Dave Weckl is one of the most accomplished drummers of his or any generation, having toured and recorded with everyone from Chick Corea to Paul Simon. Inducted in the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2000 and named one of the top 25 greatest drummers of all time by MD in 2014, Weckl has now broadened his reach with his own detailed and invaluable site for online instruction. With more than thirty-five hours of content, Weckl’s courses tackle everything from tuning to foot development to recording and mixing your own drums. As a bonus, the site also contains a plethora of live footage of Weckl onstage and some behind-the-scenes action in the studio.

MD: What are the pros and cons of online instruction?

Dave: One of the main advantages of online teaching is freedom. Teachers can tailor courses their way, and students can choose from a wide array of content that can be used on computers, phones, tablets, and TVs. Back in the days of tapes and DVDs, an artist might pitch or be pitched an instructional idea for a publishing company. The idea would have to be agreed upon, along with a production schedule and budget. In the end, the product would be a combination of those factors, all squeezed onto one or two DVDs in a costly package that required retail distribution. Online teaching allows me to choose what I want to teach and develop it my way. There is no time limit on course material, and I can edit and/or add to a course at any time. Time and money are saved when there is no need for packaging and retail markup.

I don’t believe there is a “con” to online teaching, besides the availability and stability of the Internet at any given time. It’s also not necessarily a replacement for a live one-on-one teacher, when one is available. I see it more as an upgrade to the aforementioned tape/DVD delivery method. And it can definitely complement traditional teachers. For example, I have an affiliate program that encourages teachers to use my material with their students. More people are becoming open to learning this way. It’s a way to reach people I may not normally reach, and to do it in a more in-depth way. This benefits the teacher and the student.

MD: What strategy is used to divide online content between “telling” versus “teaching” or passive versus active instruction? Students can comment on the lessons on your site, and there’s a Facebook component as well.

Dave: Online courses are passive by design when you compare them to one-one-one teaching, whether in person or on Zoom, Skype, etc. But with no time limit, I find that online courses can go into enough depth to bridge the gap. I can describe and demonstrate what I’m saying in many different ways and provide plenty of examples. One way that I try to keep it “active” is by keeping “office hours” in my private Facebook group that is specifically for the school members. All active subscribers may join the group and then ask questions and post videos. I make it a point to spend time each day responding, viewing, and critiquing videos, etc.

MD: Since starting, how has your reach/enrollment expanded, and what have you learned from your experiences as an online educator in terms of how to properly scale up?

Dave: My reach and enrollment have been growing each month over the past few years. The key has been to continuously offer more content and be responsive to my students. I’m very fortunate to have a loyal following on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. That was largely built on the musical content I provided over the years. The online school keeps that active because I can post portions of lessons for people to sample. That, in turn, drives many people back to the school, where they subscribe on a yearly or month-to-month basis.

Though I’ve released “entertainment” content, such as a full Dave Weckl Band concert and other non-lesson materials, I’ve learned that drummers prefer the instructional content. They want to know how I do the specific things I do. Staying true to that helps keep the school growing. This is why much of the course material is based on the things I’m known for. I also make sure to explain signature grooves and fills that come up in play-alongs. Generally, the people who subscribe have followed me for years. It’s to our mutual benefit when I understand what they really want from me.

MD: In 2020, what do drummers need to know that online learning helps facilitate?

Dave: For me, drummers will always need to know how to play for the music. That encompasses musical awareness and the ability to express oneself on the drums.

I weave these concepts into everything I teach. For example, in the technical sections, such as hand and foot development, I explain why it’s important to work on dynamics in the musical sense. Different techniques help achieve that goal. I teach those techniques not only in the physical sense, but by demonstrating their musical applications. I also offer several play-along packages that include a chart, a mix minus drums, and a full lesson. As I go through the chart and explain how I approached the tune, I explain that approach in the musical sense. I ask students to sing their drum parts before playing them—to get a sense of what they’re after in terms of the overall feel, and to ensure that they really understand the precision of the rhythms. While I invite the student to form his or her own approach, I make sure to explain why an approach may or may not work given the musical situation.

MD: Can students directly request a topic that’s important to them, and then you can decide if you’ll relay info on said topic? For instance, if enough students ask about drum ’n’ bass drumming, will you take that into consideration and possibly formulate a lesson on that? Or if it’s not something you’re particularly known for, can a student focus in on something like using the floor tom in solos, and then you have a way or desire to address that? Related to that, how do you come up with the topics?

Dave: Yes, I’ve definitely been responsive to the requests of the subscribers. This has included topics relating to the left-side floor tom, the recording/mixing course, my drum solo course, and several of the play-along packages. Of course, the meat of the school is the foundational concepts: ergonomic drum setup, hand and foot technique, time, groove, and so on. But I like the idea of focusing on topics that I’m not known for. Of course, some of those concepts require help. That’s why I invited Dom Famularo to sit in on a lesson on Moeller technique and a great South African drummer named Sidney Joseph to share and teach some rhythms and grooves from his homeland. The beauty of the online setup is that I can be responsive and collaborate with others as desire and opportunity dictate. And I can also update any given lesson at my discretion, keeping it current.

MD: As the field increasingly diversifies and expands, what are the key components to maintaining relevance, besides people generally wanting a “known” drummer’s insights?

Dave: For me, staying relevant as an educator online or otherwise is about continuing my music career and promoting my projects effectively online. Making new music with a diverse set of artists lends itself to staying relevant and also being desirable as a teacher. It reminds longtime drummers that I’m still here and introduces younger drummers to what I have to offer. The other aspect is differentiation. I’ve always tried to distinguish my presence in the drumming community. Outside of the way I play, I also tend to be associated with a good drum sound both live and on recordings. How I arrive at that point is the product of very deliberate moves. My courses are designed to explain how that all developed.

MD: With so much free content available, what’s the value for students that choose to enroll in online education?

Dave: This is something I thought about early in the process of planning my online school. To answer that, we had to look at other mediums where free and paid content exists. What we found was that in most industries, free or inexpensive versions often exist with paid and high-end choices. You can still find free download sites for music and software, but subscription sites are doing well. Software companies are profitable despite the free sites. Think about food, clothing, cars, accessories…everything. There’s a wide range of price points and benefits with each. Music lessons, of course, come in many forms. In each case, there’s always a healthy audience for the “better” option. When you charge market price for something, and you deliver what you promise, the crowd that prefers to pay for quality is always there. I think my online school and others that are doing well have proven that. This is the value in online education. It means getting what you paid for. If you’re serious about learning and can afford to pay, you’ll get much more for your time and effort.

By Ilya Stemkovsky