Questions About Lessons and Logistics

Q: Do you teach locally or just online?

A: Both online and locally in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q: How do you conduct online lessons? What do I need?

A: Via Skype or Google Hangouts.

Most laptops and mobile devices are Skype-ready. If you need help getting setup, contact nielsmyrner@gmail.com. I’m happy to walk you through the process.

Q: Do you teach kids?

A: Absolutely! Kids make my life awesome. If studying via Skype, I ask that an adult be present on the other end and that we reserve this option for kids who are highly motivated to learn.

When ready, video conferencing is a great way to drop into the studio without having to load into the car and deal with after-school traffic. It turns screen-time into a positive thing and builds tech skills.

Q: What’s the difference between watching lesson videos and taking private lessons?

A: The main difference is that when you take private lessons, you are  the one playing for most of the lesson. Rather than learning by watching, you are learning by doing, with the help of a teacher. It is all about you and where you are with your playing.

When I teach, my students are sitting at the drum set while I stand supportively on the sidelines. This gives me the opportunity to learn about their strengths, areas that need development, observe how they pick things up, and test different approaches. I can see what is really happening when they are playing. It is more of a coach/athlete relationship than a professor/student relationship. I may refer students to videos as a practice aid outside of lesson time, but rarely will I sit and play for a 30 minutes while a student watches.

Q: Do you teach funk and rock drumming?

A: Yes! While my education and performance career have been focused on jazz, I grew up playing funk and rock. Jazz is an inclusive art form that has influenced and been influenced by popular styles. By keeping an open mind, I learn and evolve with my students.

I teach funk and rock through songs rather than books or program outlines. Generally speaking, funk and rock songs have more consistent patterns than jazz. Each song is like a study guide consisting of beats and fills. In my experience the most effective and engaging approach is to choose the right song for your level, taste and goals and learn it note for note. This will build your vocabulary and you’ll quickly discover a bag of tricks you can apply in many situations.

By choosing songs you love you will develop your own unique and meaningful style.

Q: What if I don’t know what I want to know? I just know it is my dream to play drums but I’m not sure where to start.

A: Discovering your goals and designing a path to achieve them is the first step. My question for new students is “What do you love to listen to?” That inspiration should guide the creation of your lesson plan.

Q: I’ve been playing for a while but I don’t really feel like I’m making any progress. I’ve been playing the same ideas for years. I’m not sure where to go from here?

A: We have to resist clinging to our strengths. It is humbling to learn new things, but vastly more rewarding than playing the same ideas over and over forever.

There may also be technical limitations. Maybe we have great ideas but we can’t pull them off—in that case it’s time to work on honing our craft!

Questions About Technique

Q: Do I really need to learn the rudiments?

A: It totally depends on your level and goals. Studying rudiments is like studying anatomy. At first you might just need to get out and go for a walk, then maybe a run. Eventually you will want to run faster and with better technique… maybe even dance, do parkour, gymnastics or some martial art. At that point you may want to improve your understanding of motion and control. That’s where rudiments come in. They are just one Western form of analysis.

There are many great drummers of varied cultures that never cared about rudiments, although they played them without knowing. There are also many great drummers who learned in high school or military marching bands and applied what they learned to the drum set. You don’t have to ever practice rudiments if you don’t need or want them, but you may find them helpful when you are seeking improvement. First and foremost, focus on achieving your musical goals.

Q: My left hand is terrible. What should I do?

A: Just about every drummer struggles with this at some point. Your left hand will need a bit more work than your right. On the bright side, since your right hand is doing well, you can use it as an example for your left. Try to train your left hand to mirror and mimmic the detailed movements of your right. In this way, your left can basically learn technique from your right, which picked it up more quickly.

Outside of practice time, try to build coordination by doing everyday tasks with your left hand. Open doors, operate your computer mouse, throw, catch, anything to build coordination. If you are extremely determined, you can try switching your drum set to left handed and relearning lefty or just play “open” on the hihat, with your left hand playing the cymbal and right hand playing the snare while playing basic beats.

Q: Are you always aiming to keep that size gap between the thumb and finger at speed? I find the faster I drum that gap tightens. I understand that the best drummers are the most relaxed.

A: Sometimes but not always. You want to be able to relax the fulcrum and use the whole hand, or the bigger knuckle in your index finger, closing that space, especially when you are playing very hard. For example, check out Art Blakey playing rolls. If you watch carefully you can see, in his right hand, he lets the stick come up into the bigger knuckle of his index finger and closes the space like you say you do. That’s totally fine for that moment. You also want to be able to maintain that space and keep the fulcrum out in the first knuckle of your index finger (or middle finger) for finer control. Think about the difference between painting a house and drawing a fine detailed picture. When you paint a house, you hold the brush with your whole hand and do big strokes, when you draw a fine detailed picture, you hold the pencil out on the tips of your fingers, taking advantage of the dexterity in your finger tips. Same thing with drumming. The key is flexibility. Learn as many different techniques as you can, and you’ll find each has a different strength and ideal application. The reason this particular technique is taught in the video is because it is the standard in the school system here and I use it as as reference for my local private students. I don’t want them to have conflicting information when starting out. So we begin this way.

Q: Do you use Moeller or Level System up stroke setting up your back beat accent?

A:  I change technique depending on dynamic level, tempo and feel. For a big open slow triplet swing I’ll definitely lift from the wrist and throw the stick on 2 and 4, while lifting it on the ah-1 and ah-3. For a quiet, but still driving quarter note pulse, I’ll hold the drum stick tighter in my hand to add some emphasis and define the “attack.” I’ve been working lately on keeping my wrist loose while playing the up tempo ride pattern and the feeling that gives the groove. Feeling the bigger, slower motions of the arm while playing fast helps stay relaxed, and frees up my independence.

Q: Do you play French or German grip?

A: If you are new to the drum set, I would recommend experimenting with a variety of techniques to discover which comes most naturally to you, then stick with it until it feels comfortable and fluid. Expand your skill set by learning another technique when you feel ready.

I encourage new students to try matched or German grip first, as it encourages both wrist and finger control while the primary strength of French grip is finger control. This will absolutely depend on your personal experience. Ultimately you will use both. A good teacher will watch to see what comes naturally to you before they teach you technique.

There’s a great article in the January 2006 issue of Modern Drummer Magazine titled “Get a Grip” providing an overview of the basic hand techniques, German, French, American, Traditional, and exploring the different techniques of drumming legends. Check it out if you can find it! The real eye opener is that each player found his own way and has his own take on the basic techniques. Techniques are used as tools themselves, like a painter’s brushes, to acquire different strokes for different situations. I frequently mix techniques, French on the ride cymbal, American or traditional on the snare drum. I played a fairly tight military-style grip when I was in high-school and eventually my wrists absorbed too much shock causing pretty awful injuries that took a long time to heal. No doubt I was “doing it wrong.” I had to relearn technique and spent some time studying Meoller Method with Rick Lotter (percussion professor at CSUS). That was all about following the drumstick, throwing, and letting the stick do the work. That helped with injuries and developing double stroke rolls, more fluid control, light touch. Later I studied with Alan Hall (Berklee professor, student of Alan Dawson) we did a lot of rudiments, including the Rudimental Ritual, which I think is a secret of many players’ chops, and experimented with varied grips and situation appropriate approaches. I’m constantly picking things up from different players along the way.

Interactive, Goal Oriented