Way back in high school, I remember being in the Stage Band as an up-and-coming drummer and the challenges I faced at every rehearsal. The usual things – like trying to impress the ensemble director by not stuffing up, while making sure to show off for the girls. Ah yes, the days. I digress. As the head of music at my school, I couldn’t imagine not having a College Stage Band. It has been one of the primary senior ensembles for some years. And now, a new student drummer has just got the gig.
As the 2018 college year concluded, the drummer of our college stage band finished Year 12 and subsequently moved on, leaving room for another keen student. The band is actually more of a soul band with singers and the material is anything from Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind and Fire to a jazz standard or up-tempo big band swing. Either way, the drummer has a bit of a job ahead of them if they’re half decent, let alone if they’re a student who’s a bit rusty on the ol’ rudiments and grooves.
We recently had a two-day excursion to a nearby venue to run through as much new repertoire as possible to get a head start and get out to do some gigs; something the kids always really enjoy. Besides me trying to sight-read bass clef as the designated bass player in the band, the rehearsals went really well. However, I was very conscious of our new drummer and how he was coping with the task set of him.
This particular person is one of my better drum students. A reliable and diligent practicer week-to-week, I thought he would be a great choice for the stage band. There have been some challenges though. He’s still a great kid but I’ve discovered that currently, he’s struggling to fit into the new role. Now, there’s a lesson in this (I’m not paying out on a student, so stay tuned) but I realised as his drum teacher, I’ve taught him a lot but the reality is that nothing can prepare you fully for doing a live gig; charts or not.
Within the space of two days, this new drummer has had to sight-read and try to cope with swing grooves with big band horn figures, half time funk grooves, a bossa nova/Latin tune, a gospel arrangement of a Chaka Khan tune, a slower tempo swing, odd-time bars, a drum solo section over hits and more. The kid is feeling the pressure; he obviously wants to impress his drum teacher and as the new member doesn’t want to do a bad job, which is totally understandable. He’s doing his best and there’s been some good stuff at times but also clear room for improvement overall. I actually thought he’d smash the gig but instead, weaknesses are being revealed.
On the flip side, the most interesting thing about this is just how much experience this student is getting. If the band gig wasn’t on the cards, lessons would still continue as normal, but I can’t say I had crash courses on gospel chops or big band playing in the up coming short-term curriculum. Sometimes, live situations just present unique, exciting, unexpected and sometimes darn scary challenges but there’s always a subsequent learning experience to follow. As part of the tuition process, a band experience is unbelievable for shaping a drummer. This student will become more confident and experienced at every rehearsal and as a result of the challenges he will be a better drummer – period. The student seemed a little down about things after the rehearsals and I assured him we’d go over the material but also made him understand the benefits he was getting as a learner by sticking it out.
We can all take something from this. Even though a gig situation may not seem to be that amazing, there could be something to learn. You might be a super experienced player and your challenges may not be sight-reading or gospel chops but we can always be aware of how much musicianship we are bringing to the situation. Every experience can be something to learn from – especially when the drum teacher is trying to sight-read bass guitar charts.
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