Teachers Forum

Forming An Approach

by Charley Perry

Charley PerryNoted author-teacher Charley Perry — long recognized as a leading authority on modern drumming methodology — has worked with artists Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Buddy Morrow, to name a few. An ex-Kenton Band Camp faculty member, Charley now serves on the faculty of Five Towns College in New York and devotes the majority of his time to teaching.

When I first began to teach drumming, I did a great deal of studying, mainly about methodology. I studied with one teacher after another, learning method upon method. I found however, that none of the methods were concerned sufficiently with the popular form of drumming. Instead, they dealt with one or more of the traditional forms or parts: orchestra and rudimental drumming, sticking technique, text book reading, etc. True, these traditional methods served the needs of the orchestra and rudimental drum student, but what of the jazz student?

Because most of my students were interested in the jazz form of drumming, I found it necessary — as did other teachers — to supplement the traditional format with the material of what can be termed ‘contemporary’, popular performance drumming. The constant need to supplement the traditional method, to alter or change it, seemed to indicate that a serious gap existed between drumming as it was taught, and drumming as it was professionally performed in the popular field. Because of this, I could not help asking myself many disquieting questions which challenged the methods that I had been taught to use as a teacher. I put two of these questions to the teaching profession as a whole: 1) Is the drum teacher viewing drumming as it has come to be, or is he merely projecting his own theories; theories formulated in a different era, with a different purpose in mind? 2) Is the student being taught to function in the contemporary music world, or is his learning experience fitting him for the kind of drumming long since gone?

If he is to reach the student, if he is to prepare him thoroughly for professional performance drumming, the teacher must know our current music world intimately. Ideally, the teacher should also be capable of participating in this world. It became evident then, that the supplementary approach was not enough; that it was essential to develop a comprehensive plan for teaching the jazz form of drumming. The traditional rudiments had to be viewed in their proper perspective — their possible relation to jazz drumming. Reading had to be correlated with jazz interpretation; technique had to be applied to the entire drum set, instead of merely to the snare drum.

What I had learned over the years through listening, observing, assimilating, and performing had to be documented and formularized. The drummer’s rhythmic patterns, fill-ins, and solos had to be related to improvisation, the chorus form, the rhythm section, the soloist, the group, etc. The principles of jazz drumming had to be clearly formulated to provide a basis for a system of teaching this form of drumming. Thus, my approach to teaching took form.

No form, however, should be thought of as being absolute or unchangeable. To settle on one way, and one way only, is to invite stagnation. Music is not a static art, but a dynamic process; teaching should be the same. No method, therefore, beautifully wrought as it may be in principle, should be rigid. Flexibility in any teaching system is a “must” if it is to succeed. An evolving concept, a change in purpose and direction in music, must be recognized and acted upon by the teacher. Ideally, the teacher should even be actively involved in the developmental process that is taking place in music today.

A crucial point is the bridge between the subject matter, the student, and the method. The link between the three must be strong if the method and the subject matter are to serve the essential needs of the student. Since each person in this world is different from every other person, it is important that the teacher vary his approach with each individual. He must truly know each student’s strengths and weaknesses, immediate problems and needs, goals and purposes. This is accomplished by careful observation of the student and through discussion with him, beginning with the very first lesson. Only then, can the teacher determine the best course of action and in many cases, even help the student develop appropriate aspirations and incentives.

On the other hand, the “generalized” approach to a student-teacher relationship is weak. This method treats every student alike regardless of the student’s needs, desires or abilities. With this concept, the teacher may smother the student with a mass of poorly related material, taking for granted that some of the information will be useful to, and probably assimilated by, the student. Since the material is presented in an isolated manner, the student finds himself left fairly much on his own without proper guidance. He is then confronted with the monumental task of relating ‘flat facts’, to the actual performance. True, the teacher may use much of the same study material with almost all of the students, but when and how it is used are the key factors in the success or failure of any course of study.

Too many teachers quiet inner doubts by becoming overly concerned with technique or method. By assuming a wholly technical emphasis, the teacher can remove himself from anxiety producing issues and problems. But in so doing, he also removes himself and the student from the very essence of music itself. The spirit, fervor, charm and spontaneity of the musical experience is lost.

Obviously, there are many problems and possibilities in forming an approach to teaching. I hope that what has been said here will encourage a re-examination of some previously held views, and stimulate some discussion among members of our profession.