Drummer/Educator Pat GesualdoDrum instructors can have difficulties with managing their lesson environment when teaching special-needs students. This includes both individual and group lessons.

When I train drummers, doctors, and teachers in the techniques of Drum Therapy, I always make sure to mention that several factors in the patient’s background can lead to difficulties in the treatment process. I also make sure to teach them how to help maintain control in the treatment environment.

Sure, the drum lesson environment can get a little out of hand for mainstream students from time to time. But it becomes extremely magnified with special-needs students. Some of these factors are directly related to psychological, behavioral, or emotional issues that the student might have. Some of these issues can be genetic, or they can be developed directly from learned behavior from parents or caretakers.

Drum Instructors should remember that they really can help control an out-of-control lesson environment. It can be done by keeping a positive attitude, and being extremely patient. Making a positive influence upon students at all times is also a very important part of keeping a well-managed lesson environment. Setting limits for the students and setting time frames of exercises will also help to keep a well-structured class. (I promise you, it does.) In working with special-needs people with extreme behavioral issues, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit with drumsticks, have had chairs thrown at me, have resolved major fights between children, or have had children and adults come up and hit me—sometimes only upon entering the room.

The extreme environment I just described is conducive to Drum Therapy’s therapeutic effects. However, milder environments can be very much like a regular drum lesson. In a mild Drum Therapy setting, I need to keep telling the patient to pay attention to what I’m saying or doing, just as a drum instructor needs to do from time to time in a mainstream lesson.

It’s important that drum instructors establish ground rules from the start of the very first lesson, when they are introduced to the student for the first time. So you don’t make it sound like school, or scare the student so that they won’t come back, tell them nicely that you will work together to make them the best drummer they can be. In order to do that, they must listen to you and practice everything you show them. This is especially true when you teach hyperactive students. This why it is important to get as much of a background from the parents first, to see what type of student you will be teaching. Sometimes a parent will offer information on a student’s disability right away, and sometimes they won’t. It is also important to remember that we as drum instructors are often the very first person to notice that a child has a disability, just as a result of what we do in teaching coordination and retention. Adult special-needs students will usually inform their instructor of their disability when they first meet.

Parents of special-needs students will often not disclose their child’s problem. This can happen for two reasons. One is that the parent does not want to accept that their child has a disability. The other reason is that the parent truly has no idea that their child has a disability.

So how can drum instructors help establish and maintain a controlled atmosphere in a drum lesson? Here are a few tips:

You must have an extreme amount of patience. This will help set a solid foundation for your lesson and help the special-needs student to become motivated easier.

Communicate all directions clearly and slowly. This will help the special-needs student get a better understanding of what it is you are trying to tell them.

Play all examples on the drumset or drum pad slowly. This will help the special-needs student see and hear what it is you are trying to show them. Listening and repeating is a common difficulty for students affected by a disability.

Repeat all exercises and information often. Some special-needs students might have problems with memory or with coordination development. This will help them to get a complete and overall understanding of the exercise or pattern.

Keep enough time at the end of each lesson for student review. It is extremely important that the special-needs student knows how to play the exercise or homework correctly at home. As with students who don’t struggle with a disability, it can take twice as long for a special-needs student to learn something the right way after a bad habit has been formed.

Remember that it can also be extremely difficult for special-needs drum students to follow procedure. This can be very tough on the drum instructor. It’s even worse for the instructor if the student is also disruptive. But it’s important to remember that these students usually don’t behave this way on purpose; it’s usually a result of their disability.

Another way to help maintain control in a difficult lesson environment is to verbalize positive reinforcement. For example, this could be done by saying, “You are going slow, and doing great.” This type of suggestive behavior modification sets a positive tone, which will help the lesson run a little smoother.

It can be extremely difficult to maintain control in a difficult lesson environment. You can succeed, though; it just takes a lot of patience.

As always, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with questions or for further information on becoming a certified Drum Therapist.

Pat Gesualdo is an award-winning drummer, author, and clinician who has performed and recorded for various Columbia, Warner Brothers, Atlantic, RCA, and Paramount Pictures artists and special projects. He was nominated to Who’s Who In America and was an associate voting member for the Grammy Awards. He is the author of The Art Of Drum Therapy. For more on Gesualdo and the D.A.D. program, go to www.dadprogram.org,www.myspace.com/dadprogram, www.zildjian.com, or www.myspace.com/patgesualdo.