There are many techniques to use when teaching drumming to special-needs students. When I train and certify drum instructors, doctors, and therapists in the Drum Therapy curriculum of the DAD Program, one of the most important things I stress is to make sure the student is not rushed through the lesson material in order to cover all of the curriculum immediately. It may take several weeks for a student to truly master a basic skill. Therefore, it will be more effective to slow down and work at a pace that is comfortable and productive for an individual than to risk the therapeutic alliance by using a pace that is too fast.

Be sure to explain and teach all rhythms and patterns slowly, and repeat them as often as possible. You might also want to have the student bring in a tape recorder so they can hear you playing the lesson correctly and slowly. This helps people with retention, coordination, and audiological disabilities to practice the rhythms and patterns correctly, and at their own pace. It will also help them to increase the tempo easier.

It is pertinent to explain all exercises and examples in a manner that is compatible with the student’s level of comprehension and sophistication. For example, while some students can readily understand exercises and concepts of the lesson in their entirety, others might require simpler, more concrete examples, which are easier for them to comprehend and perform. Therefore, check with student frequently to be sure they understand the lesson, and that the material feels relevant to them.

You also want to be alert to signals from students who think the lessons will not benefit them. This will be especially true for students with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. These students will often let you think that their lesson is a waste of time, when in fact they enjoy playing the drums and their lessons very much.

Another signal to watch for is loss of eye contact by the student during the lesson. Drifting away, giving overly brief responses to your questions, failing to come up with examples or to study or practice at home are additional signs that indicate the special-needs student might be frustrated or overwhelmed.

Teaching special-needs students takes much time and repetition. While key concepts are repeated throughout a lesson, drum instructors should recognize that repetition of whole sessions or parts of sessions can help students who cannot readily grasp these concepts, which can be due to cognitive and/or physical impairment.

Drum students cannot master new exercises just by reading them alone, or watching their instructors perform them. They must learn to master an exercise or technique by trying it themselves. This will be most difficult for special-needs students. Therefore, drum instructors must work with these students carefully and patiently, in order to help the student achieve success.

Drum instructors should also have the student practice new exercises over and over again before the end of the lesson. This is an essential and effective component of helping the student develop retention and coordination. It will ensure that the student has a good understanding of all exercises and techniques before the class is over, and they will have an easier time practicing at home. Remember, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating for the student when they put a lot of time and energy into playing just one rhythm or pattern all week, and then find they’ve been playing it incorrectly the whole time.

Repeating all exercises and patterns will help special-needs students have an enjoyable time both at the lesson and during practice sessions at home. You want to be sure the student knows how the rhythm, patterns, and measures sound, so they can practice them correctly at home. Practice is only useful if a special-needs student sees its value and then tries to expand the tempos and permutations of the rhythms and patterns they learn.

Compliance with expanded execution of a lesson can be a major problem for many of these students. Therefore, it is extremely pertinent that students do not become frustrated with the rhythms and patterns of the lesson. It is also mandatory that you are patient, which will help the student focus and remain calm, especially when teaching ADD and ADHD students.

Drum instructors should not expect their students to practice without understanding why practice is important. Therefore, the drum instructor should stress the importance (and fun) of the exercises. Leave enough time at the end of each session to review each exercise in detail. Students should be given the opportunity to ask questions about the exercises they just performed. Drum instructors should ask students to identify any problems they think they might have with practicing the lesson by themselves at home, and then apply a problem-solving strategy to help the student work through any obstacles that they might have. Special-needs students should also be active participants in the lesson-planning process, and they should have the opportunity to develop practice routines with the instructor so they will have an easier time when they practice them at home.

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.