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Read Part 1
Read Part 2
I went straight to college after high school and didn't do choir or band. I did two years of general credits and then served a Mormon mission for a year and half. After my mission to Australia, I studied English literature at Southern Utah University. Just before registering for my last semester, I met with an academic advisor to make sure I was taking all the right classes for my major. Upon reviewing my projected school schedule, we both realized that I was, apparently, 3 credits short for graduation. I had taken everything possible for my major. What was I to do? The counselor told me that I could take an elective, something that wasn't directly associated with my major.
"Like what?" I asked.
"What have you always wanted to learn?" she answered.
"Play the drums," I said, chuckling to myself.
"We have a class for that." She pulled out a pen and pad of paper and wrote something down. "Go here," she said. She had written down a building and room number. "Talk to Dr. Vartan." I did and quickly enrolled in a class called something like, "independent lessons."
Private Drum Lessons
My first lesson was great! I re-learned how to hold the sticks, how to sit at the drum set, and I learned a few simple beats on the snare. She asked me what my goals were. "I just---" I told her, "want to play! I want to be able to sit down at a drum set, know what I'm doing and play stuff."
She smiled and said, "you will."
Because I was living in the dorms and couldn't have a drum set where I was living, (I couldn't afford one anyway), Dr. Vartan gave me a key to a practice room. A little larger than a closet, the room smelled like paint. I went there after dinner every day and practiced for at least an hour. As you can imagine, I quickly improved!
Taking private lessons weren't always easy. I often felt frustrated, especially when my sticks collided with each other, and I'd yell at my limbs to do what they were supposed to. ("No, leg! It's the left hand's turn to play!" etc.) Dr. Vartan assigned a book with a play-along CD, so I'd pop the CD in the small player behind the set and play along. This was my favorite!
My first set
After graduation, I decided to go to grad school in Arizona. Before leaving, however, I talked to a friend-of-a-friend who lived in the dorms. He was leaving to go on a mission for two years and selling his drum set. I didn't know much about purchasing drums or anything, and I'd have to go to his house in Salt Lake to pick them up. "I can't afford much," I told him. "And I don't even know what to look for in a set."
"You can learn to play on these," he promised.
So... I drove to Salt Lake and bought his drums for $100. A week or two later, I packed them in my truck and headed to Arizona. I practiced as often as possible but hit a dead-end in learning, so I found a local drum teacher. He taught me to play "Sweet Home Alabama" on my first lesson. I compared his set with mine and learned that I was missing "things" on my set. My bass, for example, didn't have legs, so when I practiced, I had to catch the set before it toppled over. Unfortunately, I could only afford 3 or 4 lessons with this drum teacher and was forced to quit, just as he was about to pair me up with a new guitar player so we could learn together.
Determined to keep up with my drumming, I surfed Youtube and pestered friends who played to teach me stuff. I had regular lessons with one friend (for a couple months), but he didn't know how to read music and didn't prepare for our lessons like a professional teacher would. Still, I learned some fun grooves that I could show to my friends as proof that I played the drums.
I wasn't interested in recording, and I ended up selling the roto-toms and tambourine pedals, anyway. The new set motivated me. Using Youtube, I learned to play along to "How's it gonna be" by Third Eye Blind. A few friends who played the guitar played songs with me sometimes, but I always felt limited in my drumming and wasn't sure how to best accompany them.
Making time to improve
I started teaching ESL, and all my time went to lesson planning, teaching and grading. I promised myself I could drum after teaching, but then I had to conference with students and adjust lesson plans, etc. Overall, I was exhausted by the time I could drum and/or it was too late in the evening.
This last year, I decided to lighten my teaching load a bit to make room for creative writing projects and, of course, drumming. I made it to the set more often, but never knew what I wanted to practice or work on when I got to the set. That's when I discovered DrumAmbition.com. I started with them two weeks ago. It's been a good fit for me so far. It's affordable, and the lessons are ordered in a way that makes sense. I don't have to fish around Youtube forever, not sure what I want to learn next. I especially appreciate the support Simon gives via email and Skype. If you're a drummer (especially new), I recommend you check them out!
When people first hear about me drumming, like new family or friends, the conversation usually goes something like this:
Friend: "You play the drums? You?"
Friend: "Are you in, like, a band?"
Friend: "I bet you learned in high school."
Me: "Not really..."
Friend: "What kind of music do you like to play? Jazz? Rock?"
Me: (shrug) "I like everything. I'm still learning and willing to try whatever. Maybe someday I'll play with others... but for now, I just play alone...."
My goal: play stuff.
Read Part 1
7th grade band
So, there we were, four of us on the percussion line: two boys and two girls. Randal was tall with floppy blond hair. Daniel was big and bulky, weighing as much as a large 9th grader. Jessica had freckles all over her face and weighed just as much as Daniel. I was small, skinny and self conscious of my growing breasts. We became good friends, especially at the beginning.
I learned about all sorts of instruments: marimba, xylophone, timpani, chimes, scraper, snare, bass, toms, triangle and more! Naturally, I was good at the marimba because it had keys like a piano. Randal was good at it, too, because he took piano, as well. He was a little bit of a show-off. I remember his floppy hair opened up and down like an umbrella when he played fast.
I wasn't interested in anything that reminded me of the piano. Despite all the lessons I took, I didn't consider myself a pianist. That was my older sister, who spent hours playing scales on our home piano. She accompanied nearly everyone in choir and sight-read all the hymns at church. Her posture was perfect, and she never struggled to keep her pinky down.
When it came time to choose which instruments we wanted to play for our upcoming band concerts, I stared longingly at the set in the back of the room. Only 9th graders were allowed to play it. Our options at 7th grade seemed limited to me. The snare was the most coveted, next to the large crash cymbal. I was lucky enough once to play the timpani, a large version of a traditional set (without cymbals), but I wasn't allowed to play it all the time. I had to give the other 7th grade percussionists an opportunity.
The crash cymbal was fun, but I dropped it once during rehearsal and Jessica took it over because she was bigger and could handle the weight. I might be exaggerating my memories, I admit, but I'm sure I played the triangle more times than anyone else. I don't ever remember seeing Randal with the triangle, and when I think about Daniel, I see him towering over the large bass drum for every song we played.
Pretty soon, I stopped hanging out with any of the other 7th grade percussionists. I made really good friends with a girl who played the clarinet, and I almost wished that I had had to use my back-up so I could spend more time talking and laughing with her. The girls who played flutes were nice. I made friends with some trombone and trumpet players, even though I thought it was disgusting when they blew their spit from their instruments onto the band floor.
Band verses Choir (again)
I made more friends in choir than I ever did in band (though I still talked with the girl who played the clarinet at lunch). At the end of the year, my choir teacher invited me to try-out for a girls' small singing group. I did and became second soprano, which spilled into my 9th grade. At the end of that year, all my choir friends were trying out for the high school choir, so I did, too. I was one of three sophomores who made the junior choir! What an honor!
My biggest regret
My heart told me to take band so I could play the drums, but I knew my choir friends would be disappointed if I didn't join the junior choir, so as a sophomore, I sang with the juniors, which sounds cooler than it actually was. The teacher was strict, the songs were harder (and often in other languages), and I was forced to sing alto, which I had never done before. We wore long green robes like on Sister-Act that were itchy and hot. All my friends were in the sophomore choir, and I felt terribly alone and shy.
The only joy I found each day I had to go to choir was the idea of seeing Mark Nelson, a tall handsome bass who stood 3 people away from me. Sometimes one of those 3 people would be absent, so he'd be closer, and I could smell his cologne.
Mark Nelson wasn't my friend. He flirted with other girls and hardly saw me. Once, I dropped a pencil and he picked it up for me. He smiled, and I squeaked out a "thanks." I stayed in choir for the rest of my high school experience.
My friends and I attended every football game, and I stared longingly at the kids playing drum line. I was too proud at the time to admit it, but I was wrong for staying in choir. It became the greatest regret of my life. (Read Part 3)
My mom has pictures and videos of me as a toddler banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons on the kitchen floor.
While potty training, I'd sit on a small training toilet 2 inches away from the TV and watch Animal go crazy on the drum set. I carried my toy drum and sticks around the house, marching and mimicking Animal's moves, down to every bang and yell. I wanted more than anything to play the drums. This a common tale for drummers like me, I'm sure.
Taking Piano Lessons
My parents have always been supportive of my dreams, but didn't enroll me in drum lessons. Instead, they made me play piano. I was 8 years old and met with Linda Eades, who lived two blocks away, every Wednesday after school. She seemed old to me, but was probably only in her early 40's. The hardest part about taking piano (besides losing my books, and you know---the actual practicing) was making my left pinky stay down. I don't know why, but it always stuck up in the air when I played!
Overall, taking piano wasn't too bad, but I knew in my heart that I wasn't a pianist; I was a drummer. Of course I'm eternally grateful to Linda Eades and other piano teachers I had over the years because I learned to read music, and that has been an invaluable gift! I also learned to play at least two hymns (religious music) on the piano before serving a Mormon mission in Australia. Consequently, I'll probably insist that my future kids play piano before any other instrument, too.
Band verses Choir
In 7th grade, my mom asked me if I'd like to do band or choir. I said "band, of course." Now, I don't know what it's like in the junior high world today, but when I was in 7th grade, only four kids were allowed to learn the drums. They made all those interested take a "beats" test, where you listen to beats and write the notation for what you heard. For me, at that time, it was the easiest test in the world!
After the test, the drum instructor told all parents and kids to choose a back-up instrument in case they weren't chosen as one of the four percussionists that year. Mom took the advise seriously. She led me to the sample instruments and told me to hold each one and decide what my back-up instrument would be.
"Here," she said, "what do you think of the saxophone? Kristi down the street plays it. She's a few grades ahead of you, and she really likes it. What do you think?"
"It's nice, Mom. Whatever," I said.
"Here's a clarinet! I really like the clarinet! Why don't you play this one?" She insisted.
"Sure. Whatever, Mom." The clarinet became my back-up, but I never learned to play it. I was chosen as one of the four drummers in 7th grade, like I knew I would be. Drumming was in my blood. Why wouldn't they choose me?
Read Part 2