learning to drum

6 Surprising Benefits of Learning to Drum as an Adult

learning to drumCurious about drum lessons, but worried you’re too old to get started? As it turns out, there are several benefits that even older adults can glean from learning how to play. Learn more in this guest post by Edmond, OK drum teacher Tracy D...


If you are considering learning to drum as an adult, you may have a few questions, among which might be, “Will I be any good?”, “Am I too old?”, or “Is it too late?” Perhaps you’ve heard that one can only attain proficiency at an instrument if he or she learns as a child. If that’s the case, I have some good news! In fact, there are many benefits to be had in learning to drum — no matter what your age. Let’s take a closer look:

The physical aspect

The drum set is a very kinetic instrument, as it requires the use of your whole body. Regular, dedicated play helps improve your coordination, because you use your limbs in differing combinations to make music. It is also beneficial to your sense of balance, because you must be well-anchored to play with power and ease (which is especially true if you make vigorous use of both feet; I cannot recommend that highly enough). The integration of these factors creates a pretty good core workout, and you are building a skill as well. How cool is that?

The intellectual aspect

Did you know that your brain’s neuroplasticity stays intact throughout your whole life? This means that your mind, with active engagement, will continue to grow, learn, and retain new information. Numerous studies have shown that learning new skills helps keep your mind sharp as you age. Other studies have shown that musicians have increased volume in several areas of the brain. If you learn to read music, you also interpret and reproduce the notes that you see, which is a great integrative exercise for the mind and body. The potential for exploration is virtually infinite. As you work out and assimilate progressively advanced concepts, you will find that it becomes even easier to learn new material, which is gratifying indeed!

The spiritual and emotional aspects

One of the most important aspects of playing music is the sheer enjoyment! Playing is such an effective stress reliever, and the higher the level of facility you achieve, the more expression you can pour into your playing. It truly incorporates spirit, soul, and body, and there is nothing quite like it.

In addition, if you already play an instrument, learning to drum will solidify and strengthen your rhythmic sense — and you can bring your melodic knowledge to bear on the kit, as it lends itself quite beautifully. You will also gain a more informed enjoyment of your favorite music through the sharpening of your listening skills. There is also income potential, if you wish to gig or teach.

In sum, if you truly fall in love with this instrument, you will discover numerous treasures along this most rewarding journey, and you will reap tangible benefits all the while. It’s never too late to unearth your passion. I should know. I didn’t pick up a pair of sticks until I was almost 30, and I went on to get a music degree. Enjoy!


Tracy D. teaches percussion and drum lesson in Edmond, OK, as well as online. She has been playing the drums various bands for more than 13 years, and has also played intermittently with the OKC Community Orchestra for the past five years. Learn more about Tracy here! 



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piano scales

What Tempo Should You Practice Piano Scales At?

piano scalesReady to practice your piano scales? Break out that metronome and consider this advice from online piano teacher Crystal B...

When it comes to practicing piano scales, the subject of tempo always comes up. Many students are unsure of what tempo scales should be practiced, and the truth of the matter is, the answer will vary depending on the student. A good rule of thumb is always start slowly and work your way up to faster tempos. Here are some tips to help you assess your individual abilities and decide on a good starting tempo.

What tempo can you play the scale with note accuracy?

One of the main reasons for practicing piano scales is to learn the correct notes in each scale. I have seen cases where students will try to play the scales too fast and in the process, they miss notes or play incorrect notes. When you are first learning scales, start slow enough to really think about the notes you are playing. Which notes are flat? Which notes are sharp?

What tempo can you play each note evenly?

In addition to the theory knowledge they provide, playing through scales is also a great technical exercise! To get the full benefit of the exercise, make sure that as you play through the scale, all of the notes are played evenly. If you find that you are playing at a tempo which causes certain notes to be played faster than others, slow down! You can always speed up once you have a perfectly even scale. And make sure you don’t use the pedal while practicing this way. You want to be able to really hear the transition from note to note.

What tempo can you play the scale with the correct fingering?

This is such an important factor that gets overlooked many times during piano practice. But missing this critical step will make it very difficult to accomplish the task of playing each note evenly — especially once you try to start increasing your speed! I definitely recommend playing each hand separately before trying to play your right and left hand together. This is very important when you’re learning correct fingering because each hand is crossing over or tucking under at different points. Getting this right will take lots of practice, but it is well worth the investment of time and effort. After a certain point, your fingers will be able to do this on auto-pilot and the good news is, many of the scales use the same fingering.

The most important thing to remember is to start slowly! Fight the urge to play too fast in the beginning. Remember, you can always increase your tempo (and should!) once you have mastered the correct way to play the scale and can do so evenly.

CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!




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Learning Guitar: Understanding Minor and 7th Chords

Learning Guitar: Understanding Minor and 7th Chords

11263145144_2358b335a4_kWhat are minor and 7th chords anyway? TakeLessons teacher Brian T. breaks down the music theory behind building these chords…

Learning guitar chords is one of the early challenges of learning the guitar. Very often a new student will find themselves presented with a host of fingering patterns that make little sense. “Why this set of frets and not that one?” the student wonders “Why, when I move my E major down a string does it become A minor?” With just a bit of music theory and a willingness to work things out, we can answer these sorts of questions on our own. With a bit of effort, we can even free ourselves from dependence on chord books and other reference materials!

Finding Notes on the Guitar

To make sure we’re all on the same page, we’re going to start by discussing the notes used in the western musical tradition and where they are found on the guitar. Western music is made up of twelve notes, which are commonly labeled in one of two ways:

Observe that A sharp labels the same note as B flat, C sharp likewise labels the same not as D flat, and so on. For our purposes, we can treat these alternate labels as interchangeable.

Let’s review how we find these notes on the guitar. Moving one space to the right on the chart above (this is called, confusingly for guitarists, a half step) is the same as moving one fret “up” the neck of the guitar. If we start with the 5th (A) string open, we have an A. Moving to the first fret yields an A sharp; the second fret is B; we find C on the third fret, and so on. With the charts above and your the open strings memorized (E-B-G-D-A-E), you can find any note on the guitar!

A Brief Overview of Chord Construction

Though there are twelve notes available, any given song will stick – for the most part – to a set of seven notes that form the “key” of the song. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll look at the key starting with A and containing no sharps or flats; this key is known as “A minor”.

Now that we’ve established our key, we’re ready to make some chords! Each chord has a “root” note which gives the chord its name. We start by labelling the root “1″, and count up from it until all the members of the key have a number (we may need to loop around). If we’re making an A chord in our chosen key of A minor, it looks like this:

To form the chord, we play the notes labeled “1″, “3″, and “5″; in the case of our A minor chord, these are A, C, and E. That’s all there is to making a basic chord! Now of course, your guitar has more than three strings, so you’ll usually need to double up a few notes. Just make sure that the deepest sounding note is the root, and you’ll be good to go.

Lets look at building another chord in A minor. This time we’ll form a C chord.

This time our 1, 3, and 5, are C, E, and G respectively.

What Makes a Chord Minor

If you’ve been playing along (and I hope you have, as this is the best way of learning guitar chords) you may have noticed that the A and the C chords we constructed above sound markedly different. The A chord sounds somber, even sad, whereas the C chord is cheerful. This is because the A chord is a minor chord, while the C chord is Major. Let’s look at why this is:

The distance between two notes, in half steps, is called the interval between them. As we saw before, each chord consists of a 1, 3, and 5. The interval between 1 and 3 is called, quite reasonably, a 3rd. Not all thirds are the same size. A look at the chart of the key of A minor shows that there are three half steps from A to C. There are, however, four half steps from C to E, which is also a 3rd. The smaller three half step version of the 3rd is called a “minor” 3rd, while the larger four half step version is known as a “major” 3rd. A minor 3rd leads to a minor chord, and likewise a major 3rd yields a major chord. We can see this using the two chords we built earlier, A minor and C major:

A minor 3rd yields a minor chord. That’s really all there is to it!

Adding 7ths to Your Chords

We need not limit ourselves to chords with only three notes! If we wish, we can add another just as we did before – by skipping one note in the key. We end up with a chord containing 1,3,5, and 7; not surprisingly this is called a 7th chord. Much like 3rds, 7ths come in two varieties: major and minor. The most common combination is a major chord with a minor 7th. This is usually formed on the dominant (V) member of the key, and heralds the return of the tonic (I/i). Lets look at an example, again from the key of A minor:

E major 7(V7):

Other combinations are possible, however – try them out! I find that the major 7th on a major chord yields a warm, sweet sound, while a minor chord with a minor 7th sounds a bit gloomy. The minor chord with a major 7th inspires in me a sense of foreboding. What does it inspire in you?


Hopefully this post has given you a bit of a better sense of what minor and 7th chords are, and how to construct them. Ultimately, the best way of learning guitar chords is with fingers on the fret board. Name a chord, figure out what notes make it up, and find it on your guitar – preferably somewhere down the neck where things are a bit less familiar!


Brian T. teaches Economics, Geometry, Grammar, and Math in San Francisco, CA. He has been playing guitar for 14 years. He received his BA in Mathematics and Economics at University of San Francisco, where he studied Classical Guitar and Music Theory for three years.  Learn more about Brian T. here!


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5 Things to Know Before Buying a Used Guitar

5 Things to Know Before Buying a Used Guitar

130674346_b0b161761f_oIf you’re in the market for an inexpensive guitar, you’ve probably noticed there are many, many used guitars for sale. How do you find a great guitar and avoid the lemons? Follow this guide from guitar teacher James W. and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect new-used guitar…

Buying a used guitar can be a fun and rewarding experience if you know what to look for and what to avoid. Let’s delve into the details in a step-by-step way that makes sense. First off, what kind of guitar do you wish to own? Since buying is the pain and owning is the pleasure, it is good to know what to look for.

1. Let Me Give You A Hand

Are your hands big or small? I recommend that you choose a guitar based on your ability to wrap your hand all the way around the neck. This is not just personal taste, it’s a physical thing. There’s no point in making things harder by picking a neck that is too big to play comfortably, with strings too high off the fretboard to play a chord or two.

Search for the kind of guitar you love to play and check it to see if the setup was done recently. If you are not sure, ask the owner. Chances are they bought this guitar used or new and had to have the strings lowered and the intonation set for it to play in tune. Are the tuners looking new? Were they an upgrade? Good tuners will keep the strings in tune longer, and a good setup means the guitar will be easier for you to play.

2. Tonewoods

Mahogany, maple, rosewood, spruce, alder, ash, and basswood.  Ah the wonderful phrase: “That guitar has good tonewoods.” Most good acoustics have a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Some use maple for the top or other laminated woods for the back and sides of the guitar. I do not recommend buying a guitar with laminated back and sides. Laminate guitars can be too easily damaged and dinged or dented. Stick with quality solid woods. Something else to consider: Tonewoods have warm aural qualities and improve in sound with age.

3. Pickups

Look for guitars for sale with stock pickups by Fender,Fishman, Gibson, Godin, Dimarzio, EMG, or Seymour Duncan, as these are all quality makers. Today there are as many types of guitar pickups as there are musical genres. If you listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn play blues you may say single coil is the way to go. Both single coil and humbuckers are passive and rely on magnets to work. Listen to them and compare the tone of each one through a good amp like a Marshall all tube( valve) amp or a Fender Champ Amp. Then decide what you prefer. Remember to keep it simple and put good strings on that guitar once you get it home. Ernie Ball Slinkys (0.10’s) for electric guitars and Elxirs for acoustic guitars are good choices. I also like EVH Premium electric guitar strings.

4. To Coil Tap or Not to Coil Tap

Coil tapping is simply rewiring the guitar tone and volume knobs (a.k.a. pots) to “push and pull” so you can get more variety of sounds out of one guitar. In the case of my Telecaster, coil tapping has given me the sound of up to 7 guitars in one. If you see an electric guitar with this built into it and everything else looks good including the price then you may have found your prize. Snap it up!

5. Invest in a Hard Shell Case

A hard shell case can keep your pride and joy safe from just about every calamity known to man. It may be a used guitar but you still invested your hard earned dollars in it, so it’s wise to protect it. A hard shell case will cost more than a gig bag, but it will pay for itself in peace of mind. Trust me on this. I cannot express the trauma you feel when a baggage handler at the airport throws your guitar on the conveyer belt!

It’s good to understand the choices and maybe even be a bit picky. Educate yourself by going into your local guitar store and trying out several of their guitars for sale to see what makes you smile- “I like that one but I don’t like that one” and so on. Always buy trusted brands like Fender and Gibson and Martin with quality parts built right in. Look for a guitar that has been maintained in good shape by the previous owner. Guitars are like cars; they must be maintained and cared for. And remember, if you have any questions along the way, your guitar teacher will be happy to help!

James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!



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Should Drummers Focus On Just One Style or Genre?

What Style Should I Have As A Drummer?If you’re new to the drums, should you focus on drum music from one particular genre — or explore several different styles? Here, Decatur, GA teacher Paul S. shares his advice…


It’s a thrilling time to be a musician, let alone a drummer. 2015 will continue to reveal the trend of a brave new world, a world where one person can record a fantastic album alone in their bedroom and a viral musical sensation can blow up overnight. While capitalizing on Internet success may occasionally prove difficult (the music business is a BUSINESS, after all), the limitless creative possibility of our current musical atmosphere is something everyone can appreciate and be a part of.

Now, to answer the question, “Should drummers focus on one style or genre?” As with many things in music, the answer isn’t black and white. On one hand, knowing your stylistic strengths and weaknesses is extremely important. Agreeing to play congas in a smoking salsa band would not be wise if your only experience as a conguero was in your college jam band days: “Uh, dude? I think you turned your rumba clave into a son clave at some point when we were playing that E major chord for 20 minutes.” However, in fitting with today’s current musical trends, it seems foolish to limit oneself to playing only one genre. Let’s put this in a global context.

Percussion is one of the world’s oldest instruments, so logically, there is a lot of material to learn. In fact, there is so much history that one drummer could never scratch the surface of understanding every style of drumming that humans have produced. When I write “drumming” here, I mean much more than the drum kit. Here are a few examples of mind-boggling drum styles from around the world:

  • Zakir Hussain’s masterful control of the Indian tabla
  • Doudou N’Diaye Rose directs his Senegalese drum orchestra with his energetic sabar playing
  • Mestre Ombrinho plays berimbau, sings, and leads a group of musicians accompanying the Brazilian martial art capoeira

Are you getting the picture? If you or someone you know is a drummer with a big head, these videos are sure to put that ego in check. Being humble to the breadth of percussion is important. As musicians, we must realize that there is an infinite amount of knowledge for us to possess. It’s up to us as individuals to understand as many styles as we can perform respectfully and successfully.

With all of that being said, it’s wise to specialize! Know the styles of drum music that you love to play and that you play well. What moves you, and why does it move you? Travel deeply inside each groove you practice and perform, and don’t ever stop listening to a wide variety of music. Do you love jazz? Listen to every Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa recording that you can find. If you play along with these masters every day, metaphorical wheels will start turning and you’ll find yourself with control you didn’t think you had. You’ll make mental and physical connections every time you pick up a pair or sticks, whether you’re playing by yourself or with others.

To summarize, let us return to the question, “Should drummers focus on one style or genre?” In my 20 years as a percussionist, I say yes AND no. That’s music for ya, folks!

Marietta music lessons with Paul S.Paul S. teaches drum, piano, music theory, in Decatur, GA. Paul’s specialties include classical, jazz, and popular music styles. Find out more about Paul here!



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How Long Does it Take to Learn Drums?

3425668810_e1331e1d4d_bHow long does it take to learn drums? Find out the reality in this guest post by Seattle, WA drum teacher Mason L...


Many of my new drum students ask me this question a few weeks into their lessons: “How long does it take to learn the drums?” The answer to that question depends on what you’re trying to get out of drumming. If you want to master a few songs and beats, it might take a couple months; if you want to be reliable and confident enough to be in a band, it might take a year or two. But the great drummers we all look up to, the ones who have great careers as drummers, see drumming as a lifelong journey of constant learning. There are so many drumming techniques and styles that even if you master rock drumming, or swing harder than Tony Williams, there is still so much to learn.

My students usually ask me this question with a concerned tone, as they’re struggling with a concept we’ve been working on. Just like anything else you learn to do, sometimes you can feel uninspired, or maybe you feel stuck. Everyone has this feeling at some point, whether you’re just beginning to learn drums, or you’ve been drumming for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed some things about the way I learn to drum, the way I practice, and the way I handle adversity.

Set Reasonable Goals

One big mistake that students make is that they bite off more than they can chew in the practice room. For example, my current long-term goal is to become a better jazz drummer, but my goal isn’t simply “learn how to jazz drum.” My current goal is to develop my right hand to play a swing ride cymbal pattern consistently and quickly; more precisely, I’m working on playing a swing ride cymbal pattern at half note = 140. Setting goals is one of the keys to being successful, but if you set your goals too broadly, you might frustrate yourself by trying to handle too much at once. If you set smaller goals, you’ll make progress faster than if you set larger goals, and you’ll notice yourself improving when you see that you’ve completed your goal.

Be Strategic About Your Practice

The strategy of your drum practice is just as important as the amount of time you practice. Before you sit down in the practice room, you should decide what you are going to work on, and how long you’re going to work on it. Maybe you have three different things to accomplish; plan out exactly what you’re going to do and how long you’ll be doing each of the three things. It’s possible to waste a lot of time finding materials, thinking of what to do, and just jamming. If you’re drumming without a recording, always practice with a metronome. And make sure to learn about the way you practice and find the amount of time you can focus and work. I work best in small amounts of time with short breaks in between; I can cram and practice for large chunks of time, but only rarely. Figure out what works best for you.

Give Yourself Time to Improve

Remember that it takes time to learn drums well. When you feel like you haven’t made a lot of progress recently, check your list of goals to see what you’ve accomplished. If you have the gear, you can record yourself with an audio recorder or a video camera. It’s a little strange to watch or listen to yourself at first, but reviewing recordings is one of the least forgiving, quickest ways to find your weak areas and improve them. When you need a break from working, go back to lessons you’ve already worked through or songs you can play and remember what it feels like to be comfortable behind your instrument. If you’re spending a good amount of time drumming, and you have good practice habits, you’re probably making progress.

Music takes a lifetime to master, but you don’t have to be a master to enjoy music. Beginners can enjoy playing music and listening to music just as much as the experts. With time and good practice habits, you can make progress quickly and efficiently. And, in the grand scheme of things, making progress feels just as good as playing drums.


Mason L. teaches drums in Seattle, WA. He received his Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance from University of North Texas and has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Mason here!



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4 Steps to Prepare for Drum Lessons in Your Home

2435809775_05a4461713_bExcited to learn the drums? If you’ve opted for in-home lessons, check out these pointers from teacher Lauren P. to make the most of your time…


If you are nervous about how to prepare for your first drum lesson, relax — your lack of experience makes you the perfect student. Remember that teachers get nervous as well. They don’t want you to be an expert who doesn’t need their help. They want you to be friendly, interested, and willing to listen to their advice.

When you sign up for lessons, you may notice that some teachers offer the option of in-home lessons. Follow these simple steps to prepare for your first drum lesson in your home.

1. Come prepared with questions and new material

Use your lack of experience and knowledge to your advantage. No teacher wants a student who knows everything already. Be upfront about your shortcomings and goals, and your teacher will be relieved to have such a great student. If you have an “assignment” you want to learn, show your teacher a song link or piece of sheet music you want to learn. If possible, email or text him or her ahead of time with your ideas. This may allow him or her to come prepared with some engaging and helpful materials. During your school, band, or independent practice, take note of any questions or challenges you face. Write them down so you remember to ask for tips during your lesson.

2. Ask for a homework assignment

The best preparation is proactive preparation. If you speak with your teacher before your first lesson, consider asking the following questions:

  • “Should I buy any specific book(s)?”
  • “Should I practice specific pages or techniques ahead of time?”
  • “Do I need a drum pad, snare drum, or drum set?”
  • “Do I need any specific accessories like a metronome or drum brush?”
  • “Are there websites or YouTube links I should use to preview any skills or techniques ahead of time?”

Write down any instructions, materials, tips, tricks, song links, and page numbers you will need for practicing purposes. Keep these written assignments with your drum and workbooks so you don’t waste valuable practice time looking for materials.

If your tutor suggests pages from a book, practice them and strive to move on to the next skill or difficulty level. By mastering or at least introducing yourself to the piece of music, you will learn at a much faster pace. Showing this extra commitment will encourage your teacher to expect more from you, push you further, and help you learn the drums in less time.

3. Make a daily schedule: commitment over quantity

Do not wait until 10 minutes before your first lesson to warm up. The best way to prepare for your first drum lesson is to practice 10 or 20 minutes every day instead of one hour the day before your first lesson. You should schedule this practice time into your day just like you would schedule an appointment or class. Scheduling means you do not waste time making excuses or thinking about when or how long you will practice. Instead you simply practice when it is time for practice!

If you already have some experience playing the drums, practicing every day builds muscle memory and eliminates the threat of forgetting a skill. If you are completely new to drumming, search for YouTube videos of basic drum techniques, or simply pay attention to drum beats when listening to music. Spending 10 minutes a day attempting to replicate what you heard or saw will definitely help you as you learn the drums.

4. Have materials ready

When taking drum lessons in your home, the last thing you want to do is waste time or money. Now that you are mentally prepared for your lesson, it is time to get physically prepared! Don’t waste your valuable lesson time finding sheet music, song links, or other materials. Keep your drum set and supplies organized and in their appropriate places to avoid any wasted time looking for what you need. If you bring materials back and forth from home to school, make a habit of putting your drum sticks and sheet music back where they belong the moment you get home.  When your drum teacher arrives, you should be ready to take a seat at your drum and get started immediately.

Good luck with your drum lessons! Don’t have a teacher yet? Search for a drum teacher in your area here!

LaurenPLauren played concert snare drum and the drum set for five years and acted as a private teacher for the snare drum and drum set for three years. Currently she tutors various subjects in New York, NY. Learn more about Lauren here!



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2620170206_8bdb56da66_o (2)

How to Find (and Purchase) a Quality Used Drum Kit

2620170206_8bdb56da66_o (2)Looking around at used drum kits? Buy with confidence with the following tips from Lancaster, OH drum teacher John S...


When you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a drum set, the most important considerations in my opinion are why the kit is being purchased, the kit configuration, and the condition of the drums. You’ll also want to think about the pros and cons of buying used vs. new gear. I’ll now explain these points in more detail. Please note that although this article’s focus is on used gear specifically, much of this advice can be applied to purchasing a new kit as well, if you decide to go that route.

Think About Why You’re Purchasing the Drum Kit

This is important because it will help you determine how much to spend, the kit size, and level of quality. For example, purchasing a general purpose starter kit for a young drummer can be different from buying a kit for a specific professional application. I would recommend four or five drums, a hi-hat, ride cymbal, and crash cymbal for a first drum set for a young or new student.

Consider the Kit Configuration

As far as drum dimensions, here is where I’d start: 14″ diameter snare drum between 5″ to 6.5″ deep; 20″ or 22″ diameter bass drum between 14″ to 16″ deep; 10″, 12″ & 14″ diameter tom toms which would be about 8″, 9″, and 11″ to 14″ deep, respectively. I’d recommend at least two toms and three at the most. If purchasing only two toms I’d recommend 12″ and 14″ diameter drums, which would be about 8″ deep on the small tom and 11″ to 14″ deep for the floor tom.

For cymbals, I’d recommend 13″ or 14″ diameter hi-hats (medium weight top cymbal and heavy weight bottom cymbal), 20″ diameter ride cymbal (medium or medium-heavy weight), and a 17″ or 18″ diameter crash (thin or medium-thin weight). I think these sizes and weights are the best for general purpose playing.

Another consideration when buying cymbals is the profile, or arch, of the cymbal. Look at the cymbal from the side and see how curved or flat it is. I generally prefer warmer lower pitched cymbals so I look for flatter profiles. Higher profiles (more arch) will produce higher pitches. The weight of a cymbal affects the pitch too. Thinner cymbals have lower pitches.

Look at the Drum Condition

As you search for quality used gear, make sure that everything is in good condition. I always take all of the drum heads off and inspect the drum shells to make sure they are not warped and to verify that the bearing edges (the area where the drumhead makes contact with the shell) are in good condition (smooth and even rather than dented or nicked, for example). Another thing to look for on the bearing edges of wood shells is ply separation. Minor ply separation is probably not going to be a serious problem and can most likely be fixed with wood glue and clamps.

I also make sure that nothing has been exposed to smoke, excessive sunlight (signs of fading on the finish, for example) or moisture. Check to ensure that the drums are free of excessive rust or corrosion (minor issues can usually be taken care of with some appropriate cleaners, such as chrome polish, and lubricants) and make sure tension rods (screws that hold drum heads and hoops in place) and drum hoops (fits around the drum head and attaches to the drums with the tension rods) aren’t bent or warped. I like to lay the hoops on a thick glass surface and make sure the hoops don’t wobble back and forth very much. If they do, it can be impossible to properly tune a kit with bad hoops.

Check cymbals to make sure they aren’t cracked. Interestingly, sometimes cracked cymbals can have really desirable and complex sound qualities that you might want on certain occasions. Generally, however, you should avoid cracked cymbals. Additionally, I always play all of the cymbals together (hi-hat, ride, crash, etc.) to make sure they all sound good with each other (pleasing and complementary pitches and tones that work well as a collection of sounds).

Personally, I don’t mind if used cymbals are a little dark and dirty, as long as it’s from normal use and age. If the grime is bothersome you can clean the cymbals by checking for cleaning products made by that specific cymbal company (use only Zildjian products for Zildjian cymbals, for example). Make sure to read all of the directions on the cleaning bottle. Finally, make sure your purchase is returnable in case you discover a problem after you’ve had a chance to thoroughly inspect, test, and play everything at home.

Some Pros and Cons of Used vs. New Gear

Finally, consider the pros and cons of buying new versus used drum kits.

Used Gear -Pros

  • Great quality at cheaper price.
  • Could buy vintage, collectible, or otherwise out-of-production gear. Note: for collectible gear make sure your purchase contains everything that was originally sold together (no missing pieces or later additions, for example, otherwise the collectible value won’t be as high).

Used Gear – Cons

  • Manufacturing standards may not be quite as good as today’s new gear.
  • Some repairs may be desired/necessary (possible ply separation on wood shells, corrosion to clean, damaged or missing parts, etc.).
  • Replacement parts may be hard to find if out-of-production.

New Gear – Pros

  • Today’s manufacturing standards are probably better due to technological advancements and computers (which may mean being able to buy lower-end gear today that sounds as good as middle of the road or even high-end gear in the past).
  • More cymbal sound options (sizes, weights, and lathing, for example), drum sound (more shell composition and bearing-edge options, for example), and finishing options now than in the past.

New Gear – Cons

  • May be price prohibitive to buy brand new high-end gear.

Final Thoughts

When buying used drum kits and cymbals, you might have to make a series of separate purchases. Even with used drum kits, be aware that cymbals, hardware, bags, or cases, for example, may not all be included in one purchase price. If you are also looking for a drum instructor I’d be happy to be of assistance. Have fun shopping!


John S. teaches drums and music recording in Lancaster, OH. He has been playing the drums for more than 30 years and has been teaching students since 2010. Learn more about John here!



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violin for kids

How to Measure the Success of Your Child’s Violin Lessons

violin for kidsWhen it comes to violin for kids, how can you tell if your investment and energy is worth it? Here, San Francisco, CA violin teacher Carol Beth L. shares her advice…


Parents and teachers want the best for their children and students. Both want to believe in their children’s potential. So do the children themselves. All groups want the child to be successful. But not all of them measure success in the same way. When children, parents, and teachers disagree on what it means to be successful – and how to reach that success within music lessons – it can cause conflict that impedes the child’s progress as he or she learns to play violin.

Keep Your Child’s Goals in Mind

The first step is to make sure you know what your goals are, and to ensure that the goals of the child, parent, and teacher are compatible. Success for a budding professional and for a casual amateur may look very different. Like your definition of success, your goals need not be identical with your child’s or your teacher’s – merely compatible.

Once you have set your goals, success is much easier to define. If your goals are lofty, however, be careful not to let it undermine your child’s lessons. Many violin teachers are familiar with parents for whom success means finishing one song and starting the next one really quickly. We realize that not all parents think this way. But for those that do like to go fast, not so fast. If it happens, it happens. But if it doesn’t, don’t rush.

Keep Your Expectations in Check

A few years ago, I taught a summer camp with a viola student who joined at the last minute. I only knew he was supposed to be a book two student by Suzuki standards. On the first day, I listened to each student play. He took out music for “Bourree,” which is indeed a book two piece in the Suzuki method. He prefaced his performance by saying, “I’m not very good at viola.” He was right, but it was not his fault. When he played, it was clear that he had been pushed to play music that was too difficult for him. He realized his true level, and became demotivated because he couldn’t play the songs he was being assigned.

Another summer, a violin student was considering coming to my area and was interested in continuing lessons. He had had three teachers over the course of two years. When the first teacher didn’t push him to go fast enough, the mother found him another teacher. Later, she had her son audition for an orchestra. The people auditioning gave an honest assessment of his level, and noted that he was missing some basic technique. Fortunately, the mother respected their opinions very much. Unfortunately, some damage had already been done. His third teacher asked him to redo some songs in order to pinpoint technical skills he had failed to learn previously. He became frustrated and bored, and he was no longer as motivated to practice. Pushing him forward so quickly with his second teacher undermined the child’s ability to do his best.

A student is much more likely to be successful if he or she does not rush, but advances steadily and solidly, learning each piece with precision and solving any problems along the way.

Make Sure FUN is Part of the Equation

Some parents and children also come in with the view that violin for kids should be fun. I agree. Fun and humor help students learn and assimilate information, and also stay motivated. At the same time, it should not come at the expense of being serious. And yes, it is definitely possible to be serious and have fun at the same time!

Using music to connect with others and make friends is a wonderful way to incorporate fun into music. As I grew up, my mother and her friends made a point to bring us young musicians together to play music. One of my college friends only takes her violin out when we meet to play duets – but loves it when we do. Many Suzuki teachers have group classes for their students in addition to private lessons, even as beginners. Local Suzuki teachers around the world also organize and host local summer institutes – week-long camps for violinists and other musicians ages 18 and under, again including beginners. For more advanced students, many cities have youth orchestras students can join.

Success looks slightly different for nearly every violin student out there, since the combination of goals and interests is different for everyone. Nevertheless, having a clear understanding of each party’s goals and the opportunities in your area will help you, your child, and your teacher know what success looks like. This in turn will help you measure the success of your child’s violin lessons.

CarolCarol Beth L. teaches viola and violin in San Francisco, CA. She currently plays viola in the San Francisco Civic Orchestra and has been teaching students since 2012. Learn more about Carol Beth here!



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Setting the Right Goals for Violin: 4 Questions to Guide You

8336824466_2de008b312_bBefore you start learning violin music for beginners and all of the violin techniques you need to know, it’s smart to write down specific goals you’d like to achieve. Here, San Francisco, CA violin teacher Carol Beth L. share some guidance to get you on the right track…


Teachers, students, and parents of younger students come to the table with different expectations about violin lessons. Even before beginning the lessons, it is important to talk about those goals to make sure everyone is on the same page, and that at a minimum, no one’s goals interfere. A few basic questions can usually help pinpoint appropriate goals, and may even help you decide if you’ve found the right teacher.

1) Why are you choosing the violin, and who is choosing it?

With young students, sometimes the child chooses an instrument, and sometimes it’s the parent. While adult students more often choose their own instruments, peers may have an influence as well. Sometimes no one cares much which instrument it is; other times, several parties might care strongly. Violin could be on the table because a friend or family member plays violin, because the prospective student saw a beautiful violin concert, or because it’s just what’s available. These are all valid reasons. In most cases, though, especially for small children whose parents must approve and pay for related expenses, lessons will go more smoothly if the choice of instrument is not one-sided. For adults, also, if your peers are encouraging you and they are involved in your motivation for picking up the violin, it is important that their motivations be sufficiently matched by your own affinity for the instrument.

2) What role do you wish the violin to play in your life?

You may have heard about research indicating that classical music can encourage people to think in new and different ways, allowing them to improve academically. (If you haven’t, start by googling the Mozart Effect.) Others may value the new or deepened friendships found in other musicians. Maybe you just want to learn violin music for beginners for a fun hobby. Still others may hope for talent worthy of a career as a professional. Knowing your goals can help your teacher point you to appropriate resources. In some cases, teachers may focus on certain age ranges or levels. If your situation doesn’t match, they may be able to direct to you a more appropriate colleague.

3) For children, how much parent or family involvement will there be?

This depends on the family, family situation, and age of the child. Younger children often require more guidance, while older children and teens may benefit from gradually increasing independence. In the Suzuki method, parents and siblings are encouraged to stay and watch the lessons. Parents who want to be more involved tend to like this model, and children can benefit greatly when parents can help them between lessons because they know exactly what went on in the lesson. In some cases, however, it may not be feasible for parents to be present. Some of my students are in an after-school program, for example. These students’ parents are often at work during the day, and unable to attend or find separate times to take students to lessons. This does not mean that they are not interested; they communicate on a regular basis and support their child at home. It does mean, however, that they do not have the benefit of seeing what goes on in the lesson. If your child is the one taking lessons, make sure you and your violin teacher are on the same page.

4) How much time will the student spend practicing the violin on a regular basis?

There is no set answer for this question, and the right amount of time varies from student to student with age, level, and goals. Appropriate practice times may vary from around 10-20 minutes a day for very young beginning students to two to three hours or more a day for very serious students. The constant in all cases should be that practice is regular, and that the musical or technical goals for the next lesson take a priority over the number of minutes the student practices. Depending on your teacher, he or she may have specific practice requirements, and will be able to tell if those requirements are being met. If you have practice limitations at home, letting your teacher know will allow him or her to either suggest solutions or adjust expectations to meet what you are able to do. Long-term expectations of all parties need to overlap reasonably in order to avoid frustration.

As you talk with your or your child’s teacher, you may find other areas that help you set the right goals. Do your best to keep the communication open, and if something is not going the way you expected it to go, say something! It may help you reach, adjust, or even discover new goals for your violin lessons.

CarolCarol Beth L. teaches viola and violin in San Francisco, CA. She currently plays viola in the San Francisco Civic Orchestra and has been teaching students since 2012. Learn more about Carol Beth here!




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