I’ve been offering private drum lessons for a long time. In more recent years as I’ve pushed my business in an online direction, I’ve had the ability to scale back my private lessons. In fact, I only teach privately one day per week, as opposed to 6 days per week when I first started. I very much prefer it that way.
Truthfully, I enjoy having less private students altogether, as it allows me to really focus on the few students that I do have. I am fortunate enough to be able to choose students that I want to work with long term, so I find the quality of the teacher/student relationship is higher than average.
But this isn’t the case for most drum teachers. The average private drum instructor’s salary doesn’t allow for this type of exclusivity. It was just a few years ago that I was posting Craiglist ads every day to get new students. I remember being unable to turn anyone away, because I needed every student (and dollar) that I could get. With that said, I had some… interesting experiences with a few students.
It was during this time that I discovered the variety of issues between teachers and students that can interrupt the learning experience; nearly all of which are preventable.
The intention of this list is to serve as a satirical guideline for both teachers and students participating in private music lessons. Let’s begin.
This is a problem that exists in all appointment based industries. The issue is, you are purchasing a window of time that cannot always be moved. If your drum teacher has another students coming in right after your lesson, there isn’t much that can be done if you’re late.
For students who are regularly late (you know who you are) a good compromise is to schedule lessons on your most flexible day. I’ve had students who were regularly 5 minutes late, and expected that I would be able to extend our lesson by 5 minutes to make up the time. By scheduling these students on your “lighter” lesson days, you can find a little more wiggle room to accommodate them.
That’s called being flexible, and you’ll retain students longer if you adjust to their habits, within reason. This is the reason many students leave retail education, and head to a truly private instructor; they seek a flexibility that big music stores can’t offer.
If you’re a student, sometimes you have to remember that you are one of many students. Respecting the other student’s time, and your drum teacher’s time is all part of being in that community.
2. Not Practicing
Often times, a teacher’s first question at a lesson is “how was practice this week?”
The one answer that makes us cringe every time, is “I didn’t practice this week.” There is never an excuse for not trying, but it’s only worsened when you’ve reserved an hour to learn something new, but didn’t bother to learn last week’s material.
By not practicing, you put your drum teacher in a weird position. The thing is, we know that “moving on” is not really an option. We give you certain material because (in our minds) it’s precisely what you should be working on at that time. When a student chooses to not work on that material, it can be tough not to take it personally. We hand picked that material for you; trust us and learn it.
If your drum teacher is taking the time to bring fresh material to your lesson each week, show them the same respect and spend some time with that material at home. We’ll both feel good about it.
3. Not Asking Questions
I have a good friend named Ricky, who’s a phenomenal guitar instructor and Berklee graduate. Occasionally we’ll chat on the phone, and he once told me he “wasn’t happy with any of his new students.” When I asked him why, he simply responded “they have no curiosity.”
He was implying that he preferred to work with students that have a genuine interest in learning their instrument. He needed his students to ask him questions, and I can recall realizing that I also disliked when my students had nothing to ask me. I can tell you that I partially gauge a student’s desire to learn by the questions they bring to the lesson every week.
You know how on a job interview you’re supposed to have a question about the company/job for your interviewer? Same thing. Questions demonstrate your passion, and they should be easy to ask if you’re truly engaging with your teacher, and excited about the subject.
No-brainer here, but it obviously had to make the list. Rescheduling is a massive issue that private music instructors all over the world know all too well.
The issue is, again, purchased time. It’s important for students to remember that they have reserved a specific window of time for their education. It’s ideal that this time works for both the teacher and student each week, but life can still get in the way.
Clearly “emergency” reschedules are always acceptable. Car accidents, illness, deaths, etc. Outside of these types of scenarios, a cancelled lesson can be taken personally by a teacher, so communication is always helpful.
A word of advice to students who attempt reschedule. If you follow this simple rule, you will have no problems in the scheduling department with your instructor!
With the exception of legitimate emergencies, there is only one time you should adjust your lesson schedule; at your next lesson.
5. Teaching a lesson a second time
This comes back to a lack of practice in most situations, but there are a few other reasons why a drum teacher may have to teach a lesson a second time. Many times in private drum lessons, teachers will proceed with new material, under the assumption that the student has already learned the previous week’s lesson.
Of course there are two sides to this story. Years ago, I once told a student that I didn’t want to “back track” to an older topic that we had already studied. He told me that he didn’t remember that older material very well, though we had most certainly already had private lessons on that specific topic before.
It was then that I realized that I had made a mistake. In this particular situation, I never asked my student how the material was going for him. I didn’t check up on his progress, and for that reason, I had to teach him the lesson again.
With that said, I now believe in a healthy balance. The responsibilty of learning new material does fall on the student. However, if your drum teacher is not hyper aware of your progress each week, you may want to discuss ramping up the accountability. As teachers, we need to make a constant effort to focus on each student’s progress from lesson to lesson. The more accountability you offer, the more likely you’ll see your students grow and excel. This also fosters trust, which we’ll touch on soon.
Have you ever witnessed someone try to give a toddler a drum lesson? Its really, really awkward.
Let’s be honest. There are certain activities that just shouldn’t happen until you’re old enough to handle the experience. I believe this is true about drum lessons. Notice I didn’t say this is true about drumming. (I desperately wish someone had put me on a kit when I was 3. Don’t we all wish we started sooner?)
Personally, I find there are very few special children under the age of 6 who should take private drum lessons. Now, to this day, I still receive inquiries about teaching children as young as age 4, but I never tell these folks that their child is too young to be a drummer. Though there are exceptions, I think the best thing you can do for a young, soon-to-be drummer, is offer them limitless exposure to the instrument.
Could that mean buying them a little baby drum set? Yep. Could that mean playing different styles of music for them? Sure. Each child is different, but for my own long term sanity, I now choose to work with students aged 15 and up. Its not a matter of right or wrong; its a matter of knowing what works for me, and how I can best serve my students. When parents of young children approach me for lessons, I simply tell them to foster the passion that they see in their child, and I direct them in the best way I can; whether that be helping them shop a small drum set, or finding them an instructor who prefers to teach children. It took me years to learn to say “no” to these young students, but honesty feels better than a paycheck ever could!
I believe every drum teacher needs to have their own cut off age. If you are the type of drum teacher who enjoys working with young children – MAN, could we use more of you guys! Childhood Education is a field of its own, and I think its only right that drum instructors set their age limits, as to only accept money for providing genuine drum lessons; not babysitting services.
7. Gear adjusters
Once I had a new student arrive for a lesson to my home studio. He walked in, and immediately says “I’m gonna have to fix this kit.” He precedes to detune my snare, angle my toms, and set all my cymbals to Travis Barker heights. I was a very unhappy drum teacher. I’m sure the lesson was not my best.
Here’s the thing. If the guy had walked in and simply said “Hey man, I’m a huge Travis Barker fan, and I am really used to having my drums set up this way” I would have turned the studio upside down for him. My student’s comfort level during a drum lesson is imperative, so I happily adjust my drums to accommodate whatever they are used to at home.
Now, that doesn’t mean that my drum set is not my child. When those paternal instincts kick in, any one of us can get angry at the thought of someone tampering around with our babies. Bottom line – always ask before adjusting anyone’s gear. Unless you’re taking drum lessons in your own home, it’s likely that you are on someone else’s kit. Respect that someone else earned that drum set, probably uses it much more than you, and has it set up JUST right. Ask. Ask. Ask. The answer will almost always be “yes.”
And for my teachers, please be open and willing to accomodate your student’s gear needs, no matter how silly they may be. Remember that long term student/teacher relationships tend to allow you to “curve” your student’s perspectives. When my students want their hi hats up by their chin, I often times don’t say a word. But I DO give them syncopated 2 hand hat groove exercises, and wait until they figure out what the problem is.
Here’s something I thought I’d never encounter. A student completes a lesson, and then says “I know your ad says X price, but I was wondering if you would take Y instead.”
I think its safe to say that in the field of private education (be it in person or Skype) all prices are non-negotiable. The instructor’s advertised price is what you pay. This doesn’t mean that every conversation about payment has to be rigid and awkward. Let me explain how I developed my pricing system.
I found that I got many different requests for how students wanted to pay for lessons. Credit cards, cash, PayPal, Venmo, or checks. 90 minutes, 60 minutes, 45 minutes, or 30 minutes. Weekly, monthly, or even quarterly payments.
I decided to include some helpful payment options; all of which offer the student an opportunity to save money. I offer good pricing for single drum lessons, better pricing for monthly prepaid lessons, and the best pricing is for quarterly prepaid students.
The “Good-Better-Best” model helps to encourage students to study more with you. It also promotes long term commitment incentive, and gives you a slight edge over the big “retail” lesson providers, which rarely offer these types of options.
I know all teachers can relate when I say that commitment from a student has some serious value. Experimenting with long term (discounted) prepaid lessons is great way to meet in the middle; saving the student money and putting the teacher’s mind at ease.
9. Lack of trust
The best for last! Trust is at the center of all of our relationships with others. In an educational setting, you’ll find little can be accomplished without trust. This trust primarily needs to come from the student, to the teacher. When a student doubts their teacher, the learning process virtually stops altogether.
Knowing this, I’ve learned how important it is that a drum teacher be trustworthy. That’s hard to define in a musical environment, but from an educator’s perspective, its easy to see where you can drop the ball. It seems every other private lesson I have, I’m asked a question that I can’t answer off the top of my head. Instead of dodging the question, I quickly say “I have no idea, let’s figure it out!”
In my experience, I’ve had to make a conscious effort as an educator to be transparent in what I know, and what I don’t. Students are curious (especially the good ones) and they may corner you in an area of study you aren’t familiar with. That’s okay! But be honest, and show them that you’ll never mislead them on their own drumming journey.
For students, if there is one thing you should seek out in your drum teacher, it should be trustworthiness. A trustworthy educator will always follow your best interests. An honest educator will learn with you, and give you genuine guidance in all that you study. Trust is the glue that has held together my longest lasting relationships with students, and the progress that can be made when that connection is there, is something very real and special.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and thanks for reading! While you’re here, I invite you to check out the 220+ Video Drum Lessons available on this site. With over 75 hours of material, across all skill levels and styles of music, I’m confident you’ll find something you love. =)
Adam / Orlando Drummer