I’ve taught drum lessons in Washington, DC for about five years, and I’m often asked, usually by the parents of students who have a younger sibling, what’s the best age to start lessons. Sometimes it’s lessons in general, sometimes they ask about drums specifically. I reply that I personally struggle teaching children under 6, but lessons can be beneficial for children as soon as they can walk and speak. When it comes to drums, there are skills that can be developed as soon as a child has basic motor function.
The Easy Answer
3rd grade. That’s when my elementary school let me join the orchestra, I was old enough to read what my drum teachers in Washington, DC assigned me to practice, and I had enough wherewithal to know what was going on in lessons.
The hard answer: Every student is different. A child that might struggle with other things can have an innate sense of rhythm that will make them a great drum student. The most important factor is discipline. Being able to focus intently for short (and I’m talking 30 seconds) bursts of time is critical. Of course lessons are longer than 30 seconds, but for a beginner drummer, being able to focus on a steady beat for about 30 seconds is where most of the work will get done.
Parents can be helpful in this process. Setting a timer for 30 seconds and asking a student to play the exercise assigned by a teacher is a great way to get a practice session started, especially for a resistant student. 30 seconds doesn’t sound like a very long time, and they’ll definitely have a better understanding of the exercise at the end of those 30 seconds than they did at the beginning. This can motivate them to see how much they’ll improve playing the drums by the end of 60 seconds. The parent can then record the exercises, and the student can hear how much they improved. Also, children love performing for their parents, so having an attentive audience will be motivating as well.
All of this is to say, if your child expresses an interest in drums, music in general, or even if the way they bang on your cookware has a little swing to it, there’s no reason to say “let’s wait until you’re older.”
Obstacles, real and imagined
- Cost – This is probably the first obstacle that most parents consider. The good news is, you don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on a full drum kit to get your kid started. You don’t need to spend any money at all. Even without a teacher, you and your child can practice the fundamentals of rhythm by clapping and stomping. You can purchase a set of drum sticks to practice matching the rhythm of a favorite song. You can make a drum as a craft project on a rainy day. There are dozens of drum machine apps, many for free, that will introduce a child to the names of the different drums and the sounds they can produce. After a pattern of regular practice has been established, then you can think about getting a full drum kit.
- Noise – This is the second most commonly raised concern. Drums are loud, it’s true, but there are lots of ways to deal with this. Initially, you can avoid noise altogether by getting an inexpensive practice pad for most of practice. Electronic drum sets can be played with headphones, and even full acoustic sets can be muted.
- Attention Span – While playing and practicing the drums does require strict attention, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t need to be for a long time. In fact, I’ve noticed children that struggle with attention improve their ability to focus by working in increasing segments of time. (Ok, I set the timer for 30 seconds, let’s see how many measures you play)
Important Health and Safety Information
While I’ve mentioned a lot of ways to mitigate the amount of noise a drummer (and their patient family) is exposed to while practicing, practicing on a full drum set without mutes will be a part of practice at some point or another. When practicing in this environment, ear protection is essential. The best option is over the ear “isolation headphones” style earplugs, but traditional ear plugs can function as well.
Finding a Teacher
After considering options, playing with some rhythm instruments at home, and a demonstration of commitment to regular practice, it’s time to get your little drummer a teacher. This process is different for everyone, try to find a teacher that has experience with younger students. There’s a great deal of strategy to working with younger children that might not occur to every teacher.
The most important thing is to find a teacher that’s patient, amiable, and knowledgeable. With the right conditions, what begins as a noisy habit can evolve into a lifelong passion, method of self expression, and impressive skill. If this seems appealing to you or your child, contact Lessons In Your Home today! Our teachers will come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. However, our online music lessons are being taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your child!
By Andrew Pendergrast