People come to me asking me to teach them “drums”, sometimes even more specifically “drumset” or “djembe” or any of the other percussion instruments. Sometimes they ask about styles – “teach me to play jazz”, “teach me to play rock”. I usually take the direction they want to go, combine it with a basic set of techniques I feel any percussionist needs to posses in order to be successful, and then get to work.
Lately however, I’ve been rethinking my approach. Is it my job to teach people how to be “drummers”? Is it my job to teach “styles” of music? Or is it my job to provide a larger context within which playing drums is one part?
I’ve come upon the idea that I should be teaching Art first, Music second, Percussion third, and specifics like drums or styles last (if at all). Why the change to a broader focus? Many reasons. First of all, from my own experiences, I know that where I thought I wanted to go with my music, even up to and through the college level, is not where I’ve ended up going, and I’m glad it turned out this way. Also, I know that one of the prime reasons I get hired for jobs is because I don’t think or play like a “drummer”, I am an artist, a musician, who happens to be playing the drums. Also, when I look at the dreadful state of music today, I have to make sure I am not leading others down a path where they think pop music is art, or that pop culture is culture at all. Not that I have anything against pop music, I listen to it, I play it, sometimes I even write it, but the main focus of pop music is and always will be entertainment, not art.
So, how to do this? How to teach art from the drums? A difficult prospect, for sure. There still has to be ample attention given to technique. After all, all the artistry in the world means nothing if there isn’t the technique available to bring it to fruition. But is it not possible to teach technique from an artistic point of view? To use technique to open new avenues of expression, always putting the “big picture” up there for the student to see? This is my mission. Yes, I teach rudiments, but I also show those rudiments in various situations and how they help the ease of expression. Yes, I teach scales, in order to have a working set of notes with which to create a piece of music.
In the end, I know that most of my students will not become professional musicians. Some will keep playing as a hobby, so may even put the instrument away after graduating school and never pick it up again. But the music teacher doesn’t teach music. The music teacher teaches life. Living it to the fullest, feeling it at it’s deepest, and expressing it from the heart, mind, and soul.