Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Lately I’ve been really upset with the online drumming world. Especially, almost exclusively, with the free online educational world on platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. In this post I’m exploring some of the (in my opinion) potential dangers of this new trend of online teaching.
When discussing online lessons many forget the crucial importance of the format and medium the information is delivered through. Certain subjects are easier to teach through certain formats. Online you come across videos, audio and notation. Even though you can put a lot of information into these formats there’s always a trade off in a sense that there’s always going to be information that can’t be taught accurately through an online medium.
Many online schools and teachers choose a convenient and inviting format for their consumers and students. There are drummers that choose to upload a video every day but the videos are rather short like two minutes long and there are the ones that choose to make longer videos but post them less frequently. It is obvious that each of these formats have different goals and therefore also focus on different subjects.
The biggest danger I see here, is that there’s no real correlation between the amount of content created on a particular subject and the subject’s importance. As I said, some aspects of music are easier to teach through these formats, therefore they’re being taught a lot more often while the ones that are harder to teach online get much less attention. This might influence drummers and have a distorting effect on what drummers should prioritize in their practice sessions and overall when listening to other drummers and musicians. The better the online teacher and school is the more different formats on one particular subject they’ll offer. Such as pdfs, notation, video, audio examples, skype lessons etc. You might think that I think that there’s no better way than teaching in person in a one on one kind of scenario. While I do think that if you could only choose one way of studying music that would be your best choice, I still think that other formats such as video can greatly benefit a student’s learning.
Sound is obviously important when learning to play an instrument. As soon as you hear an instrument not live and directly but through a speaker you hear a distortion of what it actually sounds like. That can be quite problematic. Most videos’ audio have been edited to improve the sound. Hearing the drums in a room live, no EQ, no compression, no reverb etc. is very different from hearing the final product on your headphones. You will never be able to replicate what you hear through a speaker on your acoustic drums.
The balance and mix between the instruments of the drumset is also crucial to the sound of a drummer. A lot can be fixed through editing but even if the recording only uses one room mic the sound of the drums will change drastically depending on where the mic is positioned. Again distorting the real life sound of the drums.
Anyone can share their wisdom
The internet has basically been democratized. Everyone gets a voice, everyone can share their opinion and we all get more or less the same opportunities online. It’s a really beautiful thing, for the most part. But what makes the internet so great, in my opinion, also makes it quite dangerous. The problem is that some people’s opinions and insights are simply bad, uninformed and potentially harmful.
I think we have to make a distinction between drummers with a wide reach and are therefore a big influence on the drumming community and those drummers who do not have wide reach and aren’t in a position of influence. The ones with big influence have big responsibility towards the community because they’re role models to many, influencing them on what gear to buy, what music to listen to, how to hold sticks, technique etc. While I think this is fine, I also think that this can be quite dangerous because many drummers become influential not necessarily because of their drumming & musical skill but because they have an attractive format, are relatable, look hip and produce beautiful videos, while the quality of information delivered is not as far up in priorities as it should be.
Influential (educational) drummers need to be looked at critically and their teachings need to be something like peer reviewed. One way of doing that can be through the comment section. Commenting and engaging with the content creator and the other viewers, I think, is crucial. After all, it’s called social media. The comment section can be a great tool for discussion, exchange of opinions, experience and information. But, sadly, the comment section often turns into (I hate using this word, but I think it fits) a toxic space. It turns toxic whenever a comment is directed at a person, the person’s character or looks. I think the comments should be about the subject and nothing else. I’m no fan of political correct language and especially if something is obviously wrong and harmful we shouldn’t hold back. But the comment should still be about the subject of discussion and never be a personal comment, it’s just out of place. Also, I think the less influential a drummer is the more specific and nuanced a comment needs to be.
The comment section is also a great place to challenge the content creator to see if the statements made in the post are backed up by evidence (experience, music, research etc.). In art comments and criticism are often taken personally because there’s a lot of effort and intimacy involved in creating music and content. But feeling offended is not an argument to ignore or discredit the criticism or the person commenting. I often comment on social media and I always make sure that the way I express myself is clear and only about the subject. If my comment is a criticism, more often than not the content creator will respond outraged and hurt and post a reply discrediting me as a drummer and person. The fact that most replies end with a personal insult towards me is simply outrageous and out of place.
Somehow (online) musicians have convinced themselves that any criticism is bad criticism and that everybody who is critiquing must be an amateur musician, a bad person or simply jealous. Musicians are happier hearing fake truths from fake friends than actually listening to potentially great inputs giving themselves an opportunity to grow. I think musicians as a community need to be more honest to each other and musicians need to learn to distance themselves emotionally from their art in order to grow as artists, musicians, content creators and teachers.
Online studying puts a lot of responsibility on the student
When studying online the student is given great responsibility. The student has to self-assess his capabilities. There’s nobody there to check what level you’re on. The student has to possess the necessary tools to improve and be critical of himself. Sadly, I don’t seem to find many videos or other posts that teach you how to teach yourself something. I think there are critical points to check out, sort of like a checklist, to assess whether you’ve mastered something or not. But it’s not even about mastering stuff, it’s about focusing on the things that matter and keeping an eye on things that hold you back. That’s one of the reasons I love drummers like Jojo Mayer, Benny Greb and Gavin Harrison. They actually give many tools to be your own teacher and to be self-critical in a healthy and goal-oriented way. Being your own teacher is difficult and you can easily run into dead ends without realizing it.
After having mastered an exercise the student needs to decide what to do next and where to get the information from. The online algorithms will always recommend content, but those recommendations aren’t based on the student’s needs but rather on what will get the student to spend time on the platform the longest. Let’s say the student was smart enough to decide on a good subject to focus on next. Which sources are to be trusted? I’m saying that there is a lot of bad and harmful information out there especially for beginners. So how does one decide whether a lesson is a good one or a bad one? I believe that a lot can be judged by the way something is taught.
Anecdotes are a great way to get people’s attention and to apply the subject to a real world scenario. But anecdotes should never be the only way through which information is shared. Anecdotes themselves are open to interpretation, can be quite subjective and it is not always clear how the information gained from that story can be applied to a wide variety of situations.
I don’t like “I-messages” (pun intended): “I never do, I never did, it happened to me, I want you to, I would, etc.” These kinds of phrases aren’t necessarily bad, but you should never let the teacher get away with talking like this without proper reasoning.
“It’s a feeling, it comes from your gut, you know like, just feel it, be in the moment, not too far but not too close, just make it feel comfortable, etc.” These are very very vague phrases that everybody understands differently. Using these phrases can be problematic because of their universal nature. The reason many use these kinds of expressions is because they’re universally true and nobody really knows what they mean, not even those who use them otherwise they’d have used a different wording. You can try it out: the next time somebody says to you: “you know, you just gotta feel it. It’s this feeling in your gut, you know just be in the moment.” Ask them to explain themselves in different words with actual meaning. Now, don’t get me wrong, those phrases can have a positive impact on one’s playing and teaching, but making them the primary source, like many teachers are doing, is just wrong and doesn’t help the student to progress.
“Make it your own” that is one that really p*sses me off when I hear a teacher use it. Again, the phrase can make a lot of sense, but it’s mainly used nowadays when the teacher is simply too lazy to talk about variations. What bothers me the most is that most teachers that use this phrase don’t teach you how to actually make it your own. They say stuff like “experiment”. Yes, that does make sense but you still haven’t given the student a toolkit on what parameters there even are to make it your own.Saying “make it your own” by itself is a lazy work around to actual information and it’s also a nice phrase to use because it sounds so inspiring.
Absolutes can be very misleading. Absolute language sneaks in quite easily which can be quite frustrating. I see many online drummers with click bait titles one their videos like “5 ways to faster hands” or “The perfect pattern” or “the coolest drum fill on youtube”. The titles alone are already suggesting an absolute truth, which simply is not true. An experienced musician can absorb this information, no problem. But these videos’ target audience isn’t the experienced musician, it’s the beginner drummer who doesn’t know better and is still quite vulnerable.
Many will argue that there is no such thing as bad information & bad inputs, and that every drummer has to develop his (or her) own opinion. I disagree with that statement. I think we can all agree that Jojo Mayer teaching Moeller technique is probably a smart idea and a nurse teaching Moeller wouldn’t make much sense. One of the problems of social media is that somebody who’s super incompetent on a subject can still make an insanely professional looking and sounding product. I’d like the drumming community to be more critical of bad teaching. I think bad information hurts our industry, it holds beginner drummers back and it prevents in depth conversations and discussions.
A second post on this subject is coming soon.