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Teaching One Thing at a Time

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // March 03 2012
Teaching One Thing at a Time

This article is for all of the students and teachers out there who have ever been frustrated with their progress on the drums (I guess that should be everyone). This could be the student’s progress or the teacher’s own progress as an educator and a player.

In all of my teaching years, I have had many students who progress at different levels and who also play the drums for different reasons. I have also talked to many teachers who get very frustrated with the students’ lack of progress and passion for playing the instrument, drums or otherwise.

It took me a long time to realize that not all students were going to approach the drums as I did when I started. What do you mean you don’t know who Jeff Porcaro or Steve Gadd are? How could you not want to play in a bunch of bands, record with different artists and make a living playing music? Why don’t you have all of the Steely Dan albums?  These are just a few of the questions that I would ask my students years ago, and I would usually get the wrong answer, according to me.

I would also get very frustrated when I was giving a ton of information to the students and they weren’t practicing it all everyday. What is wrong with the students? I am giving everything and getting nothing in return. This is the part of teaching that weeds out a lot of players who want to teach but don’t realize the mental energy that goes into the process.

I believe the “light bulb” moment was when I had one particular thirteen-year-old student start lessons years ago. In the first lesson, we talked about why he wanted to play drums and what music he liked. He said he wanted to play drums because it looked like a lot of fun (Couldn’t agree more!). But his next answer almost made me eat my own shoes. He said he did not listen to music! His parents had talk radio on at home and in the car, but the programs very rarely had any music playing at all. How could this be? How was I going to teach a student who has no musical reference? Even when I asked him if he knew who The Beatles were, he said he had heard of them.

I taught this student for two years and it certainly was an adventure. He loved reading music and working out of books. He was coordinated enough to move around the kit, but we rarely played to songs. He liked using the metronome, so we read a lot of music and made the metronome our “song” of choice.

In these two years, I know this student learned a bunch and had fun playing the drums, but I was the one who learned the most from this experience. I realized that I had a very narrow vision of how to teach and how students approach the instrument and music.

I also learned that my closed-mindedness was not really a motivator for students to practice, improve and just enjoy playing the drums. So I began to open my mind and really get inside each student’s reason and motivation for playing the drums. I also stopped instilling all of my drumming beliefs on the students and started letting them form their own.

I narrowed some of my approach down. Here are two examples of how I changed my teaching approach. First, instead of trying to teach many things in one lesson—which I thought was my job—I now focus on the student leaving with one thing every week. If this happens, they will have 40 things at the end of a teaching year. It also allows the student (and me) to have a clearer vision of what we are doing. And second, I stopped harping on practicing everyday. I now get the students to think about having the sticks in their hands at least once everyday. It can be as simple as picking them up before bed and playing single stroke rolls in mid air for 20 seconds. When we have the sticks in our hands, it reinforces the extension the sticks need to become of our hand. It will also allow us to concentrate on our loose fulcrum and the back fingers contacting the stick.

I also explain to students about having clarity on the drums and in our thinking. It is way better to know 6 licks very well and be able to do 50 things with each one than to try and remember 300 different licks. Our brain can be our worst enemy when playing music. We have to concentrate, but not over- or under-think. In sports, this is called “The Zone.”

Since teaching that thirteen-year-old student, I can say I have a heightened awareness of myself as a player and as a teacher, and most importantly I have a heightened awareness of the students. I really listen when they tell me about music they are listening to and check it out myself. There is some very cool and hip stuff going on out there in the music world—a lot of it is independent so you may have to dig a bit. I dig a lot of the pop music going on, and if the students do too, I can find many important techniques to work on through these songs. 

The point is, when we play, teach and think with clarity, everyone wins, especially the music. One of my favourite quotes is from the late innovator Steve Jobs. He said, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean and make it simple. But it is worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” In my opinion, this makes so much sense in life and music.

Try applying these ideas to your own playing and teaching. You will be happy with the results. Also as a side note, I still push Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd and many others on the students, just a little lighter these days. 



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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