A Career in Learning

Does the way we learn to drum shape our musical approach and personality behind the kit?

Since I started playing drums I’ve met lots of drummers. Each has a different signature to their style of playing. I have always attributed this in part to being a “bottom up” sort of evolution. What I mean is that the way each drummer plays is defined by the shape of their body, how they move, react and how they think etc. This inner influence is also shaped externally by our experiences as drummers and musicians.

One influence on our style that comes from the outside is the information we choose to apply to our own development while learning. This could come from a teacher or from a vast array of other sources of information. This “top down” or external influence meets our “bottom up” or internal understanding whenever we sit down behind the kit. This is an interesting point as thinking about the fusion of our inner approach and our external influence i.e. our approach to learning, might give us an insight into aspects of our musical personality we may otherwise have been blindsided by.

When we think about self-taught drummers we get a good example of how these two influences meet in order to create a specific style or approach.

A good example can be found by looking a the evolution of the drum kit.

DrumsThe first drum-set players had no formal learning available to them these guys where definitely self-taught. Information would have been shared between other drummers and adapted as a matter of course. Early drum-sets evolved to meet the necessity of the music being created and the drum-sets were built and shaped not only for their sound but according to the way drummers where adapting their learning so as to allow them to play comfortably and efficiently on this new instrument.

These drummers had to make a series of decisions about how to adapt the drums of the day to fit their playing. At the same time they were busy innovating new ways to play them in context with whatever musical style they were involved with. If these decisions had been made differently the way we drum today may be significantly altered.

Much more info on the history of the drum set can be found here


This example, although quite a dramatic one, illustrates my point nicely. In this scenario the drums and the music of the day where the external influence while the drummers themselves adapted their internal attitude to fit.

In a similar way us modern drummers have an outside influence to our playing in the form of a teacher or more precisely the information we take on board while learning to drum. This is also present throughout our professional development.

In this respect we are all self-taught because no one can fully understand how we conceive our role as a pupil but ourselves. All a teacher can do is attempt to anticipate what problems may be faced by a student and figure out ways to make the knowledge we are sharing easy for the individual to understand.

jung-thirdAll teachers will have different means of accomplishing this but the vast majority of drum tutors at the beginning of their career will assume that the way they were taught is fine for everyone. Drum teachers quickly learn however that there are a vast array of personalities out there and that the way we were taught to drum, whether through observation based learning, rule based tuition, technical, theoretical, adaptive etc was taught to us because we where lucky enough to have had a teacher that understood … “This particular approach is what this pupil needs in order to progress”

So teachers have to adapt to their pupils needs if they want to have successful students. A teacher that is not aware of this is not only blind to their student’s needs but is also missing an opportunity to develop as a tutor.

LESSING_ART_10310483157-copyThere is another analogy available here. Namely if you want to be a successful drummer you need to be able to identify and adapt to the external needs of other musicians.

My theory here is that the best and most successful drummers will be the ones who are able to recognize the gaps in their own ability in relation to the scenario they find themselves in and figure out how to address these problems quickly. One important way to have developed this ability is to have had a teacher that allowed them to see clearly what they where working on, for what reason and why that particular work was useful. This approach will have nurtured a skill in the pupil that can in turn be used as a tool in their own private development throughout their career. This in turn will allow for that all important ability of adapting fast and understanding where improvements can be made in any given situation. This method will hopefully go hand in hand with them throughout their career.

This brings my case to a point. Teachers play a greater role in their lessons than showing pupils new stuff they didn’t already know. A teacher is responsible for allowing each pupil to develop a style based on that persons inner nature. Otherwise tutors run the risk of creating a clone of themselves without an ability to adapt to their own outer influences, musical experiences and creative intuition.

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