There Are No Shortcuts, Part I – 3 Tips for New Musicians
by Amanda Pollak
Confession: I tell most people I started playing drums four years ago. That isn’t exactly true.
The more accurate answer is that I took my first lesson with Tony Lee back in 2009, before Freeway Music existed and Tony was teaching in a tastefully decorated, rectangular stand-alone building on Devine Street called Two Four Drum Studio.
Back in those days, Tony wouldn’t let you near a kit until you could demonstrate proficiency on a practice pad, which is an uninspiring circular fusion of rubber and plastic used to hone your technique and sticking. I had no idea such a thing even existed, and Tony’s prescribed pedagogy was a clear diversion from what I expected. Um, hello, wasn’t he aware that I was supposed to be learning how to ROCK?!
Pictured above: me, at my first lesson
I quit after only a few lessons for a variety of reasons, namely because I had no disposable income nor space for a drum set, but my intrigue for percussion remained dormant for a few years until that fateful evening at Speakeasy where I decided I was going to try again. Something something following your dreams.
By now, Freeway Music was established and Tony’s dominion had evolved into a quaint brick office building with an entire floor dedicated to furthering musicianship across the Midlands. Upon walking into his new space, I was delighted to see an *actual drum kit, and even more delighted when we began my lesson by sitting down in front of said kit. Perhaps he had moved past that whole technique fixation and recognized that at long last, it was FINALLY time for me to rock. *Editor’s note: Tony would like to point out that his original location also had a drumset; usually, two kits were set up.
You see, I believed I was special, for I had been told that I had a natural inclination towards drums; a good sense of time and coordination; therefore, because I was so clearly ~*naturally talented*~ I had no need for this plebeian peasantry of working on rudiments and paying attention to my grip and my wrists. And of course, Tony would immediately realize just how advanced I was and would have to rework his approach because I was going to blow all of his expectations out of the water.
Yeah, no. I sucked at drums. I dropped the beat. I made rookie mistakes. I didn’t hold my sticks right (and still kinda don’t, heh). I had an ego which needed to be put in check.
Learn from me, friends. No matter your age or musical background, I believe there a few ideas from which all students may benefit before they play their very first note.
1. It isn’t going to be fun all the time.
When you’re watching your favorite guitar player shred on stage, just remember that for every minute you look upon him in awe, he has spent many, many minutes, hours, days, even years, practicing. Scales, chords, simple songs, running the same part over and over until his fingers bleed. It sure is fun to imagine yourself thrashing on stage, making people in the audience scream and cry and whatnot–but that comes later…after many hours holed up in your room, after a number of flubs in public, after trying to master a part that you Just. Can’t. Get. (but eventually you will), and that will make all the other boring, non-fun parts of learning totally worth it.
2. You might have natural talent–but you’ll still have to work at it.
Hey you, kid (or adult) who’s about to take music lessons. You’re special! And unique! You’re probably going to do great at whatever instrument you’ve chosen! Somewhere along the line someone may have told you that you’re really good at the bass or the clarinet or the piano, and I’m sure they’re not wrong, but don’t let that get to your head, mmkay? Your teacher isn’t assigning you things to practice because she can’t see how awesome you are; she’s assigning you things to practice because no matter how much talent you start off with, music has lots of things that need to be practiced. I guarantee that any musician you admire has already realized this. They weren’t born that good!
3. It’s your path–no one else’s.
Every now and then a video will pop up on Facebook of a 5-year-old who can play Led Zeppelin’s entire anthology on a drumset bigger than my apartment while riding on the back of an elephant or something, and I have a moment of defeat where I wonder why I even bother at all. As an adult who’s 4 years in, while many people my age have been playing most of their lives, I wrestle with comparing myself to others a lot. But then I remember how far I’ve come since I began, and how I can do things today that just a few months ago were beyond me. Making the decision to learn an instrument is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, and I hope it will be for you, too. It’s very easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but if you work hard, practice consistently, develop a positive attitude (that means you’re easy to work with–no divas, please!), and conduct yourself professionally, you’ll be shocked at how far that can take you.
Because if your goal is to truly play an instrument, and not just fool yourself into thinking you do, there are no shortcuts.
Stay tuned for There Are No Shortcuts, Part II: What I Had to Learn the Hard Way.