Call A Sub

Drum teachers (and private music teachers in general) commonly run into the following dilemma: they miss lessons due to family vacations, illness, and conflicts with gigs.

School districts arrange substitutes for their teachers, but as independent contractors, drum teachers are normally left to their own devices. Isnʼt it easier to just call all the students and cancel? How do you go about picking the best substitute? What are some other considerations when hiring a sub?

Just Call and Cancel?

No! Canceling should be considered the last line of defense.

  1. Itʼs hard to guarantee contact with all the students on your list. Sometimes people donʼt check their emails or voicemail.
  2. Most parents value a routine. Provide a sub and the weekly ritual continues. Cancel lessons and the resultant inconsistency could cause problems.
  3. If you teach out of a music store or some other professional studio, the owners will appreciate that their space is being filled as scheduled.
  4. Itʼs an opportunity for the student to hear another perspective and to connect with different teacherʼs personality.

Note: The personality of your sub may not mesh well with a particular student, and you may hear about it! As long as you pick your subs wisely (see below), this should only happen on rare occasion.

Make a Wise Decision

  1. Donʼt choose a substitute because you owe someone a favor or because a drummer has better chops than Jojo. (as if that is possible...)
  2. Choose someone with an affable disposition. A teacher type: patient, kind, polite, and respectful. Of course, someone who has drumming skills and concepts to offer. The question is: would you take a lesson from this person or hire them to teach your son or daughter?

Other Considerations

  1. Donʼt necessarily tell your students about your absence ahead of time–Iʼve learned the hard way on this one. Of course, Iʼm an advocate for being honest and forthright. However, if you tell your students about you upcoming absence, donʼt expect all of them to show up. You will still have to pay your sub and the student or parent(s) may not want to pay the store.
  2. Donʼt be cheap–I compensate my subs a little bit more than I would make per halfhour. You have to do your best to make it a good teaching experience.
  3. Tell the music store about your absence and give them the subʼs contact info. This will help alleviate some unexpected train wrecks.
  4. Write a thank you note to your sub.
  5. Give them freedom–If the sub wants to do their own thing, they should be able to. If they want to follow what each student is working on, thatʼs fine too. You have to trust your sub. If not, why did you hire them?
  6. Follow-up with each student (youʼll learn something new) –The best way to empower the substitutesʼ lessons is to ask your student (the following week) to show you what they learned. If possible, create a lesson that piggy-backs off the previous session (see following example).

An Example

One of my substitute teachers, Nicolas Abramowicz, is an accomplished jazz drummer, fitness trainer (specializing in boxing), and anthropology teacher. He is French and brings passion and a worldly outlook to his teaching. I recently asked one of my students, Henry, what they had covered in his lesson with Nick. Henry answered, “Well, Nicolas played a recording for me and asked me to come up with my own drum arrangement for the song.”

I was very impressed by Nickʼs real-world approach and his ability to think on his feet (or on the drum throne). Chances are that, if that particular student joins a band, he will need to create his own drum parts for original music. Why not simulate this in a lesson environment? Because I asked Henry about this, I discovered Nickʼs clever approach.

Henry and I spent the next lesson developing drum arrangements to other pop songs.