Don Lombardi

Drum Workshop founder Don Lombardi launched Drum Channel in 2008, and since then it’s been one of the premier sources of drum education on the Internet. Drum Channel boasts content from some of the top names in drumming history, including lessons and interviews from Gregg Bissonette, Terry Bozzio, Neil Peart, Chad Smith, and Peter Erskine, among many others. With excellent audio and video production levels, the site is popular with a wide range of players, from new students looking to get started to veterans seeking to tone up just one aspect of their playing. Some content is available for free, and the site also features live lessons from various instructors. We spoke to Lombardi about what makes the site tick.

MD: Who needs teachers anymore, with something like Drum Channel available?

Lombardi: I taught privately for twenty years and studied with some of the best teachers of all time. There’s no substitute for being taught and mentored by a great private instructor. Getting online lessons to support private instruction is the ultimate way to learn fast, not to mention the accountability of a weekly lesson. Of course, if private lessons aren’t possible, online is a great resource. Neil Peart once told me that [at one point] he was so frustrated, he was going to quit playing, and he only continued playing because his private teacher encouraged him not to quit. What a loss that would have been.

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

Lombardi: The pro is that you have a library you can watch anytime. The con is that you can’t say to a student, “No, it’s not like that, it’s like this.” This is a big con, as learning to play drums is not like learning any other instrument. My longtime private teacher, Freddie Gruber, used to say, “The drummer is the instrument. You have to learn how your body works to make two pieces of wood do anything you want.”

Of course, having a big online library is a great pro. My passion for teaching, along with knowing so many of the greatest players and their teachers, is why I started Drum Workshop in 1972 as a teaching studio. Drum Channel is now the Internet way I can memorialize their great and invaluable information.

MD: What strategy is used to divide online content between “telling” versus “teaching” or passive versus active instruction?

Lombardi: The new Drum Channel website includes even more passive and active experiences. You can choose to watch short five-minute Pro Secrets, full hour-long Masterclasses, or Courses, which give you college-level education. Great educators and players know there are three main areas you should focus on: how to play, what to play, and why to play.

On Drum Channel we have all of the information you need to learn how to play. That’s teaching in an active way, with live and on-demand lessons. You don’t need hundreds of lessons to show you how to play; you just need the lessons I’ve put together from teachers whose students are among today’s great players.

Telling you what to play is more passive. You can go onto YouTube and watch great drummers play all day. Drum Channel has over a thousand lessons from drummers sharing their information and ideas with you.

Looking at Drum Channel shows and DC TV will educate you about why you should play what you’ve learned, as you’ll hear the best drummers in the world discussing their careers.

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

Lombardi: There’s a community of hundreds of thousands of drummers worldwide, and it’s growing every month. One of the key things we learned along the way is that our mission is not only to educate drummers, but also to truly give them a place they can call home, hang out with other drummers, be heard, and feel welcomed.

As we’ve grown, we’ve discovered how important it is to offer students many different ways to learn. Offering students very short lessons on things like the rudiments is important to our beginner students. Play-alongs and our University Courses have been very successful for our intermediate to advanced users.

MD: In the Pro Secrets and Masterclasses on your site, you have little markers that say “beginner” or “advanced.” How does a student know what he or she really is?

Lombardi: We went through a significant testing process of revamping our offerings on the new site, including breaking down the content into smaller, more digestible pieces, and we introduced new experiences for drummers to be able to always know where they are on their journey. Courses are sorted by difficulty level as well as topics, and each course has a progress bar that drives students to a hundred percent completion of every course they take.

Don Lombardi

MD: Can students directly request a topic that’s important to them, and then you find a drummer to relay info on said topic? For instance, if enough students ask about trap-music drumming, will you take that into consideration and find an expert on it? Related to that, how do you come up with the topics?

Lombardi: This is a great question. It’s one of the most important interactions that we have with our members or even potential members. We send out polls and surveys both to members and nonmembers requesting things like artists they want to see, topics they want covered, or even ideas for new types of content. If enough students asked about trap drumming, we would seek out the best drummers in that area and begin building a catalog of content for that specific topic. We’re able to consult with the very best drummers in the world to get their perspectives on what is crucial information. We created Drum Channel to be more than just a learning platform; it’s a community—a place for all drummers to call home!

MD: As the field increasingly diversifies and expands, what are the key components to maintaining relevance? Is it things like Chad Smith’s show on the site?

Lombardi: Creating content that is unique, fun, and informative will always be our goal for our members. The Chad Smith Show is a great example of a way to learn without being in a lesson or course setting. It’s a rare setting where you can see Chad sit with all of these other great drummers and discuss not only music, but their lives and the influences that made them the people they are today.  

Don Lombardi

MD: How is the accountability of students addressed and assessed when working with hundreds or even thousands of students worldwide? Or is the progress of individual students not really something you can gauge?

Lombardi: Having someone sit with you and evaluate your progress and stumbling blocks is difficult to recreate online. However, we try to make sure that at the end of a lesson there’s a concrete and distinct goal that can be achieved. If you’re taking a course, each lesson will lead into the next one; therefore the responsibility is on the student to make sure that they can achieve the goal before moving on. We always field questions asking for help, and we’re always happy to offer tips or resources to students looking for evaluation or help.

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

Lombardi: Of course, everyone should take advantage of as much free content online as possible. Any time you see a drummer play, there’s the possibility of learning something. That’s what makes the instrument unique and so diverse. To quote my longtime friend Jim Keltner, “We’re all unique. You are not going to play like me, and I’m not going to play like you.” To determine value, whether through online or private instruction, it comes down to finding the right information from the right instructor. I know the educators on Drum Channel who are giving you their information charge hundreds of dollars per hour for private instruction, so I guess you could say it’s a great value to get everything for less than the price of one private lesson.

By Ilya Stemkovsky