either recommendation or through a friend of a friend, it’s tough at first I’m not going to lie and I often wondered if I should go back to a regular job when things were slow at first but if you do you’re very best then you will certainly get more work from word of mouth and don’t be afraid to try the odd paid advert or two online as you can tailor them to your budget. I guess my number one lesson planning tip would be to imagine you’re building a house, put down some solid foundations i.e. rudiments, theory, practical skills, and then work on mini topics like building kick drum speed or open hi-hat independence and try and throw a play-along lesson into each topic.

For example, I use “Get Off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones or “Uptown Funk” when I’m first looking at 16th note fills and something like “Live Forever” by Oasis when we’re studying dotted eighths on the snare. So, to sum up, you’ve got to keep it fresh, use a combination of snare pieces and beat/fill practice tied in with some well-known songs to jam with, use mini-series to highlight a certain style or technique as sometimes one lesson on a subject barely scratches the surface and remember to keep a progress chart of where you’re students are with their learning, make your sheet music easy to find in separate folders on your device like songs and practice pieces/ snare music all in separate albums and make lots of notes on what works and what doesn’t then you can make adjustments for your next student. Drum teaching is such a joy and sometimes a challenge but most definitely very rewarding to see students progress to being confident musicians and hopefully one day pass on the knowledge to someone else further down the line


Rich is an Endorsed Cruise Artist with Collision Drumsticks.

Based out of Hednesford / Staffordshire, U.K. Rich is a drum instructor that we know and trust. He plays with THE BRIGHTSIDES and also offers private lessons.

 

For more information about Rich & his lessons, here’s how you can get in touch:

Private Lessons: CLICK HERE

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One thought on “Lesson Planning Tips for Drum Instructors

  1. Sarah says:

    These sound like great tips. Rich is an awesome drum teacher. I’d highly recommend him. My 7 year old has been having lesson for a few years now and has learnt so much under Rich’s tuition. I can’t believe how well he can play the drums at such a young age!

    If anyone reading this thinks about trying a lesson, get Rich booked in quick – whatever you’re age. You won’t regret it!

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