Recently, here at BANG! The Drum School, we’ve been giving more and more drum lessons to younger kids and we’ve noticed that teaching them has a new set of challenges. The kids we teach are usually no younger than seven years old, but even at that age, their attention span can be limited. We’ve found a few ways to keep the interest of the younger set, however. The basic idea? Yup, you guessed it. Playing drums is fun! We keep things light, enthusiastic and positive. We use a lot of games. I have a six year old who is learning to read music and he is actually enjoying it because of this approach. The following are some of the ideas we’ve been using to get good results with these students. If you are a parent or a music teacher (of any instrument), hopefully these will be helpful to you. Remember, fun is the name of the game.
THE PARENT IS THE TEACHER’S ACCOMPLICE
Truth be told, the way I began figuring out how to teach younger kids was with the help of the parent of one of my students. Stella is a great mom, and her son is 6 years old. When Stella came to BANG with her little guy, Charlie, she was armed with a bunch of snacks, a bottle of water and an encouraging smile. One day, she brought pizza. We’d work on a little hand technique, and then Stella would offer Charlie a bite of pizza. We’d play some drums, then Charlie would have another bite of pizza. Little bits of “work” would be followed by little rewards. Snack breaks work. But the big picture here is that the parent can play a major part in setting the tone of the lessons if they want to. Stella is the opposite of the overbearing parent….she is helping me excite her child about drums.
ATTITUDE AND PERSONALITY
The overall attitude and personality of the teacher is key. Kids are interested in fun. That’s probably why they are taking drum lessons in the first place. Don’t spoil it by being too serious. When I teach younger children, my attitude is happy, encouraging, fun, low-key and even silly. The drum teacher is the younger student’s buddy, baby sitter, coach, clown and music teacher. Yes, I’ve got lots of music information to get across, but I’ve got to do it in little doses, and mix that in with a healthy amount of fun and games. A drum lesson with 7 year old should be more like a wonderful drumming party, not a serious lecture.
IT’S OK TO MAKE MISTAKES
It’s important to create a low-stress environment by communicating to the student that mistakes are part of the process of learning to play an instrument. If a student feels to pressure to be perfect or is under the impression that errors are not allowed they will feel stress and then the lessons will no longer be fun. I always tell students that it is OK if they make mistakes, that they don’t need to apologize for them and that I make similar mistakes when I’m learning something new (which is the truth).
This is a great game to engage kids while sneaking in some information of importance about the musical instrument being taught. To help kids learn the different parts of the drum set, we’ve been playing “Simon Sez.” I’ll say, “Simon says, hit the snare drum two times,” or “Simon says hit the ride cymbal once.” It is rare that I can trick these kids when I don’t say “Simon says,” and they are so engaged in the game that they don’t realize that they are actually learning what all the different parts of the drum set are along the way.
HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU DO “X”?
A big part of drumming is consistency. Drummers need to play repetitive patterns at a steady tempo and for relatively long periods of time. When a child is learning a pattern on the drums–a new drum beat, for example—they have a tendency to work on it until they can play it correctly a single time, and then stop. I want to encourage kids to play the pattern over and over and over again, because that is how musical patterns are absorbed. In order to motivate kids to do this, I like to play a game where we count how many times in a row the student can play the pattern that is being worked on, and then repeat that game, trying to break the high score. This method results in children playing a drum pattern over and over again, which is exactly what needs to happen in order for them to master any exercise.
MATCH THE METRONOME GAME
In this game, we turn on the metronome, pick a tempo and then either click the sticks together, play on the practice pad or a cymbal and attempt to match the pulse of the time keeping device. I always vary the tempos: slow, medium and fast. Steady tempo is an essential skill for all musicians, but for drummers it is everything. You can’t be a drummer if you can’t keep time. For younger students, breaking skills down into their essential elements is helpful, and that is what this exercise does. Instead of asking a 7 year old play a snare drum etude or drum beat along with a metronome, we’re simply having them play the exact pulse that the metronome is playing. The task is a much more reasonable one to have a child of that age complete, but it still teaches the basic time keeping skill, and that is our goal.
DRUMMING “FREE PLAY”
Part of the joy of making music is hearing the sound that the instrument makes when it is played. This “Free Play” exercise allows that to happen, and I’ve seen students experience great joy when they are encouraged to hit the drums any way they like…..no rules, no patterns, loud or quiet, fast or slow…..they are told to do whatever they want to do. This reinforces the notion that playing music is fun, and much of the time gets the child very excited. That joy and excitement is exactly what we are hoping for as it can be a big motivator.
DO WHAT I DO
Otherwise known as the rhythmic mimicking game, the teacher plays a rhythm and asks the student to play it back. Simple, but effective and fun, this is another game that keeps children engaged.
GIVE THESE IDEAS A TRY
Please give these ideas a try. Hopefully your young drum student will stay inspired, motivated and spend more time practicing their drumming skills as a result.