The speed of learning

When someone starts to learn the drums, they come to my studio and I show them the first beat in the style of music they’re interested in. Usually, it’s a rock beat. We go with a simple pattern, not too many limbs, not too fast with no dynamics. They are often surprised that, even if the exercise is difficult for them, they manage to produce some kind of result in a matter of minutes. Now, I’m not talking being able to back up Sting at his next concert, but they can at least show a little pattern to their friends or family.

Now we take someone who’s been a drummer for a long time. He’s been taking lesson regularly, maybe even gone to a school dedicated to his craft like Berklee. He can play. More than that, he can rip! But, when I give him a new exercise, a new concept, the feedback I get from him is frustration, anger and sadness. Why?

Well, it’s because of the speed of learning.

You see, when you first start the drums, it’s ok to play the beat with a wobbly tempo and coordination. Are the voices synchronized? No, but it’s all right. Is the hi hat too loud? Yes! No problem, as long as it keeps going steadily. Is the bass drum bouncing on the drum head and producing a buzz? Yes, but no worries, this too shall pass. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the beginning and 10 being the perfection, your standards are at 1. If you manage to play the beat, no matter the form of it, you’re happy.

Versus when the player is very advanced, his perspective is different. He hears when the snare drum is inconsistent, when the bass drum doesn’t line up with the hi hat, when the speed is not stable. He’s frustrated because his standard is 10. He wants to be able to do the concept at 10 immediately. Especially the first and most basic pattern. “At least that one should sound good! It should be easy” his inner monologue goes.

But it is not easy. Not easy at all. That’s why they pay me to take lessons: to be challenged. If they aren’t what’s the use? So, I have to explain to them exactly what I just wrote in this blog: the speed of learning depends also upon the standards of the player. And all of that is even more frustrating when a great piano player wants to learn the drums for example. His musical standards are very high, his ears finely tuned, but his body and mind do not know the drums. It is not easy to cope with that. So, in general, I address the frustration rather than the exercise, which works, it helps them ease up into the process of learning something new with a motivated heart rather than a discouraged one.