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There are few instruments that have as visual an impact as a brand spankin’ new drum set. The shine of the hardware, the shimmering cymbals – combined with the finish of choice, and wow, jaw-dropping. Starting to play the drums is either a child’s dream, or a childhood dream – the chance for the grown-up to finally realize the dream they always had to jam to their favorite songs, which for some reason or other didn’t happen when young.
We watch our favorite drummers, and it looks easy, right? What groove! Maybe we air drum most of their songs, and we may even ‘know’ them note for note. So how hard could it be to just sit down and start playing? Well, plenty hard!
Once we realize that we need some training to play even simple beats, we find that there are several options, each with their pluses and minuses. One of the very popular methods of instruction is instructional DVDs. The ability to play them whenever you want, selecting specifically what you want to focus on, and their very favorable price point compared to, say, one on one lessons, make them a very attractive option. But even in this arena, there are many options.
But some do stand out. Previously, TheParadiddler.com reviewed Mike Michalkow’s “Drumming System”, a complete course for beginner, intermediate, even advanced drummers – an encyclopedia of instruction, and highly recommended. I like to have multiple sources of instruction at hand, because you can learn from everyone something different. For example, as good as drumming greats are, such as Neil Peart, Steve Smith, Stewart Copeland, and others, they all will tell you how other drummers have either influenced them or changed their approach to drumming altogether. Since many of us do not have accessibility to drummers of that stature, others have stepped up to produce instructional DVDs that anybody can have access to, as if they were giving you lessons one on one. The “Drumming System” is one such product.
I’ve discovered yet another one that is on a par with the “Drumming System”, and definitely worth strong consideration. It’s Legacy Learning Systems’ “Learn and Master Drums”, authored by Dann Sherrill.
Mr. Sherrill is a professional drummer, Latin percussionist, and instructor in the Nashville, TN area. He has a very cool, ‘mentoring’ approach to his teaching style that is very appealing. As you watch him instructing you, he’s cheering you on as if you’re right there with him. It seems like he’s teaching a small classroom, while still making it feel like a personal experience.
An aspect of the program that I like is that the instruction is very linear. You are taken step by step from the very beginning, assuming you know very little about drums, and going from there. If you already know how to play, or consider yourself an intermediate player, then the beginning of the course may be a bit simplistic. However, I’ve found that watching these types of instructional DVDs from the beginning, even if we have some experience, is beneficial since there are aspects of drumming that either we were not taught, or serve as a point of review from a different perspective. I’m a huge fan of absorbing as much instruction from as many different teachers and players as possible, and then adapting our abilities and skills to that multiple knowledge base. It just makes us better rounded players.
Dann encourages the student to ‘master’ the skills and techniques currently being taught, and to not get impatient. He encourages you to take your time – there’s no rush. The point is to have fun learning. If it becomes a chore, it’s over. The more progressive topics that come later build on the previous topics. They are building blocks, and each skill learned makes the more complex ones easier to take on.
The course consists of 22 sessions. They are very logically organized, starting off with the very basics and then builds from there. Topics covered early include:
- Bass drum technique
- Proper hand movement
- Gripping the drumstick
- Setting up the snare drum
- Playing the bass drum and hi-hat together
- Adding the snare drum to the bass drum and hi-hat
- The Mother of all beats
What’s ‘the mother of all beats’? Well you’ll just have to get the course to find out!
Once the foundation is laid, the course then goes on to expand on those basics and shows the student how to incorporate these skills into recognizable music genres, such as:
- Blues and Shuffles
- Basic Rock Beats
- New Orleans and R&B Drumming
- and more
Again, these styles of music are introduced only after the skills and techniques necessary to play them have already been explained. This is where the ‘linear’ style of teaching shines.
The course contains several sessions dedicated to the ‘vocabulary’, or the ‘nuts and bolts’ of drumming. Session Ten is dedicated to the Rudiments. Although there are 40 official rudiments, the session does not focus on all of them. It instead focuses on the most common ones, and encourages the student to get good at a few, then progress to the other ones afterwards. This is a good way to approach the Rudiments because the amount of them can be daunting. But Dann breaks them down nicely and recommends starting slowly, making sure they sound good at a slow speed, then build up speed and accuracy from there. But for a more detailed course dedicated to all 40 rudiments, I recommend Lionel Duperron’s “Drum Rudiment System”, produced by Railroad Media.
Session 11 is dedicated just to Rolls, such as the Single Stroke Roll, closed rolls, open rolls, etc. That just shows how important these rudiments are! Session 12 is dedicated to the Moeller Technique. Again, Dann breaks it down very nicely, showing how to start off slowly and then pick up speed. He goes over the three fundamental Moeller strokes (downstroke, tap, and upstroke), and explains how to practice these strokes using specific exercises geared toward increasing speed and comfort behind the kit. This is a good starting point for practicing this method. However, for more advanced learning on this topic I recommend Mike Michalkow’s “Moeller Method Secrets”.
Some of the sessions in the course include topics that I consider not so much to be technical, but more abstract. In other words, they are more about mindset than about having good chops. Session 16 deals with “Time, Groove & Pocket”. Now really, you might be able to teach time (as in counting the beats in a bar, subdividing notes, and what not), but how do you teach groove? Or how do you play ‘in the pocket’? These are, in a sense, abstract concepts, but Dann teaches some exercises that steer the student towards improving groove and the feeling of playing ‘in the pocket’. In time (pun intended), you’ll be able to groove to the beat, and play in the pocket.
Session 20 deals with “Song Structure & Musicality”. This session is very important because it explains the drummer’s role in an ensemble, and the different parts of the song and the drummer’s role in those parts. This is where the drummer can apply the learned techniques in a band environment. Many times inexperienced musicians will play together and not even realize everything it takes to play music smoothly. This topic explains how if the drummer is keen to his/her role within the context of the song, it makes the other musicians’ roles easier to perform. ‘Backbone’ of the band indeed!
One of the more important sessions is the third one on the second DVD, “Musical Notation”. Learning to read music is essential to growth in music, drums included. Dann does a fine job of explaining the musical notation that drummers need to know to improve their chances to be in demand for gigs. In addition, it makes it easier to follow along with the lessons throughout the course. However, it isn’t totally necessary to know how to read music to follow along in this course. But the more one knows how to read music, the faster the growth.
Each session has a corresponding section in the comprehensive Lesson Book included in the course. The lessons include what’s discussed in the DVD, with ‘key ideas’ and references to the play-along songs discussed in the DVD. The student is also informed approximately how long it will take to learn the concepts taught in the session. At the end of each lesson, there’s a “You’re Ready to Move On When…” section which is a review of what was covered, so that you know what you need to be comfortable with before moving on. Each lesson starts with an inspirational saying related to music to motivate the student. For example, the beginning of Session Five, “Expanding on the Basics”, includes a quote from author Henry Van Dyke, who said, “Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except for the best.” True words indeed! You shouldn’t try to be Buddy Rich. Just be yourself – you may be surprised at what you produce!
And speaking of play-alongs, interspersed throughout the lessons are play-alongs that Dann uses to demonstrate each topic being presented, with the corresponding music notation on screen when appropriate. They may not always be modern or favorite songs of today, but it’s a good idea to play along with them so what’s being taught by Dann at that point can be practiced within the right context.
Another aspect of the course worth mentioning is the online resource available to students of the course. Although in my opinion this is not the strong suit of the course, it does have many threads relating to the course, and you can ask Dann any question and he will respond. I preach multiple resources, so I encourage students to not only take advantage of this course’s online forum, where you can ask fellow students and Mr. Sherrill himself questions related to the course, but also forums such as DrummerWorld.com. The latter forum has a vast array of drumming topics that drummers of all experience levels have been posting to for years.
In attempting to be a ‘complete’ drumming course, inevitably there are some aspects that could have used a little more detail, in my view. For example, I would have liked a whole session, or at least a significant part of one, on the setup of the drum kit. Ideas regarding setup are implied at various points, but a whole lesson would have been very helpful, especially for those who just got a kit and don’t know what to do with it!
Although Dann goes over bass drum technique a bit, and his guest instructor for double bass playing talks a little bit about the ideal position behind the kit, I feel that it is important to go even deeper into proper bass technique. Applying sound bass technique principles actually affects how we approach the rest of the kit. I strongly recommend Matt Ritter’s “Unburying the Beater” DVD, which to me is one of the best instructional DVDs available regarding proper bass drum technique.
As referenced earlier, some of the topics covered in this course, such as the drum rudiments and the Moeller Method, are covered more extensively in other courses dedicated to those topics, so to have a more complete library I strongly recommend obtaining those DVDs as well.
However, those DVDs also do not have what “Learn and Master Drums” has, and this review has only scratched the surface. Some of the ‘abstract topics’ covered in this course as mentioned above you will very rarely find elsewhere, which makes it unique. This course is an excellent way to start off years of enjoyment behind the drum kit. Much frustration can be avoided by listening to Dann Sherrill.
Never does Dann force any of the concepts and skills being taught ‘down your throat’, as it were. With every topic he seems to incorporate life lessons within the context of the drum kit, which is a very endearing quality. His enthusiasm permeates through the screen, and he seems like he genuinely wants the student to succeed, with an almost fatherly-like interest. Legacy Learning Systems has scored big with “Learn and Master Drums”. A very strong eight out of ten paradiddles!
Pricing for “Learn and Master Drums” is normally $249, which in my opinion is a steal. Currently, as of this review, Legacy Learning Systems has taken $100 off the regular price, so the entire course can be had for $149. Absolutely worth every penny! Payment plans are available as well. To order, click on the banner below, and get ready to put the fun in your drumming.