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The advent of the internet and its rise in cultural relevance have profoundly impacted the world’s functions. It has changed everything from culture to commerce and even music education. With the ever-growing availability of online drum lessons, can it become a well-rounded drummer exclusively online?
There are so many great online resources available now that can help you learn how to play, that it is very viable to study the drums exclusively online.
Can I Teach Myself Drums with Online Lessons?
It’s very much possible to learn drums online, but the biggest challenge is knowing where to start. When learning an instrument, there are so many fundamental principles, styles, and techniques that one needs to learn and absorb, and so many directions in which you can take your study.
Online lessons are very much an extension of the instructional tapes and DVDs of years past. They are educational resources that are an integral part of any well-rounded drummer’s development.
There is a plethora of lesson content on Youtube and other websites, so it’s essential to know how to separate the types of lessons.
Primary Models of Online Drum Lessons
- Youtube Lessons
- Subscription Service
- Videochat Lessons
Youtube Drum Lessons
Youtube Lessons are free videos that you can access on Youtube. These are prerecorded lessons uploaded by various content creators on the site.
The type of material covered in these types of lessons are based on the content creators’ individual tastes. There are loads of great channels making quality content, including the 80/20 Drummer, Brandon Scott, Stephen Taylor, Rob Brown, and Steve Langone.https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg2Ovwd4Y8s2_S8UfdTlehw
The main benefit of Youtube drum lessons is that they are free. There’s no cost, so there’s no risk. If you don’t like a lesson, you can look up another video.
You can find a lesson on pretty any topic under the sun. Maybe you’re trying to up your jazz game. There’s a video for that. You are trying to figure out what JD Beck is doing? Check this video out. Or maybe you want to spice up your backbeat. There’s a video for that too.
I have even dabbled in some video lessons on Youtube for one of the studios I teach at. If you’re interested in checking out a study on basic comping ideas, you can check that out here.
A lot of these creators also make other types of fun content out there that go beyond lessons. Content creators might make a video where they hire drummers off the website Fiverr to play a beat or song and critique them. Or they might speak about what it’s like to be a gigging drummer in New York. Vlogs are also popular format drummers and other musicians do on Youtube.
Online lessons are so ubiquitous now that there are even parodies of the format. Dave King of The Bad Plus has a series on Youtube called Rational Funk, a spoof of online lessons worth watching.
Drawbacks to Youtube Drum Lessons
There are a couple of unique pitfalls to learning drums through Youtube videos alone.
The first major pitfall is the sheer amount of content on the website. While this is an excellent thing if you’ve been playing for a while, as you can look for lessons on specific topics you’re working on, it is much harder to navigate when starting.
Take rudiments, for example. If you’re a beginner, you might not have any idea where to start, and you might stumble across a lesson on a hybrid rudiment and be incredibly discouraged or frustrated. As a beginner, you might not realize there is a multitude of steps in the practice process you need to go through before tackling a rudiment like this. No point in learning anything fancy and complicated before you have your basic flams together.
Another potential issue is the credibility of a teacher. Because Youtube is a platform where anyone is allowed to upload, it’s hard to tell well established, legitimately good teachers from people who have no idea what they’re talking about without a degree of drumming knowledge.
This is especially difficult if you’re just starting out. You could be getting bad information that can hurt your development in the long run. The infamous expertvillage videos of early Youtube are a prime example of this.
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t a lot of great lessons on Youtube. Many well-established companies like Zildjian, Vic Firth, and Remo have some great video lessons on their Youtube channel. There are some great teachers on the platform I’ve mentioned previously (the 80/20 drummer is a personal favorite of mine). It’s important to do your research to know who’s legit.
Paid Video Drum Lesson Content
The next type of video lesson is paid content. Sites will offer paid content in different models, such as subscriptions or flat fees.
The benefit of this content is that it is professionally curated and often taught by well-established artists. Websites like My Music Masterclass and Elite Music Mentor have built their business models on hiring well known musicians to design videos explaining various musical concepts.
This type of curated content is also designed with a clear idea of progression in mind, rather than having you search blindly to figure out what exactly to practice next. A lot of Youtubers have premium courses of this nature available to purchase, including The 80/20 Drummer, and Stephen Taylor, and Mike Johnston.
More traditionally, “famous” drummers, such as Dave Weckl, have recently jumped in on the craze, too, offering an inside look into all aspects of drumming, from tuning methods to recording tips.
I have been lucky enough to be on the production side of this type of content, working with Bosse Online to develop an introductory Jazz drumming course. I can tell from firsthand experience that a lot of care and effort goes into developing these courses. They are designed to be easily digestible and coherent, which is to the benefit of any student.
Drawbacks to Paid Video Drum Lesson Content
The main drawback to premium video lessons is a lack of input. You have to be entirely accountable for yourself and your development, which can be very difficult.
If a concept isn’t landing with a student in a lesson environment, a teacher can change their approach based on your needs. There’s a give and take with in-person lessons, as teachers and students are communicating with each other. If something is confusing you as a student, you can ask a teacher questions and clarify. This does not exist in a prerecorded lesson.
I also know from personal experience as a teacher that making prerecorded content is difficult for many reasons, primarily because of this lack of interaction. You have to guess what a student needs, and how they learn, rather than directly communicating and hearing their playing.
A prime example of how this can be a huge drawback is with learning ergonomic techniques. In a regular lesson environment, if you’re sitting or holding the stick in a way that causes excess tension and effort, a teacher can easily (and repeatedly) point out the issue and guide you to a better method. This is impossible to do with a prerecorded video lesson.
Because there is no direct communication line, video content is developed with a one size fits all approach (aimed at particular groups such as beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.). This means if you go through these sorts of courses, you can have gaps in knowledge because you might not understand the way the video teaches a particular concept.
Many premium sites have systems to deal with the lack of direct communication, either including some video chat lessons as part of the package, or some forum to ask the designer of the course questions. A lot of courses also allow you to upload videos of what you’re practicing for input.
The other issue that is possible to run into is that you may not like or understand how a course is taught after you purchase it. While this isn’t a big deal with a free lesson, this can be very aggravating with paid content. To avoid this pitfall, it’s essential to do your research. Many of these courses have free previews on Youtube so you can get a feel for the instructor and topics at hand.
Overall, I think this is a good way of studying music, and you can learn a lot through these methods.
Videochat Drum Lessons
Another very popular way of teaching drums online is through video chat services like Zoom or Facetime. These are just like taking in-person lessons but in the convenience of your own home.
These lessons are great because you get most of the benefits of studying with a private instructor. You can schedule a regular time to meet, and your teacher can teach you based on your desires and needs as a musician.
It’s great too because you can study with anyone you want across the world. I’ve studied with well-established drummers based in New York and LA this way, without leaving my house!
If you’re starting out playing drums and you want to study online exclusively, I would recommend finding a teacher and starting with video chat lessons. I find that the most effective way to learn an instrument is with a teacher. A great teacher can give you the basic skills that are necessary to become a well-rounded drummer, in a personalized
manner that allows you to develop as a player faster
A great teacher will also give you a toolset that allows you to learn independently. Great teachers don’t merely tell you what to practice; they show you how to practice.
Drawbacks to Learning Drums Online
The main drawback to video chat lessons is the technology. Sometimes calls will drop, or you can’t connect with the teacher for unknown reasons.
Video chat services also have a degree of latency to them. While in normal conversation, this is fine, in a music lesson, it makes it near impossible to play examples together or play along to songs.
The other problem is audio quality. A lot of services have gating or compression built into the service to reduce background noise. This often means that the drums’ sound can get crushed or distorted, not giving you an accurate picture of how something should sound.
There are workarounds for both of these. A good teacher will know how to teach with latency. For example, when I teach online, I’ll often play a model for students and have them repeat it after me. Like Zoom, some services allow you to turn off the noise filters and use audio interfaces with the program.
Best Way To Utilize Online Drum Lessons
Online lessons are a tool, just like drum books. They can be a great supplemental material for your course of study.
I always recommend you find a teacher of some sort, whether in person or through a video chat, especially when starting out. A great teacher will help guide you in a way that no video lesson can do. You’ll progress faster as a teacher can help you to digest information and lead you in a direction that will have the most impact on your playing.
They can help guide you and keep you honest with your progress, and give you much-needed encouragement and perspective.
If you’re a more seasoned professional, video lessons are a great way to augment whatever you’re working on in the current moment. They can help inspire your practice sessions or deepen your understanding of a particular concept.
I like taking online lessons with folks now and again to get another person’s perspective. It’s invaluable to get input into how I can refine my approach to the instrument. A lot of concepts I’m currently practicing are exercises I’ve gotten from online lessons.
There is also a lot of great free sheet music online on websites like freedrumlinemusic.com. You can incorporate any of these exercises into your practice routine like you would with any other material.
Practicing Drums Online
A strong independent work ethic is key to getting the most you can out of an online lesson. Online lessons should be scheduled into your practice like any other type of concept or book work. The key is to be consistent and follow that schedule responsibly.
An important thing to do with any online lesson, be it a lick, coordination exercise, or groove, is to analyze it conceptually and take it deeper.
Let’s take this Brandon Scott video, for example. First, we want to learn the content of the lesson as is. To do this, we need to
become comfortable with the samples Brandon shows us.
Once we’ve got that down, we want to analyze what the lesson is about conceptually. If we were to examine this lesson on a fundamental level, it’s about using four note linear combinations to make 16th note grooves.
At the end of the video, Brandon talks about creating grooves using four different combinations he’s labeled ABCD. The first step in practicing the deeper concept is to develop some different grooves using these four combinations, for example:
After doing that for a while, try to develop your own 16th note combinations using this conceptual base. Here are a couple I’ve written out:
I’ve labeled them E F G H so you can create grooves using these combinations with the Brandon Scott ones.
Once you become comfortable with these examples, you can take it even further. Try different orchestrations, such as moving your right hand to the floor tom, the ride, or between multiple surfaces. Add accents and try the examples in different tempos and dynamic ranges too.
Expanding a Drum Idea
One video can be years worth of valuable and essential practice, but it is entirely based upon how you look at it. Are you just going to take a video at face value and be done with it in a minute, or do you look at the larger structures and concepts at hand and take more in-depth lessons?
This is a much more gratifying way of practice. It engages you on a creative as well as technical level. Thinking creatively in the practice room prepares you to be creative on the bandstand or in the studio.
No matter what methodology you use to learn an instrument, your progress is ultimately tied to practice. No teacher or video is going to make you a better player magically. What is going to make you a better player is sitting down and doing the work.
This takes self-discipline, time, effort, and a love of the instrument. Any great drummer you’ve ever listened to or seen live has put countless hours in the practice room over many years to get to where they are. You have to be patient, and often measure progress in months and years, not weeks and days.
Music is not a fixed process; there is no endpoint where you have suddenly “mastered” the instrument. The masters will tell you they’re still trying to figure how to play!
So whether you’re studying a Youtube video, doing a video chat lesson, you’re embarking on a lifelong journey filled with great struggle and the greatest joys you can experience in life.
John Dalton is a Boston based drummer, composer, bandleader, and educator. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He performs regularly as both a leader and a sideman. His modular ensemble “Spheres of Influence” has recently released their debut album, Indigo Skyline. You can find out more about him here : https://johndaltonspheresofinfluence.com