For those who would like to learn as much as possible about taking drum lessons with me, this page features an extremely thorough question-and-answer list. Click on any of the questions below to read my in-depth response.
While it’s very common for a drummer to teach some lessons here and there “on the side,” it is very UNcommon for a drummer to teach as many lessons as I have taught. I knew from a young age that I wanted drum education to be a significant part of my musical career. Therefore, I began giving lessons—LOTS of lessons—from the moment that I first felt qualified to do so. That was back in 1996, and teaching drum lessons has actually been my full-time job for nearly all of the years since. So you can just imagine how many thousands and thousands of lessons I have ended up teaching so far!
This enormous number of lessons has enabled me to attain a level of teaching expertise that simply cannot be attained in any other way. It has also given me the rare opportunity to gradually develop and refine an outstanding curriculum. In fact, some of my personal teaching concepts have gained widespread recognition throughout the drumming world on account of my instructional DVD and my educational articles in Modern Drummer magazine.
So what’s a student to believe, and who is a student to trust regarding the best ways to learn and practice drumming? From my perspective, the only solution is to find a teacher who has spent an enormous amount of time researching and studying drumming, preferably from numerous different sources and instructors. Only a teacher like that will be familiar with most of the differing viewpoints out there so that they can pick and choose the best ones to pass along to their students.
In my quest to be this type of teacher, I have collected a library of countless drumming books and videos, and I have personally taken lessons with 22 different drum instructors. About half of these instructors were people I met with once or twice so that I could get specific information. The other half were long-term mentors of mine, and include such people as the late Jim Chapin, one of the all-time legends of drumming education. In addition, I have spent many thousands of hours as an instructor myself, seeing firsthand what works and what doesn’t. From all of this, I have arrived at an unusually effective and comprehensive curriculum that is uniquely my own.
However, this is not to say that the actual content of my teaching will change from student to student…only that my pace and style of presentation might vary a bit. I believe that the fundamental skills of drumming are applicable to all students equally, and I try to help all of my students gain mastery over those skills. In doing so, I find it helpful to remember that there are 3 main aspects involved in learning to play the drums well – the physical aspect, the mental aspect, and the emotional aspect. The physical aspect includes such things as coordination exercises and stick technique. The mental aspect includes such things as counting rhythms and reading sheet music. The emotional aspect includes such things as learning the meaning behind a song and playing with the proper intensity level to produce a sincere performance.
While working with these 3 different aspects of drumming, I always strive to foster a fun and relaxed teaching environment. My studio is a place where my students and I can share our interest in music and have an enjoyable time developing our love for drumming together. Because of this, many of my students over the years have ended up becoming good friends of mine.
From 1999 to 2000, I even got a taste of the “big time” by touring the country with a major musical theatre show. This was not a small act living together in a van. We stayed in hotels and traveled with 2 full-sized tour buses plus an 18-wheeled truck for the props and scenery!
As an educator, I feel that these past performing experiences are a crucial part of my effectiveness. I could not teach my students how to play with other musicians if I had not done a good amount of it myself. I also could not teach them about the practical realities of doing drum gigs if I had not personally lived those realities. For these reasons, I am very grateful for my diverse performing background. However, during most of my music career, I have felt drawn to focus primarily on my educational efforts. In fact, when new performance opportunities arise, I often find myself recommending my advanced students for the job. This is good news because it means that I will not be frequently canceling your lessons to accommodate band rehearsals and shows. As a student of mine, you will always know that your lessons are a high priority.
But that wasn’t actually my most famous student. My most famous student is a major drum icon who has been a strong presence in the music world for a few decades already. In fact, at one point, he was voted in Modern Drummer magazine as the #1 rock drummer of the year. In 2005, he saw an article of mine about bass drum technique, and he contacted me to see if I would help him to reinvent his bass drum approach. We did 2 lessons together and covered a lot of material for him to continue working on by himself. He took notes and was more attentive than almost anyone else I’ve ever taught. With that kind of humble dedication to drumming, it is no wonder that he has been so successful.
In addition to these 2 gentlemen, I have also taught a Latin Grammy Award nominee, the daughter of a world-renowned symphonic conductor, a hip-hopper who has drummed for one of the old school rap legends, and a female drummer whose band is starting to make waves on the Brooklyn rock scene. There have also been a couple of high-profile models, a stage actress, a well-known television host, and an actor preparing for his movie role as a drummer!
People often ask about famous students, and of course, it is great fun for me to recount these stories. It is also very flattering that these celebrities would choose me to be their drumming instructor. But in reality, this type of situation is rare, and these types of students are not the ones that I spend the majority of my time working with. The bulk of my students are school teachers, accountants, artists, lawyers, publicists, architects, doctors, managers, personal trainers, authors, jewelry designers, engineers…and anything else you can possibly think of. My aim is to make drumming accessible and rewarding for anyone who has an interest in learning the instrument.
In my teaching studio, I directly address this issue. First of all, I have my students play most of our exercises along with songs so that they learn to synchronize their drumming with the other elements of music. Secondly, I host a drum recital every 6 months where the students all get together and drum for each other, as well as for their families and friends. Each student prepares at least one complete song that they perform along with a recording, or in some cases, with a full band. Participation in the recitals is entirely optional. However, the students who do participate unanimously agree that these events are among the best things we do all year. They push each student to be a more complete musician, and they build a sense of community by giving all of the students a chance to meet one another.
My approach for teaching people to read music is similar to the standard way of teaching people to read language. First of all, by the time a person starts learning to read language, they can already talk to some degree. I follow this same principle. I teach my students to play some basic drum rhythms for a handful of months before I introduce reading. This tends to make the reading go much more quickly when we do eventually start working on it. Secondly, I actually teach people to write music from their very first day of learning to read. When I was a kid, I remember being taught to write letters when first learning to read English. By following a similar approach with reading music, my students learn rhythm notation with unusual thoroughness while having fun in the process.
Somewhere in me, there is still a love for all of these music styles that have touched my life at one point or another. And of course, the list keeps growing. These days, I actually tend to find out about modern music from my very own students. They bring in songs to work on for the recitals, and this keeps me abreast of the latest developments in music. I always find something in each of these songs that I can relate to as I help the student prepare for their performance. And occasionally…a recital song will even become a personal favorite of mine that ends up in heavy rotation on my ipod.
Of course, if you happen to be very serious about your drumming, then you can certainly decide to progress even faster than I described above. I currently have a student who has chosen to make her drumming lessons the primary focus of her life. She has been meeting with me twice per week and practicing my assignments about 5 hours per day, Monday-Friday. During her first year of lessons with me, she went from being a complete beginner to being one of the most advanced students I’ve ever taught. She is certainly the fastest progressing student of my career. These days, in addition to continuing her drum lessons, she also plays frequent shows around New York with her own rock band. Of course, this is an extremely rare student with an extremely rare vision for herself. It’s not an approach that would make sense for most people, but it is a valuable indicator of what is possible.
There seems to be a tiny percentage of people who pick up drumming skills and concepts unusually fast. I would say that about 1% of my students have fallen into this category. On the other end of the spectrum, about another 1% of my students have had an unusually difficult time trying to learn even the basics of drumming. So…that leaves the remaining 98% of the people I’ve worked with, who seem predisposed to learn drumming at a predictable and satisfying pace. These people greatly control their learning speed by how regularly they attend lessons and how much they practice outside of lessons.
With all of this in mind, my advice is to simply try out drumming if it interests you. If, by chance, you are part of the 1% who find drumming to be a constant struggle, then you can decide whether to work through it or stop and find a different hobby. Nobody will force you to continue with something that you find frustrating or unenjoyable, so you really have nothing to lose. Of course, in all likelihood, you will be part of the 98% of drum students who progress nicely and love their drumming hobby. Heck, you might even be lucky and find that you’re part of the 1% who learn drums more quickly than the norm. In that case, however, keep in mind that you will still need to give your all if you want to maximize your personal drumming potential!
I personally can only speak about drums because I have never taught any other instruments, so I will just say this: In my experience, teens and adults generally learn drumming at a much faster rate than young children. Yes, you did read that last sentence correctly. I know that this might seem like an incredible statement if you have spent your life believing the opposite. Regardless, this is what I’ve observed throughout my many years as a teacher. Young children simply do not possess the same level of mental focus or motor control as teens and adults…and these factors make a big difference when learning to play drums.
Years ago, when I was teaching students from every age group, the teens and adults progressed so quickly compared to the young children that I eventually decided to implement a minimum age requirement of 12 years old. I am happy to see anyone enjoy the process of drumming, but it is definitely an added pleasure to see people make significant progress as well. My minimum age requirement policy has allowed my career to be as rewarding as possible in recent years. During this time, my students have ranged from age 12 up to mid 60’s.
Instead, we will see where your weaknesses are, and we will work to strengthen those areas. Be prepared, however…more than one advanced student has unexpectedly discovered during their lessons that they were weak in areas where they had believed themselves to be solid. This can be a humbling experience, and it takes a person of strong character to forge on with the process when something like that occurs. For this reason, I believe that people with prior drumming experience sometimes have a more difficult time taking lessons than complete beginners. If all of this sounds terrifying to you, then perhaps drumming lessons would not really be appropriate for you right now. On the other hand, if you can go into lessons with a receptive mind, a sense of fun, and some excitement about finally moving forward with your musical abilities, then we will have a blast together, and your drumming will absolutely improve.
From years of observing this phenomenon, I believe that I have arrived at a possible explanation. When males are interested in drumming, they often receive the support of their parents, and so they tend to start lessons as young children. By the time these boys reach adulthood, they have either forgotten about drumming or have already become skilled enough at it that they won’t generally seek out further instruction. Meanwhile, countless women have told me that they were interested in drumming during their youth but were discouraged from pursuing it. Instead, their parents pressured them to play the violin, the piano, or some other instrument. These girls never lose their desire to play the drums, and many of them do eventually begin drum lessons…as adults!
One word of caution, however – if the person you have in mind for this gift already plays the drums, I recommend that you carefully gauge whether or not they will appreciate the gesture. You don’t want them to interpret your offering to mean “You don’t play the drums very well, so go get yourself some lessons!” Of course, this would never be your intended message, but you might be surprised how sensitive some people are when it comes to their musical abilities. On the other hand, if the person you have in mind does not play drums yet, but has always dreamed of trying it out, then your gift will almost certainly be a major hit. Many of my long-term students over the years started out by receiving a surprise gift certificate for some lessons with me!
If you’ve already decided to take lessons with me, then you are about to be personally coached by a teacher with many thousands of hours of teaching experience. At this point, what benefit could possibly come from taking the advice of a total stranger on YouTube? If they happen to steer you down the wrong path, we may need to spend our first few lessons undoing the damage and getting you back to square one. As mentioned on the Drum Lessons NY home page, I have actually found myself in this situation with a number of incoming students lately. It is simply not worth the risk! A better idea is to be patient and simply wait until you start your lessons with me. Once we get going, I would be happy to help you find some YouTube videos that will safely reinforce our work together.
One of the studios where I teach is in the borough of Queens, off the 33rd Street stop of the #7 subway train. It generally takes about 15-20 minutes to get there from the Grand Central Station area. This studio is my own private drum room. It is completely filled with all of the professional drumming gear that I have personally collected over the years. For this reason, most students find that this is the best place to have their lessons. I guess you could say it is the “deluxe” option.
The other studio where I teach is in the borough of Manhattan, near the corner of 8th Avenue and West 30th Street. This studio is a commercial space that is rented out to the public on an hourly basis for music lessons and band rehearsals. The drum gear in this room is more than adequate for drumming lessons. It can’t compare to a roomful of my own personal equipment, but for students who happen to live near 8th Avenue and West 30th Street, the convenience of the location is sometimes worth the trade-off.
Lessons at my Queens studio are priced as follows:
With me: $110 each or $1,000 for a pre-paid package of 10.
With Lee: $80 each or $700 for a pre-paid package of 10.
With Brian: $80 each or $700 for a pre-paid package of 10.
All lessons are one hour long. In my experience, the best way to make meaningful progress is to attend on a regular schedule of once per week or once every 2 weeks. So…for those on a tight budget…the most inexpensive way to learn drumming with my curriculum is to pay $700 for 10 lessons in Queens with Lee or Brian, and then attend once every 2 weeks. This means that your drum lesson budget will average out to just $35 per week. You can’t expect to learn a musical instrument from an experienced teacher in New York City for less than that!
In the Manhattan studio, I offer hour-long lessons for $130 each. Obviously, this is quite a bit more expensive than the Queens location, but it can be a viable option for those who greatly prefer to take their lessons in Manhattan.
Of course, if you do want to play on actual drums in between lessons, there is a way to make that happen as well. There are rehearsal studios throughout New York that are fully equipped with drums for people to practice on. I can give you the names and locations of some of these studios, and you can talk to them about booking some practice time. The rates for a studio like this range between $7 per hour and $25 per hour depending on the time of day and the size of the room.
If you take lessons for a while, and you find that you really love drumming and want to stick with it, you might also consider buying an electronic drumset. Modern electronic drums are very realistic in both sound and feel. You could put a set of these right in your apartment, plug in some headphones, and drum away to your heart’s content. Inside the headphones, you’ll sound like a rockstar, while the only thing audible outside the headphones will be the quiet taps of your sticks against the rubber electronic pads.
And, of course, this works both ways. If I, myself, ever cancel or miss a scheduled lesson for any reason with less than 24 hours notice (Queens) or 48 hours notice (Manhattan), then you will receive your next lesson completely free of charge. Yes, you did read this correctly! I’ve had people say that this seems “too good to be true,” or that it’s “too generous,” but I feel that it’s only right for the teacher to follow the same scheduling guidelines and etiquette as the student!