Last updated on January 6, 2020
Today I delivered my second ever drum lesson. I learned about learning too!
It seems to me that, in order to learn well, you need to understand the lesson in abstract terms, and train your nervous system for coordination. Many lessons and classes tend to be scheduled in half-hour or hour blocks of time. To my surprise, I’ve found that when I let these drum lessons go over an hour, by about 20-30 minutes, the rate of failure in the student drops a significant amount in the last 10-15 minutes. Why do they become more successful? Why are classes/lessons not set for 1hour 20 minutes by default?
Why do they become more successful with more time on the kit?
Practice, of course! Well I’m not a scientist and this wasn’t an experiement, but I expect this is due to their nervous system training their muscle coordination to the pattern. Repetition, especially when focussed, helps your brain make and maintain these connections. Repeating the lesson over a few days will help to store it in your long term memory, and will help you to internalise the moments so you no longer have to think so hard about them.
Everyone is different, having different strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. I reckon people learn better when they recall having overcome a hurdle through practice, so I like to reach that point with the student, if possible, before bringing an end to the session.
By the hour mark, the student has internalized the lesson in abstract terms, they could explain what they wanted to do. Though they still were unable to play smoothly. It seemed their nervous system has still not yet been trained enough for them to play through the lesson smoothly. They continue to make a lot of mistakes. Faced with this I allowed them to go overtime as I wanted to let them feel some success with it before the lesson ended.
This small amount of overtime succeeded in bringing the student to a much higher degree of success and coordination than I expected. With only an additional 20 mins they could play through the lesson several times without mistakes.
Why are classes/lessons not set for 1hour 20 minutes by default?
1-hour sessions are how many lessons, classes, and meetings are delivered, likely because that is the default chunk of time that our scheduling apps assign to things, and our brains are biased – we like round numbers.
In this case, it was the student’s their first time getting a drumming lesson, but they have previously played a drumkit in the past.
Every person is different, and I found that even though this student is an experienced musician in guitar, and understands the lessons, the coordination is like a complete beginner. A humbling experience for anyone! And I was teaching them to play a section of a song which seemed unnatural to them.
The feeling of sucking at something can be quite a deterrent. It may make you feel embarassed, uncomfortable and self-concious. People deal with these feelings in different ways. I embrace it, because I love learning, but many people would rather avoid it for the discomfort that being a beginner places them in. Especially so if they are accomplished in some other way.
Teaching one-to-one is fantastic. You can really be present and focus on the individual, seeing where they need correction, see how they figure it out for themselves, and deciding when it is a good time to step in to lend some instruction, or encouragement.
Understanding the learning process helped me to prepare the student ahead of the lesson. Learning something like drumming, which involves a lot of coordination and muscle-memory, is a frustrating and tedious experience. You will fail. A lot.
So it is best to embrace failure as normal and okay. Failure is part of learning, it is how we learn! My student has a perfectionist tendancy, and would be very hard on themselves for mistakes. Providing a safe space to make mistakes, and explaining this expectation about the lessons greatly helped the student to overcome moments of frustration that cropped up during the session.
When giving future lessons I will likely continue with this approach, as it has helped to encourage the student to learn more effectively.
Learning can be a frustrating and tedious experience. It is also a laugh! Embrace the opportunity to make mistakes and struggle with something new! With consistency you will quickly see that your brain can make sense of it!
In the wise words of Adventure Time’s Jake The Dog “You have to suck at something before you can be sort of good at something”.
Getting to a point were you are mastering a lesson seems to be benifitial to learning, helping you feel more rewarded for your efforts. Let’s ditch a pretty schedule in favour of effective learning. Instead of missing out on a rewarding learning experience, continue until you ‘get it’. This changes each day for each individual, why not focus on reality instead of the hour-demarkated time slots of your calendar app? (Who decided that was they way we should do things anyway?). Then repeat the lessons to really let it sink into your brain and nervous system!