What to Expect When Beginning Lessons on Different Instruments – Focus on Piano and Drums

Starting lessons on different instruments will present a vastly different first lesson experience which will be very instrument specific. The next series of posts will deal with the subject of what to expect when beginning lessons on various instruments. Today I will talk about piano and drums. The next post will cover fretted and non fretted string instruments. The final post in the series will discuss brass, woodwind and vocal lessons.

I would not suggest choosing your instrument based the ease of playing the instrument or upon what to expect when beginning each different instrumental lesson but it is important to start with reasonable expectations. In general the instruments that offer the highest level of instant gratification are piano and drums. Both can produce sound immediately and without regard to technique. The same can be said about voice.

It can be stated that piano or keyboard is the easiest instrument to begin. Melodic sounds are produced by pressing the appropriate keys which mobilize hammers that strike strings on the harp. Very easy tunes can be learned right away. They will be played one finger and one hand at a time. However easy it may be to begin piano lessons, piano is not an easy instrument to play. Unfortunately, none of the instruments fall into that category. But, if for example, a student begins piano and violin lessons at the same time they will be playing simple melodies on the piano before doing the same on the violin. Piano lessons can be appropriate for some children who are as young as three and a half years old.

Though melodies can be produced immediately the strength and coordination required to control each finger separately and then the fingers on each hand simultaneously while engaged in different motions does not come naturally or easily. As in typing all fingers are supposed to be involved (no hunting and pecking here) and given that there are eighty-eight keys it is obvious that the hands will eventually be moving around the keyboard as multiple fingers on each hand are engaged in striking multiple keys producing some notes that are loud, some soft, some short, some sustained, etc. Piano is an instrument that allows the accomplished player to produce both harmony and melody at the same time. Piano music is written on two staffs and in two clefs, the treble clef is usually on top of the staff and determines what the right hand is playing. The bottom clef is called the bass clef and determines what the left hand is playing. Pianos, like all other instruments, must be kept in tune. Unlike other instruments most people hire a professional tuner for that purpose. Tuning is recommended at least twice per year. It is not necessary to tune keyboards.

The first piano lesson will generally begin with students being introduced to the patterns of black and white keys on the keyboard, the names of the notes and the corresponding introductory hand position. Music notation and the concepts of rhythm, theory and technique will be introduced at the appropriate time for each individual student. Time and focused practice will help the student progress. The level of mastery will be directly proportional to the effort exerted.

Piano is technically a percussion instrument, as are drums which fall into a similar category of being fairly easy to begin. Simple rhythms can usually be learned immediately but again, that does not imply that drums are easy to play well as it is certainly no easy task to control and coordinate all four limbs, each acting independent of the other, while keeping a steady beat. Many times drum students will begin with a single drum such as a snare drum or a practice pad while learning the fundamentals. Drum lessons can begin once children are tall enough to sit at the set and reach the pedals.

Obviously sound is created by striking a stick against the head of the drum or the cymbal. A drum head is made of a taut synthetic material pulled across the top the drum. The vibrating air inside the body of the drum produces the sound. Cymbals consist of thin, normally round plates of various metal alloys shaped to produce different sounds. Drum sticks come in many sizes and varieties, including those with wooden tips and those with plastic tips. Different sticks are used in different situations. There are different stick holds used for different sounds and situations as well. Drummers carry a tool called a key which is used to tune the drum set. Though drum sounds do not produce melody in the way that we are used to perceiving melody, each drum and all sound for that matter has pitch because pitch is one of the basic parameters of sound. Drummers will often tune their drums in intervals of fifths so that they vibrate or ring together with a homogenized tone. Like all other instruments drums do possess different timbres, also known as tone color or tone quality that distinguishes different types of sound production. Drum music is generally written on a single staff without a designated clef. The placement of the note on the staff indicates which drum to strike. Rhythmic notation is the same for all instruments.

At the first lesson, students will be fitted with drum sticks appropriate for their hand size. The different drums, pedals and cymbals will be identified,  and the student will learn the proper stick grip, the proper technique used to strike the drums and cymbals and the foot  position to operate the pedals of the bass drum (the largest of the drums in a set) and the hi-hat (two cymbals that are mounted on a stand, one on top of the other). When the student is ready music notation will be introduced and rhythmic patterns will be taught. Once again, the level of mastery achieved in time will be directly linked to the time spent practicing.

As you can see there are many differences between piano and drums and beginning lessons on the two instruments. Both will offer a bit of instant gratification for the student and both require years of study to master. However, proficiency can be enjoyed by those who are realistic about making the necessary commitment. As mentioned above this is the first in a series of three posts. The next one will discuss what to expect when beginning lessons on the string instruments.








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