I think most people can agree that the idea of being a drummer is super cool, but it’s still an instrument that lacks the same popularity in lessons and willingness to get started as—say—piano and guitar. Even culturally, I can say that as a musician, I know far fewer drummers than other instrumentalists, and they are always in high demand! This means that, from the educational perspective, this proportion also manifests in the number of children I see taking drum lessons—there are way less than those taking piano or guitar when you run the numbers. I will add (in fairness) that a lot of drum students typically start later in life than other instruments—like as an older teenager or as an adult; there usually is an element of “self-teaching” as well, which is also common with guitar.
But on the flip side, a 7 or 10 year old has the same basic coordination skills, strength, and capacity to start drum lessons as a 16 year old, so what is holding starting drum lessons? There is the obvious fact that melodies (and therefore melodic instruments) resonate more with younger children, and it’s harder for them to understand the vital role drums play in musical texture; therefore, there may not be as much initial interest at an age under 13 or 14. Also, parents may not suggest drum lessons in the same way as piano (just an example) due to the fact that not many people grow up with drum lessons as a tradition in the family, or a drum kit readily available in the household.
I won’t expand further on the reasons why I think there may not be as many young (age 7 to 12) drummers in the world, but I will go on to tell you why we need more and why you should not let a few common preconceptions hinder an interested student from getting started.
Let’s establish the fundamental: drums are important in creating music. You hear them everywhere—you may not notice them, but they are a backbone and a vital part of musical texture. Bands (jazz, rock, pop, studio, etc.) need drummers, and most proficient drummers are very booked up with gigs and lessons. We need more drummers in the world! That starts with kids becoming proficient in drums at an earlier age and carrying proper technique, music theory, and functionality into the musical world and continuing the art.
Second, drums are super fun for a child! In every basic music class, we play with percussion instruments from preschool on up, but the leap from childhood interest doesn’t go into adolescent drum kit lessons as often as one would think for a budding young musician. We can so easily write off “yeah, every kid likes drums” as the reason. But if that’s true, we as parents and educators should validate its presence as a means toward proper musical education and understand the value. And though drums have the same challenges as other instruments (developing proper technique, reading notation, maintaining perfect rhythm), I’m going to go out on a limb and say that drums could perhaps be the most fun for a child to learn!
So without further ado, here are some myths I want to dispel about learning drum kit, starting drum lessons, and rally for our future drummers of America!!!
Concern: “My daughter wants to learn drums, but they’re just so noisy!”
Answer: At full volume, yes, a drum kit can be rather loud. However, there are practice pads and mufflers for even full scale drum kits that make them more volume-appropriate. Also, there are electronic drum kits for practice purposes that can be used with headphones (see more about this below). Another piece of advice is to limit practice time to a certain cut-off each day. This can help with practice time allocation as well!
Concern: “We just don’t have room for a drum kit in the house.”
Answer: Like my suggestion above, electronic drum kits are wonderful! They are space saving, can be easily broken down and moved around. Also, in getting started, many parents and children don’t realize what components of the kit are necessary and which ones are filler. You don’t have to have a prog-rock scale kit like Neal Peart. Starting with a snare, high hat, and kick-drum will take you a ways before building out other components of the kit.
Concern: “I want my son to learn an instrument that isn’t just ‘hitting things,’” OR “I want my son to learn an instrument that has more musical expression.”
Answer: You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard both of these. It’s been on both sides of more polite and more direct phrasings, but it’s all the same concern with different words. Playing the drums with correct technique is so far beyond physical power and the act of striking something. Different “fills” (interlacing patterns beyond the basic beat), maintaining a heartbeat, accenting melodic passages to accentuate harmonic development—I could go on—all of these components are musicality and expression at its core. Great drummers understand music the same way a great pianist or guitarist does.
Concern: “I want my child to learn to read music, and study music theory, though…”
Answer: So do drum teachers!!! They want your son or daughter to study rudiments, or rhythmic patterns, and they will be working from sheet music and books. They should also learn music theory through workbooks, supplemental study, and apps. This builds understanding of how rhythmic movement compliments harmony. Plus, there are percussion instruments that use pitches (xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, etc), so you can keep theory study still on instruments in the percussion family. To quell this a little further, drummers who have a degree in music have to take and pass all the same music theory classes as all the pianists, strings, woodwinds, and brass players with equivalent degrees.
Concern: “Drum kits are too expensive.”
Answer: Not proportionally more so than other instruments, and there are always substitutions. Remember, you don’t need to start with the mega-sized kit…just 3 or 4 parts. We’re looking at around $300 new as a starting investment, but you can get used gear at even lower prices. This isn’t more than other instruments when you look at rental prices for brass, woodwind, and orchestral string instruments (about $30 a month), or for a piano (can go up to the thousands), or a digital keyboard (around $250). It’s all about the same.
Concern: “I don’t think my 8 year old is strong enough yet to play drums.”
Answer: Not a worry at all! Using correct technique, you don’t have to be able to generate a ton of muscle power. It’s more about coordination than how hard you can hit. Also, if you are using muscle instead of gravity to play, you aren’t actually using correct technique. I’ve heard 8 year olds creating a great sound on the kit. If the student is above age 5 or 6 (depending on the size of the student), we’re good to go.
Concern: “I don’t want the drum kit to be a distraction from other activities.”
Answer: I’d love to say I agree with you on that one, but there is a certain satisfaction I gain on behalf of the student when they become so interested in an instrument that they don’t want to stop playing. That means that they’ve found a creative outlet and the lessons are a success! School and other activities should always maintain a healthy balance, but when you become obsessed with an instrument, wonderful things are happening for the young musician!
I think it’s clear I’m advocating for drums to move up on the totem of musical instrument choices for younger students. Being perfectly honest, I’m a pianist and don’t play drums at all myself. However, I am a musician who has so often needed a drummer for events, bands, and other functions, and it has been a challenge about half of the time to find one. As a music educator, this means something to me. We need more burgeoning drummers to start taking up the instrument. The point is not to convince one way or the other with a student who is interested in a different instrument; instead, I want to make sure I do my best to support this instrument group from an educational standpoint and dispel any concerns a potential music student may have about it.