Alex walked into the drum studio for his 4th lesson with a feeling of dread. He was learning from his new teacher, but wasn’t feeling comfortable. His mom had picked up on this and was coming in today for a surprise visit.

As Alex’s mom arrived in the studio, the teacher was bent over, searching madly for an instructional worksheet. Alex was goofing around on the drums. The studio looked cluttered and unorganized. She thought to herself, "Maybe it’s time to try out a new teacher."

When problems exist with the organizational set-up of a professional environment, the clientele become so frustrated that sometimes they won’t come back. A well-designed drum lesson studio can be both an inviting place for the students and a productive workspace for the teacher.

The following amounts to a wish list for an ideal drum studio environment.

NOTE: Providing the best possible learning surroundings are only one aspect of good teaching. Obviously, the interaction between the teacher and student is the most important factor to a successful practice. 

  1. Drumset Considerations — If you have the space and can piece together the equipment, consider the following.

    Two is Better than One– Two drum kits avoid the inefficiency of the teacher and the student constantly changing positions throughout the lesson. The teacher can better provide immediate feedback and demonstrations. In addition, two sets allow the student to play along with the teacher.

    Similar/Identical Set-Ups– Beginning students are surprisingly very tuned into the fundamental pitch of each drum. Learning from a drumkit that sounds (and possibly looks) like the one next to it will make it easier for them to learn.

    Face the Same Direction–Think about how dance is taught in dance studios. Students can better imitate what the teacher is demonstrating when the drums are facing the same direction.

    Side-by-Side– Having the teacher kit next to the student kit promotes better communication.

    Location of Teacher’s/Student’s Kit– Because most drummers are right handed, the teacher kit can be placed on the left side with the student kit on the right side. If the drums are set up in an ergonomic manner (with your drum throne, hi-hat, and bass drum forming an isosceles triangular), it is easier for the student to look to his/her left towards the teacher. Even though it then becomes more difficult for the teacher to look towards his/her right, the benefit to the student outweighs teacher discomfort.

  2. Other Percussion Instruments–It is very useful to have a pair of congas and a mallet instrument such as orchestral bells.

    Bongos, djembe, steel drums, and miscellaneous percussion such as shakers, cowbells, clave, etc. can also be beneficial. Timpani are also great to have in your studio, if you have enough room.

    Double bass playing has become such a mainstay in today’s culture that having one or two double pedals standing by (or set up) is wise.

  3. Student Feedback–Audio recording devices, such as the Zoom Handy Recorder, or a video device like the Sanyo Xacti Dual Camera are effective for providing feedback. In the case of video recording, burning a DVD to share with the student can be cumbersome, and large file sizes make emailing out of the question. YouSendIt is a website where you can share files for free up to 100mb. Gadgets such as the Beatnik Rhythmic Analyzer provide instant feedback on rhythmic accuracy and dynamics. Don’t forget about the value of the good old-fashioned mirror.

  4. A laptop positioned on a small table immediately to the right of the teacher’s drumset serves many purposes. Load your laptop with software programs such as iTunes, the Amazing Slow-Downer, Finale, and Skype, and you’re ready to rock!

    NOTE: Jammit is new multi-platform play-along software that supplies the original multi-track recordings, allowing you to isolate tracks, change tempo, loop, record along with, and see transcriptions of many popular songs. Jammit will be available on June 15, 2011.

  5. Quality Headphones with a Y Cable–Headphones such as the Sony MDR-7506 have a combination of comfort, great sound quality, and isolation. A three-pronged “Y” Cable allows two drummers to play along with recorded music, while a third person (such as a parent) can listen along.

  6. Metronome–The Tama Rhythm Watch or the Boss Dr. Beat are preferred by many teachers for their versatility and ease of use.

  7. A monitor screen placed between the two drumsets adds a multi-media element to your studio set-up. You can use this to show enlarged images of drum-related items from your laptop.

  8. Turn Down the Volume–It is a good idea to protect your ears at all times from the constant onslaught of high decibel volume. Wearing ear protection also serves to model healthy behavior to the student. Adding sound absorbent material on the walls is another way to take the edge off.

    A set of two practice pads is perfect for rudimental studies, reading exercises, and hand technique development, while providing a quiet environment for at least a short period of time. Double-ply drumheads focus the sound a little more, and adding muffling (such as Aquarian Studio Rings) makes the environment even more bearable.

  9. Proper lighting has been shown to play a major role in the brain’s ability to focus. A drum studio should have bright, not dim, lighting.

  10. Music stands can be placed in the more traditional position (off to the left, above the hi-hat) or leaned against the front of the bass drum so that sheet music can be viewed right above the toms.

  11. Thrones Set at Different Heights–One adjustable student throne should work for most students. However, a tiny throne for preschoolers is good to have handy. Most drum thrones do not adjust low enough to accommodate these tiny students.

  12. Extra pair of Drumsticks–Students often forget their drumsticks. Having an extra pair standing by, is a logical practice, but can also lead to enabling forgetfulness or a lack of responsibility. Sticks made of carbon fiber will last much longer as ‘back-up” sticks.

    NOTE: Sam Ruttenberg’s invention, HingeStix, is a must for every teaching studio. See Bart Elliott’s review for more information.

  13. Limit Distractions–Making your drum studio look like a college dormitory room, covering every inch of the walls with posters of your favorite drummers, might not be the best idea. Students will first stare in amazement at your handiwork, but you’ll pay for it later, when he/she pays more attention to the wall than your amazing paradiddle demonstration. Attempt to limit distractions to a wall clock, a few posters or pieces or art, and a bulletin board, where you can tack up the latest on concerts, drum clinics, or even photos of all of the drum students. Displaying photos of students will boost their self-esteem and a feeling that they are part of larger, like-minded group.

  14. Welcome Visitors–Chair(s) for visitors placed inside the studio offer convenient viewing for friends or family. Also, consider designing a comfortable waiting area complete with a rack of magazines.

  15. Office Supplies–The Big Book of Staff Paper by Hal Leonard is a must-have for teachers, as you can write a seemingly endless amount of drum notation. The following list of supplies will help you in the long run: Ticonderoga pencils and an electric pencil sharpener, pens (for check and receipt-writing), Sharpie permanent markers (to label blank CDs), Scotch Magic Tape (to tape together books that are falling apart or multi-page drum charts, duck tape (all-purpose), blank CDs (if you burn CD’s for your students), and WD-40 and/or lubricant (By protecting the threads of the tension rods and keeping movable parts lubricated, students learn how to care properly for drum equipment.)

  16. Office Furniture– The following items will make your teaching life easier: a copy/scan machine, a waste basket (Remember to take the trash out!), a long narrow table or desk, shelves (for your collection of drum books and DVD’s, and a file cabinet (to organize loose sheets of paper).

  17. Teacher’s Health–Keep plenty of water and some healthy snacks on hand to keep you going for long periods of time.

  18. Students Health–Offer a box of tissues and a hand sanitizer, and hope for the best! In the same vein, clean your studio as often as possible–disinfectant wipes work wonders!

  19. Organizational Schema–Small blank notes such as Post-it Notes are great for sending info home with the students. Post-it Flags help clarify on what page the weekly assignment is found. Keep track of all transactions with an accounting system and a receipt book.

  20. Rewards–Whether it’s a pair of drumsticks or drumstick pencils, a reward sticker, or something from the dollar store, students of all ages will respond to rewards.