Music is sometimes very cruel. I just had a student yesterday who was confronted to the harshness of this art.

He had had a good lesson last week. He had left my studio with a big grin, his mum congratulating him on the job he’d done. He was beaming with pride. Whether it was the rudiments, the rock beats, the blues patterns or the fills, he had aced everything.

With a heart filled with pride, he went back home, determined to repeat the same feat the next week, and the next week, and the week after that, and like that for the next 200 years!

So, as soon as he was home, he darted to his drum room and practiced. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit. Maybe not the same day as the lesson. After all, he came back home kind of late, he still had to do his homework, to eat, to spend a little time with the family. All right. Probably not the same day as the lesson. But the day after, for sure! He hit those drums hard, Man! He made them skin cry for mercy! And the day after, and the day after. And so on until he was back in my studio. A week had passed.

I was happy to see him, let’s call him “Bob”. We had a few normal questions for each other as far as how our week had gone by. Then it was time for him to grab the sticks and show me his work.

He failed the first exercise. Not miserably, but still, not a good performance. Same for the second, maybe even a little worse. Third? Again, a very poor showing. Let’s move on to fourth exercise, we are now in coordination, fairly simple stuff with a touch of fun since it is accompanied by a song he’s recommended to play along with. Failed that one too.

Oh boy!

Observing all of that, and not wanting to add to the pressure, I started talking with his mum who was sitting in the room with us. We talked about topics other than drums and Bob, leaving her son alone.

But I had to stop the lesson and talked to him. He had a few more exercises to go, but there were no reasons to keep torturing him. I’m not here to humiliate people.

I tried to be nice and diplomatic, I like Bob, I think he’s a good kid with his head on his shoulder and a good no-nonsense family that helps him make good decisions in life. Plus he has a good personality, he’s not a little brat, he thinks before he speaks. So I explained very carefully this rule in music:

If you practice something wrong, it is the same as if you didn’t practice at all because, no matter what, the results will be wrong. The added toxic effect is this one: the wrongness you practiced has become a bad habit and you’re going to have to also fight that in order to do the pattern correctly. Oh! shame and frustration!

He was disappointed, to say the least. His mum was not too harsh with him although she was harsher than me. Parents usually are. But the lesson was a hard one for Bob. His brain was not having it. He had spent so much time and effort on his instrument, he had sweated and grunted, and it was all in vain. I felt for the poor guy.

So, I explained to him how to practice, how to check and double check that he does the correct pattern, how to doubt himself in a healthy way, how to be discipline and rigorous in the supervision of his progress. It is a puzzling skill, for sure.

I also explained that he wasn’t the first one to do just that, practice like an animal, practice taking no prisoners, practice like there’s no tomorrow, to practice the wrong thing. As a matter of fact, the one teaching him right now had gone through the same process. I had to learn that humble lesson: Don’t assume you get it, because maybe you don’t. It had shaped the way I have approached life and people. It is a frustrating lesson, but a good one.

I let him go back home, his mum leading the way. I shook his hand, provided a few more words of encouragements. Then I smiled and tried to ease his frustration with this banality: “There’s always tomorrow”. I don’t know if he believed me.

Well, like the song says: “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug”.