Learning to Play the Drums

My STEP signature project was learning to play the drums.  I purchased a kit and took lessons twice a week, where I learned the fundamentals of drumming.  I practiced a good deal on my own, and did more research into drumming and music.  This included reading into a music theory course, looking up and practicing different drumming techniques, and reflecting on my experience and how my abilities were developing.

First and foremost, my STEP project has drastically increased my understanding of music.  As I outlined in my proposal, music is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never really understood.  It always seemed to be something separate from me, something I could never hope to understand.  But now that I have learned something about playing music, music as a whole makes more sense to me.  My early lessons involved a good deal of music theory, dealing with time signatures and note divisions, primarily.  As I was playing a rhythmic instrument, understanding the timekeeping aspects of music was necessary.  As a result, I’ve come to understand one of the most important components of music, the rhythmic backbone atop which songs are built.  Though this is hardly a life-changing thing, it has allowed me to look at music, an omnipresent aspect of human culture, in a new light.  I can’t listen to a song without picking out the rhythm, and I find myself dissecting any piece of music I see, attempting to identify how it is constructed.  While I am far from an expert, I’ve at last come to understand something about an art form that has always eluded me.

Perhaps more importantly, my project has made me far more aware of my personal weaknesses and how to combat them.  The other portion of my project, aside from furthering my understanding of music, was to develop better time management skills through regular practice and reflection.  I found this to be the more difficult aspect of the project.  The music-learning came easily thanks to my teachers and my own practice.  What was harder for me was to create routines for myself and enforce them.  Practicing came easily, as I enjoyed playing the drums.  What I found difficult was making sure my practices were productive.  I often neglected practicing my fundamentals in favor of simply banging on my kit.  I learned to split my practice time in half, working on the basic components I covered during my lessons for the first half before moving onto more enjoyable playing.  This agenda setting has come into play in other aspects of my life.  As I’ve returned to school and found myself dealing with homework and projects, I feel better equipped to more effectively approach and deal with my assignments.  I was less successful on the front of my reflections.  I often neglected or forgot these and missed several weeks.  Ironically, this revealed to me just how difficult it is for me to establish routines in my life.  While I have not totally fixed this, I am now more aware of it and keep it in mind.  I have been making more of an effort to plan out my week ahead of time, identifying work I need to do and when I need to do it.  As I live off-campus this year, I am responsible for bills, cooking, and cleaning, which helps.  I have plenty that I need to do any given day, so I have been making an effort to be more regular in my schedule.

The most important aspect of my STEP project was my taking music lessons.  I attended lessons twice a week, and they were the primary source of my learning over the summer.  My lessons began at the most basic.  I learned how to correctly grip and use my drumsticks, which was far harder than I expected it to be.  The biggest challenge for me at first was learning to use just my wrist to drum, while leaving the rest of my arm still, but relaxed.  This required a lot of practice to develop the muscle memory needed to do this without thinking.  Along with the basics, I also learned the fundamentals of music theory, covering music notation, different note divisions, and how to play along to these.  At first, I didn’t even play on a kit; I simply drummed in quarter notes on a practice pad.  These basics felt tedious at first, but they were an excellent way to immerse me into a completely alien environment.  Once I had learned the basics, I moved onto playing simple beats on a kit.  Again, this required a lot of adjustment as I figured out how to play one thing with my arms and another with my feet, an aspect of drumming I still have yet to master.  In time, I would move on to playing full songs, which required me to stretch my still-growing skills in new directions.  Learning songs required me to incorporate new aspects of the drum kit, or unfamiliar time signatures I was not used to.  I found this to be the most interesting and productive aspect of my lessons, as I came to understand just how much work can go into creating a song, even a short one.  The entire process was enlightening, and rewarding.  My intent was to focus intensely on developing a skillset over a short window of time, which I think was a success.  I am still an amateur drummer, but I’ve come to understand the art in some way.

The most interesting aspect of my lessons was the fact that I got to learn from three different teachers.  Due to scheduling conflicts, each of my instructors had to leave after a month, which meant that I was lucky enough to receive three vastly different perspectives on the art of drumming.  I think this was what allowed me to learn so much in such a short time, as each of my teachers specialized in a different area of playing.  My first teacher, Danny, for example, specialized in drumline and marching band playing.  While this is not an aspect of drumming I am particularly interested in, it requires very strong fundamentals.  This made Danny an excellent first teacher, and he taught me several great drills that have helped me develop better timing and note-dividing.  My second teacher, David, was the exact inverse of Danny, specializing in playing jazz.  David taught me different styles of holding my sticks and helped me become better at playing on a kit as opposed to the practice pad I had used to work on my fundamentals.  David had a wealth of knowledge about drumming and often prescribed songs for me to listen to outside of practice.  For example, he once asked me to listen to some Brazilian jazz and study how it used different time signatures and styles of playing than I was used to.  This sort of thing helped me understand drumming as a whole, beyond the basics I was learning.  My third teacher, Matt, did not specialize in any area like my first two teachers did.  Instead, he was well-rounded in different drumming styles, which worked perfectly when I had been playing for a few months.  By this point I had learned my fundamentals and was able to tackle playing full songs and learning more complicated beats, which allowed me to take advantage of Matt’s wide skillset.  Thanks to having three teachers, I was able to absorb a wide variety of knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.  They also offered plenty of interesting insight on the art of drumming.  I was able to hear stories, advice, and tips from people with years of collective experience, and every lesson was loaded with unexpected new things to learn.

My lessons also helped with regards to my time-management goals.  First and foremost, they forced me to practice outside of my lessons.  I would often be assigned beats or exercises to practice, and I would have to be able to successfully play these before the next lesson.  As I only had one hour a week, I had to come to my lessons prepared.  If I neglected my practice, then I was wasting valuable teaching time.  There were times where I didn’t practice as much as I should have, and my already limited time was made less productive.  I learned early on just how important it was to develop my practice routine, if I wanted my lessons to continue being effective.  They served as an excellent motivator to practice even when I didn’t want to, and to practice smart.

My STEP experience has been helpful helping me not only understand a new art form, but to also understand myself.  As I explained earlier, it revealed to me just how much work I need to do to become a more organized, effective person.  I outlined the time management aspect of my STEP project almost as an afterthought, a positive side effect that I saw.  However, this aspect of my project became the most important to me.  Much as I enjoy playing the drums, it is more important to me for my life as a whole that I develop better time-management skills.  My difficulties in establishing routines over the summer have led me to employ stronger methods in the last month.  I outlined a calendar at the beginning of the summer, but this proved to be less useful than I’d hoped.  Once I got used to my routine of lessons twice a week, I didn’t have much use for it.  However, now that my life has become busier, I have been using calendars and planning methods to more effect.  I am aware of my weaknesses in organization, so I have made this a priority in my life.  Moving forward, I am going to continue the work I began in my STEP project and become the organized person I need to be.

Another aspect of my project I outlined was stress and anxiety relief.  I had a relatively stress-free summer.  However, as with my need for time-management, my anxieties have come into play since I started school.  However, I now feel more equipped to deal with them.  Drumming offers me an excellent relief activity.  I can play for half an hour and forget for a time about my stresses.  Though drumming doesn’t solve my problems, it allows me the in the moment stress relief that I need to more effectively deal with them.  It gives me a way to divert my attention elsewhere and allow my body to calm itself down, so that I can attend to my stresses in a more calm, organized manner.  My attempts to better manage my time have also helped.  Scheduling makes everything seem more manageable, which allows me to approach stress in a more rational manner.  I still feel stress, but the skills I developed through STEP have taught me how to deal with it.  Rather than let it overcome me, I can take preventive measures and keep myself feeling in control of my life.  Moving forward, I intend to have better control of the stresses and anxieties that have bothered me my whole life.  I feel more equipped to be in charge of my life and accomplish my goals.

My STEP project was a success in many ways.  As I’d hoped, I learned a lot about music and playing the drums.  I greatly enjoyed learning what I did, and I have made drumming a part of my life, a part I hope to only intensify as I develop my skills.  Beyond drumming, though, my STEP project has helped me develop skills to be more in control of my life.  Though I still have a lot to learn about managing my time and being productive, I have taken the first steps and started developing the necessary skills to be a more effective, productive person.

One thought on “Learning to Play the Drums

  1. Thank you for sharing. Ultimately really great that you had three different instructors……and that there were life skills learned, in addition to music skills.

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