Feb 062010
 

Congratulations!  Your child has expressed an interest in playing the drums.  Maybe you can’t keep your child from banging on everything in the house.  Maybe your child loves to sit on the drummer’s lap at church and “play along.”  Maybe your child pointed at Alex Van Halen on the television and said, “I want to do that.”  Either way, you now find yourself asking “Is my child too young for drum lessons?”

The quick answer:  it depends.

Maturity is More Important Than Age

First of all, “is my child old enough” is fundamentally the wrong question.  “Is my child mature enough and interested enough” are far better questions.  I’ve had some 4 year olds who were pleasures to teach, and I’ve had some 45 year olds who didn’t seem to be “old enough” for lessons yet.

When considering lessons for your child, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my child physically capable of playing the drums?  Does he/she have the motor skills to hold and operate a drumstick?
  • Is my child capable of paying attention to an instructor for up to 30 minutes?  Can he/she sit still for 30 minutes?
  • Is my child socially ready for lessons?  Can he/she be around strangers without crying or getting anxious (your teacher will be a stranger at first, remember)?  Is he/she extroverted enough to interact with another adult?
  • Does my child seem to have a genuine interest in music/drumming/taking lessons?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you should probably wait before signing your child up for drum lessons.  If you answered every question with a resounding “yes!” then it may be time to investigate lessons.

It Depends Greatly on the Teacher

When I was 4 years old, I pointed at Alex Van Halen on the television and said “I want to do that”  (see, that example wasn’t so out of left field after all). My parents took me down to the local music store and signed me up for lessons, where the instructor handed me sticks, a practice pad, and his default method book.  We started on page 1, and he began to teach me like an older student.  After 4 or so lessons, I had not even touched the drumset, which was my whole motivation for taking lessons in the first place.  I grew bored and quit.  The teacher blamed my “lack of interest” on my age and told my parents to try again in a couple years.

Obviously, I went on to become a professional drummer, and I now have my own students to teach.  From this vantage point, I blame my first failure at lessons on that teacher (and I frequently imagine how good I could have been if only I had kept taking lessons from the age of 4).  Before fourth or fifth grade, lessons should not be about technique and repertoire.  Rather, lessons should focus on cultivating the student’s interest and exposing him/her to music and the instrument in general.  Ask potential teachers about their approach to teaching young students.  Any teacher who wants to hand your five year old a dense method book should probably be avoided. Likewise for any teacher who expects your five year old to practice an hour a day.

If possible, find a teacher who already has several young students on roster.  Try to find parents of other young students and see who they recommend.

Failure Is an Option

Even if your child seems interested and you find a solid teacher, don’t be disappointed if your child wishes to stop lessons.  Children are allowed to want to drum this week, paint next week, and be an astronaut the week after next.  If your child no longer seems interested in drumming, save your money and quit taking lessons. It’s entirely possible that your child’s interest in music and drumming will rekindle itself one day.  As a parent, all you can do is keep exposing your child to music.  The rest will work itself out.

Success Is an Option Too

Apparently…

 Posted by at 2:15 am

  5 Responses to “Is My Child Too Young for Drum Lessons?”

  1. i just started my 4 1/2 year old son on drum lessons.

    He had a trial lesson for the teacher to audition his readiness that he struggled with, but it was obvious that the teacher wanted him to fail. but to my surprise, my son coped very well, but in the end the teacher said he was not ready because he could not reach both the bass drum and the hi hats pedals at the same time!!

    anyway seeing his potential, me and my wife both decided that he is ready for lessons, we found another teacher in another school that finds him ready to learn. this second instructor did not even bother with the pedals yet, he just taught him to hit the hats, crash, snares, toms with drum sticks.

    my son can do almost anything that he’s instructed to do. he can even understand the concept of 4 measure repetitions, like crashing on the 1st beat of each 4 measure patterns, etc.

    but now, after 3 or 4 lessons, we find that he is not paying attention in class. he drifts off to somewhere else while in the middle of playing to a short song, he stops and complains he’s tired, etc.

    what should we do? is it time to stop his from lessons already? but it seems such a pity cos he does have some potential, especially if you see how he hits the crash just like a rock star…

    • Adrian,

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. If you hadn’t noticed by the front page of my site, I am out of the habit of checking it regularly.

      I understand your problem, and several of my own students have exhibited the same tendencies. When this happens, I try several different approaches:

      1. Parental Involvement – Are you sitting in on the lessons with your son? For some students, having the parents in the room makes them pay attention better and behave better. For other students, having the parents in the room seems to give them a license to goof off. If your teacher is comfortable with the idea, you might try sitting in on the lesson with your son (or not sitting in on the lesson, depending on what you are doing now).

      2. Shorter Exercises/Activities/Songs – How long are the songs your son is working on? With very young students, I don’t expect them to play anything longer than 1 minute. I try to keep the lessons fast paced, with maybe 6 different 5 minute activities. That seems to keep the students from getting bored. In some instances, I even do 5 different 3 minute activities and then repeat those activities again. Repetition helps young students learn better, so I don’t feel like the redundancy is a problem. The popular show Blue’s Clues, for example, repeated the same episode every day for 5 days before showing a new one.

      3. Shorter Lessons – I teach all of my students one on one in 30 minute blocks of time. Occasionally, the parents and I will agree that a student can only handle a 20 or 25 minute lesson, and we cut our time short on purpose. Your son can still gain lots of drumming knowledge in 20 minutes. If you are open to this idea, check with your instructor to see what he/she thinks. FYI, I still charge the 30 minute rate for a 20 minute lesson, as I can’t fill the extra 10 minute slot with another student. Expect your instructor to do the same.

      4. Age Appropriate Songs/Activities – What songs is your son trying to play? I love it when a 4 year old comes in and wants to play Beatles songs, but not every student is ready for that. I spend plenty of time playing rhythm games involving fruit or pizza toppings, and I have played Twinkle Twinkle enough to last me 7 lifetimes. If your son resonates with the music from his lessons, he will be more likely to pay attention. See if your teacher will use music your son already likes, or try to play the music from the lessons in your home or car. No teacher should be above working with the music you like. I have plenty of Hannah Montana, Jonas Brothers, and Disney soundtracks on my ipod, just so I have things my students will enjoy (and pay attention to).

      Hope that helps. If you have any more questions, just let me know. You can also feel free to email me directly at jondittert at gmail dot com. My email pushes straight to my phone, so I should be able to get back with you much more quickly!

  2. Hi Jon,
    Thanks for your lengthy and helpful reply. We are trying some of the things that you suggested like shorter lesson time, playing songs that he is fond of, etc.

    sometimes he seems to do alright, at times, I can feel the agony of his teacher who has to put up with him or trying to get him to do anything at all during lessons.

    anyway, my wife sits in with him, maybe we will try to let him do it alone instead. the studio he’s learning has 2 sets of drums, having my wife sit at the other set and trying to compete to see who does better seems to work at motivating him.

    in the end, doesn’t matter if my son will continue but my wife is enjoying the drum lessons, haha.

    thanks again for taking the time, appreciate it.

  3. Hi John,

    I don’t know if you’ll get to read this as the other posts are somewhat older. But I have a young boy who will be 4 in September and is insane about the drums. He plays along when I play the guitar and he loves it. I play a lot of System of a Down, which he loves too, and he can drum away an entire song then ask, “What’s next?”. So I start another song. He can go for a good hour and doesn’t bother sitting down at the Guitar Hero drum set I have. He just likes playing them cuz they look like drums. He picks up on the cues perfectly, knows when it gets hard and fast, and exactly when to slow down the tempo. At this point he’s just wailing away at any piece of the set, but do you think his natural grasp of music is a good indication that he is ready to learn? Or should I just let him keep having fun wailing away and at this point, just teach him the parts of the drums he’s hitting.

    I’ve had 6 years of music theory teaching so I can show him some stuff on my own…although my education isn’t on drums.

    Any advice would be great.

    Thanks for your time.

    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for the question. If your son seems interested and enthusiastic, I’d say it’s a fine time to experiment with lessons/education. Certainly, if you have some theory knowledge you can try to pass that on to him. If it’s an option for you, I’d suggest trying one (or a few) formal lessons with a drum teacher in your area. I started lessons at 4 years old, and if you find the right teacher, it can be a great boon for your son.

      If you decide to teach him yourself. just remember to keep it fun. He’s 4, so there’s no need to get too heavy with theory, technique, and exercises. The more fun he has, the more likely he will be to continue exploring the drums. I’d suggest teaching him the different parts of the drum set and trying to get him to hit certain parts “on purpose” (maybe just alternating bass and snare, for example). You can even teach him things like “snare on 2 and 4,” and you don’t even necessarily need to teach him the counting. If he can feel the rhythm of a song, he might be able to pick out the snare parts by ear.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Jon

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