Skip to main content

Teaching Q&A

Lesson 4 from: Becoming A Music Teacher: The Art of Sharing Your Talent

Mike Johnston

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

4. Teaching Q&A

Lesson Info

Teaching Q&A

Do you have any questions from the world wide web before I teach something else on the drums that we should do bring it let's go ahead and talk about what dustin rather and scottie want to know can I still teach if I'm pretty good at playing by ears and watching but I don't know theory or how to read on dustin said should someone teacher doesn't read musical notation but has an ear for it don't talk to those folks yeah, absolutely and I think when it comes down to that kind of stuff we're still dealing with the same topic which is the distance between you and the student and the honesty and it's okay to say look, I think that you should probably learn these basics, you know? But and I don't know them but I'm really good at feel I can make a song feel great like I said earlier this this instrument has over one hundred years of history built into it so there's so many aspects that are so important to the incident I'm one of those guys that can teach by, you know, through notation through...

theory and through demonstration, but I think that my biggest lack on the instrument in my biggest fault is feel so when people say hey, I want to study with you and I want to work really hard on how to make a song feel great that that would be the exact same thing for me is what you're doing with hey, I want to study from you, and I want to learn it from notation and it's like, ok, well, in honesty, I'm working on my field, I'm working on my groove, I do not feel that I'm an expert at it, so I can teach you everything I know, and I'll do my best, but I think that you should be looking at the masters off this stuff, you know? I have a great friend named benny grab who's putting out a new dvd and it's really about the art of groove, and we had to talk about, you know, at the same time, I'm putting out a book called grew freedom, and we had to look at each other's content to see if we're crossing any content, because we really want to support each other, and we really want to make sure that we're not duplicating content in my book, in his dvd and what it came down to was my book is teaching people physically how to play something and breaking through the independents barriers and the coordination bears that cause you to not be able physically play a certain group, and it stops right there, it doesn't go to that next important step of, well, how do you make it feel good? How do you make a you know an audience want to dance while playing this that's where benny's dvd picks up is how to make things feel good and I and I had to admit to myself I don't want to write that third page you know I have each each system has two pages to it in the third page would be how to make it feel good and I didn't want to write that page because it felt a little phony because I'm not great grooving and I'm not a groove artist and so when it comes down to what you're working with, which is teaching with the lack of notation, the only thing I can say is always your honest with the student that will be fine and the next thing is really, really guys, just just start chipping away at it. All right? You can learn how to read music it's not that hard and you'll be blown away blown away don't go toe like college and takes a music theory course you will be lost as all get out you'll be blown away by how easy it is it's like it's like dots like wait so that dot means I hit that one yeah ok what's the next dot it's an ex hit that one over there really? Yep that's it see those parentheses around that dot it means to hate it quieter so, like this? Yeah, now do those three in a row sweet chicken gumbo, so just chip away at it that's all you need to do anything else? Yeah, kind of along the same lines. Actually, I was a nice transition, raffaele suarez says. I love the way you approach teaching what do you do yourself to improve as a player to become a better teacher and then kind of along the same lines? Some dell says mike, I'm a husband, father, musician have a day job teach four hours a week. I often feel like they don't have her. I don't make enough time to learn new skills. Both is a drummer and a teacher. I'm curious how you organize your time on a day, week, month year, whatever category would like it to be a great drummer and great teacher, despite the number of hours that it takes to do your business tasks so it feels, break it down and talk a little bit about how much time do you think you need to spend improving yourself as a teacher and as a player before you can teach others? Or as you're teaching of this, I'll answer that question, saying the first question was about basically, just what do you do yourself to improve it? The player to becoming a teacher I think you know chance of that question one of the things is you need to identify what you wish you were better at and that's something that I think works for business art life relationships which is what I call the I wish principal meaning any time I say the word I wish our words I wish out loud that's my moment to act I wish I was better it feel then shut up and go practice your feel oh I should do that yeah you totally should do that man I wish I was good a graphic design then you should learn graphic design I wish I made better videos then go to creative live dot com and learn how to make better videos it's like yeah I mean I would say ninety percent of questions I get asked can be answered in the question you know it's like then you should do that but as far as like what do I practiced how my privates first identified the problem what do I wish I was better right now it's groove then I tackle the problem meaning I go and I look at who is the greatest in the world a group obviously this is relative but you know we have our heroes benny grabs one of mine uh steve gadd is one of mine I'm sorry that your old yeah um and uh you know and then since I like fusion lot, one of my favorite groove and pulse players is will kennedy he's in a band called the yellow jackets, if you've never heard of him, definitely check out will kennedy from the yellow jackets, so what I did was I didn't know him at all, and I started searching around through my endorsements of anyone that knew well, kennedy, anyone that had his phone number, how can I get a hold of him? And I got a hold of him, and I started talking to, and I asked him I said, hey, you know, can I would you be interested in teaching me? Because I feel that I can physically play most of the things that I want to play, but I wish they sounded a whole lot better, you know? I wish they had that pulse. I wish that when I was playing the most complicated thing in the world, you could still go off, you know, because we'll place things that I will be able to do from the twenty years, and I'm still like, I don't even know if this isn't for, for I don't even care, it just feels great, and I want that so bad, so wanting it won't do it, but I have to practice it and have to tackle it, so I found will and I was thinking that he lived either in northern california where southern california so I could either drive or fly to my lessons I mean that's how important it was me I will pay for a plane flight to get to ella just to take one drum lesson and come home and I'll do that twice a month found out he lives in houston not quite as close as I was hoping and those flights are a little more expensive a little more time consuming so luckily we have all the technology that you see here before you and I thought well what if I made a video and then you made a video response and we just did that back and forth and we can host that wherever we want and so we started doing that and it was it was awesome and the other thing I did was I searched out some of the wasn't a fan of mine and wasn't a friend of mine will kennedy didn't know anything about me the funny story is one of the ways that we talked to each other when he's like so do you play drums and said yes sir um tinker around a bit and he's like he's like that's awesome and how long you been playing we kind of went through that and I could tell he had obviously never heard of me and to know who it was and said, you know that new pearl algerian and these again on drum magazine is in yemen I said I'm on the cover of that one he's like oh, I don't know who you are you're the teacher guy ok? And then it was like I was like cool and I'm just I just want you know I do take this very seriously I'm not wasting your time sir I am a huge fan of yours and so yes so that's I mean that's how I started practicing was you know as far as now I just find problems and try to tackle them now to the second question time management that definitely has an awesome uh slap in the face that I got from my idol benny grab so I sat down with many way did a drum camp together in at my place in folsom on and he said how much do practice? And I said, oh, you know, like six, seven hours a day and he kind of chuckled and he's like you do not practice six or seven hours a day you would be much better if you did I was like, ah oh and he's a he's like there is no way you practice seven hours a day and I said no, I really do and isn't that is good you should write down everything you do tomorrow, I'd like to see it on and like keep mine I'm making this old man you know, kind of often the german hills somewhere voice he's three years younger than me, so but he's yoda, the dude is a wise and so I was like, all right, fine, I'll write it all down, maybe I practiced nine hours a day, so I write down everything I did for an entire day and turns out that I practiced about eleven minutes a day and I was on a drum set for nine to ten hours a day, but I was filming lessons, I was teaching other people how to play drums. I was going over material that I already knew how to do, just getting it ready for lesson. I was editing videos, so what had happened was my proximity to this instrument was internalized is practicing, I'm always around drums all day long, and I'm always teaching somebody how to do something, but I wasn't improving as a player, and the only time I sat down and worked on something that I currently struggle with when I clocked in that amount of time, that was like eleven minutes in a day, and so, you know, showed mr grab what was going on? He was like, that is what I thought, and so that was like the lesson of, like, he's, like, you know, because I remember asking him about a year later did you just had a kid? How do you even practice he's like it is fantastic now I have less time to practice so I'm more efficient with that time and I care about it more and I'm the transition of the beni voice and so it became one of those things where you have been like if I really started planning I could get a lot done in forty five minutes so what happened was I got this thing that my wife and I called the toto list because when I downloaded the app for my ipad apparently it's to do but it's all one word I didn't know so I thought I thought the hapless called toto and but I guess it's called to do if you're looking for is that to do list? So anyways I downloaded the toto app and it was one of those things where I realized if I wrote down what I was going to do tomorrow every single night it always got done and it was so important to do that and to think ok now that I'm sitting in my bed clear of thought there's no drums anywhere what I wish I was better at and that's when I could do it when I'm on this drum set I can't think of anything I wish I was better at like because it's just too much it's information overload I want to be better at everything but when I'm just sitting in bed and everything's quiet and I'm just have got toto open and I can like, really sit there and think like, god, I really want to focus on pulse, okay? Well, how would you practice poles and then it's like we're going to use this song? It's got a great pulse to it and I start writing these things down and for ten minutes I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna warm up on dh then I'm for five minutes. I'm gonna play, you know paper late by genesis one my favorite genesis songs of all time that it doesn't require a lot of drum skill for it's not pushing me to do it, but god, I love it. I just put on my headphones that close my eyes and for like, five minutes I'm in my favorite band of all time and the band that I grew up listening to, and it reminds me of why I started this frustrating instrument the first place then hit the big chunk of time, the thirty minutes of me working on pulse and I look at my total list and I pressed go on the timer and I'm and I actually spent a half an hour devoted to nothing but getting better at this one specific subject, and I make a ton of progress and then I spend the next ten minutes playing again to my favorite songs of all time the songs that got me involved in this instrument in the first place. I'm not trying to stretch out my technique, I'm not trying to like, you know, do self medicated licks where you play things that make you realize how awesome you are. We going pretty red? I thought so I don't want to do that. I want to sit there going, you know? And then it's, herbie hancock and john mayer planes stitched up so it's gotta swing tio it's got that steve jordan groove on, and those are things where it's like that makes me excited to play. And if you have that in piano or if you have that in photo shop where, like, man, every time I see a picture from that guy just gets so excited to go into photo shop and start working on my light curves it's like then you should do that and should get excited about, but one hour a day is more than enough to be productive with your time. Uh, just a comment from wrong in the chat room, he says, I learned the same thing from benny time management. Is very important he told me playing is not practicing people hop on and kind of just play but with no goal in mind and I love that that idea of structuring your practice of planning out your goals and what you want to actually achieve rather than just sitting down absolutely I mean that that's exactly what it is we had a clinician old school jazz guy come to mike's lessons dot com and do a clinic and he I mean that's a really old kind of concept is that you know playing is not practicing but you need to have visualizations for these things and his visualization was that if whatever you just did if you wished that there was a bunch of people standing outside the practice room listening to you then you were playing if whatever you just did you hope that no one heard any of it then you were practicing and that's just an awesome visualization to think you know that's right like practicing if you heard me practice you'd probably be like that guy that guy's a touring clinician there's no way it's like well not all practicing is me going bananas you know sometimes me practicing is me trying to eliminate the flam between my kick and my high in the basic rock me and then my snare mihai device correctly so if you walk past my practice space you know you might be disappointed to hear this but in reality, I'm working on so many things I'm working on letting the bass drum breathe. This is not my drum set. This is a twenty inch bass drum. I don't usually play a twenty, but it sounds fantastic in this room, so I'm trying to think, how does this bass drum sound? Is that open enough? And I'm muting it. Am I pulling the sound out of it? Is my high are my high hats and my snare drum that coming down the exact same time? Or is there a little bit of flam happening? Is there a little flam happening between my bass drum in my hat? Those are the things that separate a basic drummer from a professional drummer, where it's, just like while men like this is really it just feels perfect when that person plays and those are the things that you have to work on a cz faras spending time on the incident. Now, if you work on it yourself, let's, bring this back to teachings that's what this is all about. If you work on this yourself then you'll notice that problem and other drummers and other players and you when you're teaching them you could say hey man there's like this flam happening that's creating an unease e feeling in the whole room because you're not perfectly lined up so let's work on it but if you don't work on on yourself then how would you be able to recognize it in other people? So I think that that's really really important is to spend time really focusing on that stuff and realizing like you said that playing that's just self medication it's just making you feel better about being you and there's nothing wrong with that that's why I put it the beginning and the end of my practice I always put playing to my favorite songs that beginning in the end because there's some depression that happens in the middle when you're working on something that you're struggling with its depressing you're sitting there just going like everyone on youtube can do this no they can't you saw their seventeenth take that's what they uploaded you didn't see the first sixteen takes where they train wreck the whole thing and they've been working on this for six months you never saw the process you never saw the struggle you just saw the perfect take that messed up my mind forever my first real videotape was back to basics by dave weichel and I was like it just I was a kid thinking like that that's that's the first take and knowing day that probably was the first take but that's not reality it's not always that perfect it's not always you just sit down and it just comes out of you and whatever you guys see of me on youtube, you missed all the edits, you know? I mean, you you two have been there to our camp so you see me playing in front of you where it's like did it doesn't always work out, you know, and so it's like that's, ok, we're human beings. So anything else, buddy? Well, along those lines I love it's killing me right now because I can't think of the quote and I can't think of a who it's from but there's a quote out there that something along the lines of you're seeing somebody like you're seeing everyone else's highlight reel it's talking about social media, you're saying everyone else's highlight reel well, you're experiencing all of your own out takes basically, and so you have to keep in mind when you're seeing somebody else of posting something online that that is the best take they got absolutely you aren't seeing all that, so I love it if anyone knows where that quote is from, let me know in the chat room not to mention that you're seeing something that I control, you're seeing something I edited, like I edited my skin tone to be that way. I edited all of it, like everything is under my control. So, um, you know, then the goal for me as an educator becomes what if I could do that every time? No edits, no nothing? What if I washed my face a little bit more, maybe would clear up? Maybe, you know, we get rid of you guys didn't know me in high school had an awesome t zone of acne right here, and then the lead right into the amazing braces. So, you know, it's important to kind of go through that growth, going to be like, I'm going to be I want to be the final take every time because my favorite drummers, I feel like they are going to see them play live on like, cat. You're like that every time I see you it's the final take, jeff something else, buddy? I sure do. I've got one from somebody don't have their name here, but if I'm preparing for teaching, should I try to be a generalist of the instrument, having a good notion of every aspect of the infant instrument I can think of? Or should I try to be a specialist having an average notion of most aspects but focusing on what I like to do? Most think I've got an idea of your answer, but I look here, yeah, you know what I think? That's an awesome question and it's a really important question because you need to decide what you're gonna do, and I think it depends on who you're teaching. If your focus group is like kids that have never played or adults who have never played to me. When I say somebody's a young drummer, I'm never referring to their age, I'm referring to how long they've played the instrument so you could be a fifty two year old young drummer because you just started playing. But if I'm teaching somebody like that a bunch of beginning drummers, then yeah, I want to be a generalist. I want to be able to expose them to a little bit of everything and then hope that they kind of find a path in there and that's usually the one thing that you know you'll notice is you start teaching is that if you want to learn metal or you want to learn jazz, or you want to learn, pop or you want to learn fusion or funk or hip hop or r and b or straight rock, you still need all of the same topics. You're going to have to have independence, you're going to have to have some sort of hand speed, some sort of foot speed, you're gonna have to have texture definitely gonna have tohave dynamics. I mean, people always think like, the metal doesn't have dynamics really try playing metal like this it's boring it's, not even metal anymore. So if you're if you're a quiet drummer, then you have the improper dynamics to play medal, you're going to bash that stuff. So I think that, you know, if you were just teaching kind of people that like, say, a music store where it's like I don't even choose my students, they just sign up, then you know, you want to be good at everything if you have a passion yourself for a specific thing where, like, I don't know what to tell you, man, I hear trumpet and I I just get chills I love jazz and it's like dude, then do it do it better than anyone else in the world and that's one thing that no one ever thinks about is you get to control that and that is so awesome, you know, I can't control how talented everyone here is. Some of these people have way more natural talent than I will ever have it the drums, and I can't control that that just happened. I got what I got, you know, and that's that's it. But what I can control is the effort that goes into it so I can stay up later tonight, I can practice when they go to bed. I can decide to focus on the things that no one else was focusing at. I can try to get better than anyone, so I can't control talent. But I cannot work anyone, and so can you. And you should get excited about that, like, yeah, I could totally outwork anyone. Yeah, you can, and I'm in your corner to do it. You should totally try to do that. And so I think if you want to be great it's something, you have a passion for something, then you should definitely do that and then let your town knowing your surrounding area, and this will come into, like our fourth segment about building your brand than the town needs to know that that is what you are the best at, and you care about it more than anybody knew more passionate fourth and anyone in the world and then all of a sudden that trickles into a branding cycle where there's people like, oh, you want to learn jazz? Oh, you have to go to marc joan smith, you got to go toe m js because he's crazy into jazz and that's, you know, so that would be my answer for that question. I do have a question, mike on the teaching and figuring your time. I've heard it being said as a performer. Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they don't get it wrong. Ok, so how do you balance being a performing drummer and a teacher? How do you balance your time? For which of those you put how much time into? Because there's only so many hours in the day? Yeah, if any of you guys were for the two has have been to my drum camps. No, you know, my camps go from, say, usually ten a m to about nine p m that I'm with the campers the whole time, giving him everything I got. So if I'm going to practice anything or improve myself, it's gonna happen, you know, it's seven am. Uh and then when they go home and everyone's toast and no one can even think about drums I have to stay for another two hours and practices have a clinic coming up like right now susan know what this will come home I started camp or in two weeks or a week and a half you're in the next one right? Okay so that and then I'm that whole time I'm preparing for drum festivals in mexico and in france and I have to and both have to have different solos and different tracks and everything so it'll be like alright campers great job good night and then I'm like go who okay I got this and then I start practicing and and tillman like what I have to practice I have to practice this stuff I'm gonna perform but I also have to practice the stuff for jax you know next lesson tomorrow I will have to teach them for ten hours straight without any breaks without a breaks to the practice and so I think it's just a balance I for me thirty minutes is how much time if you actually dedicated yourself to it it's no time at all if you screw around and mess around on the drones and just play fun stuff and pat yourself on the back but if you really put on a timer and say I'm doing nothing but improving at this specific thing for thirty minutes then it it's really a good amount of time I get up from the kit and get some green tea get like a little peanut butter and banana sandwich with maybe some nutella that's up to you. I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just saying maybe you like the peanut butter, nutella and bananas I do so I get that and then it's like, all right now, it's time to work on the teaching and you know, one thing that I have to do when I'm teaching move over the drum set to kind of show you this, um, is I teach people that are facing me, so if we're working on, say, I don't want planning to allow, but if we're working on this, uh, maybe let's say it's, just a basic rocky I have to look at eight people in front of me whose limbs or backwards from mine and check out everybody's limbs, make sure this planet I have to play whatever I'm playing, and then I have to be able to speak, not in time because I don't want to speak and time every word it's going take an hour, so I have to be able to do this to be like jack, right foot and then he goes, oh, yeah, sorry he puts out in, you know, not that jack would struggle with this group. You could crush it, I know it. So it's, one of those things where I have to, like, really practice that I have to spend time pricing every day explaining things because some of the stuff that I'm playing is a little more difficult, you know, and I self to be able to speak and do it at the same time. So you guys in the studio can turn my mike off for this, the group might be, and while I'm playing all those notes on everything, I have to look at everybody's hands and see, like, laszlo, you're missing the second ghost note on the eve of three, and I have to be able to call that stuff out, so I do practice that quite a bit and it's really important to spend time pricing, because I don't want to be up in front of eight people that flew from all around the world to study with me, and I can't speak and play at the same time, so it's, just but I think an hour of practicing anything is so much more than people realize and it's just really rare that I see anybody we put on a timer and see what an hour is like, you know, I could tell you like, uh do you have an iphone? And I have an iphone that could pull up a timer. We're going to do an experiment right now. It's gonna blow your man's an hour is a really, really long time. Two people don't realize it until they sit down with a timer. Uh oh, yeah, I'll take it. Take it real quick. Thank you, sir. So, you guys are more than welcome to plug your ears for this, but I'm gonna work on bass drum speed for thirty seconds just so that everyone at home and you guys can see what thirty seconds actually feels like so and turned the vocal mike off plug your ears gonna wait to ten second line. Here we go. So that was thirty seconds and my foot is on fire right now on via. So when? When I told many grab problems like six hours a day he's thinking you do that for six hours a day because he knows what practice really is and it's like, oh, I guess I don't. I guess I play and I teach and I screw around and I mess around and I make myself feel better about being me that's what I do for six hours a day, and now that I've learned what practices and having a stopwatch it's, it's, huge

Ratings and Reviews

fbuser b4d93b5f

Mike is such a great educator. He is well versed in all aspects of teaching and also branding and making a living with it. He is a passionate and truly dedicated teacher. I also really liked that he made it clear that teaching is not a plan b for him but his true calling and it can be such a rewarding experience. I got a lot out of this session and I truly recommend it to anyone who is interesting in taking this path.

a Creativelive Student

Mike, thank you for your wonderful teaching. I have been a performer and vocal educator for over 20 years and I've learn so much today to add to my own personal instruction. These teachings are so transferrable and your passion is simply awesome. I see you and I see a reflection of myself. I'm going to study you some more by purchasing this session. It's been awesome to watch. Thanks for the inspiration!


This is the most brilliant class. There are so many great points in here, it is an information overload; but explained it such a simple way. I watch one of these videos almost every week, just to top up on what I should be giving my students - it serves as a good reminder and an even better teaching aid. Mike; time and time again, he releases great media that everyone must see. I can't speak highly enough of this.

Student Work