||Jason Kenyon Interview|
Jason Kenyon grew up in New Hampshire, studied at Berklee School of Music, and now plays and teaches professionally in Seattle. In our discussion, he had a lot of great insights into his experiences at Berklee, as well as his work with private and classroom students.
Brian: I’ve been seeing a lot of book orders coming in from your students in Seattle lately.
Jason: That’s great. I’ve really been having good success with The Snare Drum Plays The Zoo. It’s become pretty popular with my students, and it’s still working great. I’m keeping it rolling here, and I plan to keep using it.
Brian: Every time an order comes in, I send an email to the buyer. I thank them, ask for feedback on the book, and ask them how they found out about it. Hardly anyone EVER responds to that email, but I have to tell you: Almost religiously, people that you’ve sent to buy the book are really good about it. You must attract some cool students and families. I get emails back from parents saying, “My kids study with Jason Kenyon and just love working with him.” It’s really nice.
Jason: Well, that’s great to hear!
Brian: I even had a dad call me within five or ten minutes of my sending out the confirmation email. He said, “Well, Jason’s my son’s drum teacher, and I trust anything that Jason says. He told us we need to get the book, and by golly, we got the book.”
Jason: I appreciate that feedback!
Brian: I tell you, they are extremely enthusiastic about working with you.
Jason: Wonderful. I appreciate you reaching out to me and having an interest in what I do.
Brian: So when and how did you get started playing?
Jason: I started playing drums in fourth grade in grade school band. I had interest in playing. I think it really kind of all started. I grew up in a very small town in New Hampshire—Jaffrey, in the southwestern corner of the state, near Keene, and also near Mount Monadnock—a big hiking destination.
It was a teeny tiny town. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in high school when the town got its first stoplight.
Brian: That’s the kind of town I’m from. I totally get it.
Jason: So my parents took me down to the Memorial Day Parade. Honestly, I think I can trace it all back to that day. One of the groups—probably the high school band, or the American Legion Band—was passing by. When the drums passed, the percussive sound waves of the bass drums hit me—you know, that deep thud in your chest. Man, from then on, I thought, “This is pretty cool.” After that, I remember playing on pots and pans with pencils and rulers. My dad would set up a makeshift drum set with pots and pans and boxes. It just snowballed from there.
I kept bugging my parents, and they signed me up for school band. It was fourth grade, and I played snare drum and percussion instruments in fourth and fifth grade. During the summer between fifth grade and sixth grade, I got my first drum set and started taking lessons on drum set from a local teacher.
Brian: Who was that teacher?
Jason: His name is Mark Jennings. I actually haven’t spoken with him for quite a few years, but he’s still in Marlborough, New Hampshire. He’s been teaching up there forever. He was the popular teacher back when I was coming up twenty five years ago, and he’s still the guy for drum set—very popular up there for private lessons, as well as his wedding band. He’s a known fixture in the area.
He exposed me to all sorts of stuff, including Roy Burns’s Elementary Drum Method on snare drum. My first drum set book was Realistic Rock…
Brian: Carmine Appice!
Jason: Yep, we learned drum set beats from that. Then we moved on to all sorts of things from there. I started with him in sixth grade and stayed with him through the end of high school, taking lessons with him pretty steadily the whole time. He was more of a drum set teacher, and along the way I was always in the band program at my school.
When I really got into it, I was trying to make the connections and take advantage of any playing opportunities that came along—allstate band, allstate jazz band.
Brian: You were really seeking it out—not waiting for anyone to say, “Hey, you’ve got it together and should pursue this opportunity and that.”
Jason: At the time, I thought that’s the way it went. It wasn’t until I went to Berklee and met some friends who came from big schools with big programs—orchestra, pep band, concert band, jazz band. We didn’t have any of that stuff at my school—it was just one band. If you were into it, you had to make your own stuff happen.
In fact, I just wanted to do as much as I could. There was an All New England Concert Band, and I tried out and made/played timpani with that band. I had never had a lesson on timpani in my life. I just had to teach myself how to tune with a pitchpipe and just figured it out on my own well enough and learned to read well enough that I somehow made the cut.
Brian: Wow, so you just fell into that gig, huh?
Jason: (laughs) Yeah! It was good.
Along the way, I marched in a DCI Division II drum corps called The Spartans out of Nashua, New Hampshire—I played snare drum with them. I was just trying to soak it all up—anything I could do I just tried to do whether it was marching, concert, jazz band, rock band. I played in garage bands and jams with friends.
Brian: You were obviously hooked. Something just grabbed you, and there was no turning back.
Jason: Absolutely not. I was way into it. I had a subscription to Modern Drummer when I was in sixth grade…
Brian: I remember sitting in my freshman English class at the end of the day in high school. I’d have a Modern Drummer sitting on my desk. My English teacher thought it was the most bizarre thing that there was a magazine out there for drummers. She would always give me the hardest time. She’d say, “Well, have you got your new issue of ‘Drummer Man’ magazine?” She’d always say the title wrong just to piss me off.
Brian: She just thought it was the nerdiest, weirdest thing.
Jason: I remember getting into this thing with my friends where, just from reading Modern Drummer, we would have other kids ask us, “Who’s the drummer in this band? How about that band?” and we always knew who it was.
Brian: Yeah, that’s great.
Did you also do any playing gigs, drum set gigs in high school?
Jason: Yeah, beyond the typical garage band, rock band material, some of my rock bands would play Saturday night gigs at the roller skating rink downtown. On a more professional level, when I was in eleventh or twelfth grade, I subbed a few times for my drum teacher, Mark. These were local productions of musicals—small stuff, but it was good to get my feet wet.
Brian: Yeah, that’s a common theme I’m hearing a lot—teachers giving their students professional work in high school and college. I’ve done that many times for my own students.
Jason: Yeah, that happened with me all through college—a common theme. It’s probably a young player’s first exposure to networking.
Even though my high school had a small music program, I received a lot of help and encouragement from my band director, Len Holmes. He was instrumental in helping me navigate some of the opportunities I had. After I graduated, I played with him in a few of his professional groups outside of school as well. I still keep in touch with him to this day.
Brian: Many great musicians wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for band directors like yours. OK, then tell me what happened after high school.
Jason: I knew that I wanted pursue music. As I got closer to graduating, I told my mom and dad that I wanted to go to music school, specifically I wanted to go to Berklee. Somewhere I got it in my head that this is where I wanted to go, and there was nowhere else to apply.
Brian: And what was their response to the fact that: A. You wanted to be a musician, and B. Berklee was the only option you were open to.
Jason: They were really supportive. My parents were great all the way through everything—partially because they were happy to see that I was motivated to go to school and I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and also because they realized there was no talking about it. They knew, “This is his path. He’s not going to be a dentist. This is where he’s headed. Let’s just go with it and follow the motion.”
Brian: That’s great. Not all parents are willing to listen to their kids. They say, “Well, you’re going to be an accountant anyway. We don’t know what this music thing could do for you.”
Jason: Yeah, so I applied to Berklee and got in on a partial scholarship, which was helpful. I was very grateful for that.
It was a major eye-opener coming from a small town. I remember the day my parents dropped me off in downtown Boston, and said, “OK, we’ll see you later!” It really helped me to grow up fast, and I realized that there was more to the world than what I had known.
Brian: Even with the scholarship, that’s a pretty expensive place to attend, right?
Jason: Yeah, it was certainly at the top of the price chart as far as prospective schools I could have attended.
Brian: And did you feel like it delivered for you for the money that you paid seventeen years ago?
Jason: I do feel like it delivered. It took me a while—I don’t even know if it happened fully while I was there. It took some time for me to appreciate the school and my experience there. It could have been a combination of being fresh out of high school or being wet-behind-the-ears still. It wasn’t until a few years after I graduated that I realized what a special place it is.
My passion for drumming and music has always been drum set playing, improvising, and that sort of thing. For contemporary music, I can’t think of a better place, or a better program than what Berklee had then and has now.
Brian: And when you say contemporary, do you mean contemporary pop music?
Jason: Yeah, I mean pop music, all sorts of world music, a core curriculum program, and exposure to all sorts of different elements and experiences that a real freelance working musician could find useful in the real world.
Brian: For drum set focus, I like Berklee’s approach versus a state college that’s often more classical-oriented. When you say “contemporary music,” in a state college setting, that could mean Arnold Schoenberg chamber music that very few people would listen to as they clean the house.
I think Berklee has a good real-world understanding of how a drum set artist can make a living out there playing the music that you want to play. That's not to say that a percussionist can’t make a living playing classical music, of course. And lately, I see Berklee getting more into the classical percussion side of things, like bringing Nancy Zeltsman in for marimba.
Jason: Yeah, I studied with her while I was there. She was wonderful.
Yeah, I think you hit it on the head with the real-world comment. It really does prepare you. For instance, some of the things I come up against these days in recording sessions. The studio experience at Berklee is that, even as a brand-new student, you get in there and start tracking in a professional level studio, what the engineering involves, how to mic a drum kit. That knowledge is so valuable later on in life when it’s really time to do it.
I think when I got to Berklee, I was coming from a technical background, working on chops, independence, etc. I’ll never forget my first drum lesson at Berklee was with Joe Hunt. Joe played back in the day with Bill Evans and Stan Getz—a real legendary jazz drummer.
I sat down in my first lesson with Joe, and before he let me play anything, we sat and talked for a bit. At the very end of the lesson, we hadn’t even played a note yet. He said, “I want you to sit behind the drums. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Now, play me the sound of a train going through a tunnel on the snare drum.”
I’m eighteen, I’m thinking we’re going to do some crazy jazz independence or something. I was just sort of dumbfounded—I couldn’t believe it! I tried to imagine what that would sound like and just sort of stumbled through it.
Then he said, “Alright, now play the sound of rain falling on the cymbals.”
My mouth is wide open, and I just couldn’t believe it. I said to myself, “What is going ON here?”
I realized, after a few semesters of working with him, that he was teaching me artistry and musicality. Those types of lessons and experiences were just huge eye-openers for me. Up to that point, I hadn’t really realized that that type of playing was possible. It had a huge influence on my maturity level and musicianship. It was a really great experience that way.
Brian: So it was about getting beyond the ego of playing, right?
“I can play the paradiddle faster than anyone else around, blah, blah, blah.”
“Yeah, shut up and play a train going through a tunnel for me, kid.”
Brian: I love that. I can imagine a lesson like that—so fun and out of left field. I really enjoy talking about how to throw a student off and make them think, and that story is just beautiful.
Jason: I remember coming out of that lesson. My buddies were like, “What did you do?” “Can I see what you wrote down?”
I said, “Well, I’ve gotta work on the sound of a train going through a tunnel this week.”
And they said, “What???” Just hilarious.
Brian: When I hear a story about a teacher like that, and I want to learn about him. Does he have any books that he wrote?
Jason: Yeah, he wrote a book, but it’s more of a jazz history book, called 52nd Street Beat.
Brian: Yes. (Googling “Joe Hunt”) It looks like he’s at New England Conservatory now.
Jason: I haven’t looked at that book for years, but I think it was historical in nature. It traced some of the pioneers of bebop and jazz back in the forty’s and fifty’s. I think there were playing examples in it. To my knowledge, that’s the only instructional book he’s released.
He’s a great guy, he’s a fantastic player, and a great human being.
Brian: Yeah, I heard a story like that, and I can tell that there’s so much going on inside of a guy like that. Only people like you who got to sit with him week after week and have your head whipped around a few times. You guys are the ones who walked away with the essence of who he is.
Brian: And I can’t have that experience except by hearing it through you. I always wish guys like this had a blog, but you know a guy like Joe could care less about a blog. He’d rather sit with someone physically in a room and tell him what he knows.
Jason: That was the vibe behind it—just going in and having a conversation each week, being able to sit with this overflowing vessel of history talking about the instrument, the history, life in general. We talked a lot more than we actually played in our lessons. It comes back to that maturity issue, for me coming from a small town, and having lessons like that with Joe—a big eye-opener.
Brian: Yeah, I’m looking at all the players Joe has played with—Scofield, Stern. He probably brought these guys in when they were kids.
Jason: He was one of the elder statesmen when I was there.
Brian: He was probably born in the 40’s. I see he played with Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans for a year or two, and Stan Getz.
Jason: I would imagine he was in his mid-twenties or late-twenties in the sixties, so you’re probably right—born in the 1940’s.
Brian: So did you bounce around between a few teachers at Berklee?
Jason: Yes, I was a performance major, which meant I was taking private lessons with one or two teachers per semester the entire time I was at Berklee.
Brian: Would you stick with one teacher for an entire semester, one at a time?
Jason: I was with Joe for three semesters. As I signed up for courses each semester, I’d look to see whose schedule lined up with mine. I stuck it out with Joe for a while because it was unlike anything I’d ever had lesson-wise before.
But after that, there are a lot of great teachers at the school, and I got to a point where I’d think, “Gosh, I don’t want to miss out on studying with this teacher or that teacher.” So I bounced around a bit trying to get the flavor of other instructors there.
I studied with Kenwood Dennard for a couple of semesters. He was amazing. I was really influenced by the Maceo Parker album, Life On Planet Groove—a big funk live album. Kenwood played on that. I was just all over trying to study with him. Kenwood has played with Sting, Miles Davis.
Brian: Doesn’t Kenwood play with a left hand keyboard technique sometimes?
Jason: Yes, he does. (laughs) He’s got this incredible thing where he plays drum kit, keyboards with his left hand, and sings. It’s unbelievable—one of those mind-blowing situations where it’s almost impossible to fathom what’s going on there. How do you even approach that? It’s incredible.
Brian: I remember reading about that, and I tried playing keyboard and drums at the same time. It was really cool stuff.
Jason: Yeah, totally. I don’t know if a lot of people know this. My experience with Kenwood is that he’s a really intense person, a really sweet guy, an awesome individual. But, I remember that he never really wasted a moment of time.
I remember getting ready to start a lesson with him once. He had to go down the hall to grab something he’d left behind—probably twenty feet down the hall. He grabbed a book and read it as he walked down the hallway twenty feet, picked up the item, and walked the twenty feet back to his office reading the book, got back in, put his bookmark back into the book, and said, “OK, let’s start.” He had this not-wasting-a-minute-of-the-day intensity about him. Incredible.
Brian: (laughs) That’s fantastic. I used to feel like I had that level of intensity, but now, I just don’t think it’s there.
Jason: Yeah, Kenwood was great. I studied with Jamey Haddad—drum set player/percussionist. Rod Morgenstein—Dixie Dregs and Winger fame.
Brian: OK, so with Rod Morgenstein, you imagine that you’re going to step into the room, and there’s going to be a monstrous drum set in there and you’re going to work on double bass licks the whole time, right?
Brian: Because all the pictures you ever see of Rod Morgenstein say that’s his whole vibe—his hair is ten feet long. So what’s the reality of it? You walk into a tiny practice room, and there’s a little four- or five-piece kit sitting there?
Jason: (laughs) Yeah, there’s no cage full of cymbals. Yeah, actually I think it was more modest—one regular-style kit he could play, and one for his student to play. It wasn’t like the all-out stadium rock experience. But he was one of the teachers who taught double bass, not that I was studying with him for that particular reason. At that time, besides all of his playing fame, I’d been reading his articles in Modern Drummer for years. So I was interested in Rod the educator more than anything.
He is a really, really sweet guy—actually totally down-to-earth, friendly, warm guy.
Brian: I always got that reading his materials. He seemed like the kindest person.
Jason: Totally, and he really took an interest in what you were doing. He would ask me, “So what are you studying with some of the other teachers?” and we would do a lot of jamming.
Actually, my main method book for drum set students now in my teaching practice is his book The Drum Set Musician, co-authored by Rick Mattingly. We got to chat a lot about that book “back in the day.” That book encompasses his approach to the drums coming from more of a musical standpoint. It’s a beginning method for drum set, but it really goes through and explains how to approach the instrument from a musical standpoint—not just beats and “1&2&3&4&.”
You’re actually reading a chart, following repeat signs, thinking about dynamics, and different colors of the drum set. It’s a great method.
He really impressed me when he would play piano during our lessons—keyboard jamming along while I played drums. He’s truly an all-around musician—a great guy, and a great musician.
Bobby Sanabria was the resident Latin and Afro-Cuban guru at Berklee at the time. He’d played with Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, and other Afro-Cuban heavies back in the day. I studied drum set with him.
I studied with Jackie Santos who played with Chuck Berry and John Cafferty. Jackie actually got me my first professional gig out of Berklee, with Tiny Tavares of the R&B/Soul group Tavares. I was Tiny's drummer for a few years after I graduated.
I studied quite a bit of time with Steve Wilkes—a great guy, a great human being.
Those were most of my teachers. I had exposure to all sorts of drummers and musicians through other classes, but for private lessons, that was my group.
Brian: And you worked with Nancy Zeltsman for a bit.
Jason: I did. It was to fulfill some of your requirements as a drummer.
Brian: That was almost the exact wording that I was thinking.
Jason: And I don’t mean it like that. I don’t mean it to sound…
Brian: No, I get it. I would imagine that especially at Berklee, most of the percussion-oriented people who attend are there for drum set. But you have to learn some keyboard, melodic material, and treble clef, and bass clef. And there’s Nancy—it’s mind-boggling that they bring her in to help drummers fulfill a requirement!
Jason: It sounds kind of funny. I’ll fully admit, I knew nothing about Nancy before I started lessons with her. It became time for me to start taking mallet percussion lessons, so I signed up with her and researched who she was and what she’d done. I was really blown away. She’s an incredible talent—a great person and amazing to work with.
I was pretty far behind where I should have been on a lot of the mallet percussion stuff simply because we didn’t have a lot of it in my high school. I pursued it a little bit to be able to take allstate auditions. I went to her a bit embarrassed at my level, but she was very kind and great to work with. She understood that I was more of a drum set player and really helped me along and got me going with it. It was a great experience with her.
Brian: I think that speaks a lot about Berklee. They’ve got a student who’s primarily focused on drum set. They could get anyone to teach the basic marimba material to these students, but they still have someone like Nancy Zeltsman there doing it! She steps up knowing that this kid has barely played any marimba, and it’s not where his true love is, and here we go with the lessons anyway.
Jason: My first lesson was basically, “Here’s how you hold four mallets,” with Nancy!
I also did some timpani there—another basic requirement for drum set students. I worked with Richard Flanagan, who has played timpani with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. The caliber of instructors and teachers was just amazing.
Brian: That’s great. It sounds like you hold that entire experience in extremely high regard, which is great to hear.
Jason: Yes, I absolutely do.
Brian: This was obviously not your experience, but sometimes I get the impression that there are some students who go in there and don’t really have their act together. They flounder around, get some things here and there, end up leaving and go down some other career path. They didn’t really have the wherewithal all along to get what they need out of Berklee to become a true gigging musician.
Jason: Sure, I think the first and second semester dropout rate at Berklee must be one of the highest of a lot of the schools. I remember coming back for my third semester, and half my friends were gone.
Those who stick it out have, just like you said, the wherewithal, the drive, the ability and passion to stick it out. It’s also one of those schools where you have to be a self-motivator in a small way because it really has the feel of this place that you can go to experience. If you have it inside of you, it will bring it out. But if you don’t have it, you’re not motivated, you’re not seeking it out, you’re not networking, you’re not actively involved in the scene, the school, your studies, it’s a tough place to survive.
Brian: Yeah, I’ve read that. They used to have a great little magazine called the Berklee Times. It was invaluable insight always in that little magazine. I remember them saying that you can’t get caught up in the social scene at Berklee. It’s really easy to do, but you can’t do it because you won’t be there very long if that’s the route you take.
Great, thanks for giving me your insight into your Berklee experience. I think it’s valuable to understand your background with all the experiences and teachers you’ve had. There aren’t many people out there who have had that are out there teaching kids how to start from scratch.
Brian: I think it’s truly a rarity. Sometimes I imagine a guy, like even Joe Hunt, taking a six-, seven-, or eight-year-old kit, and truly starting them from scratch.
For you to have all that background as context AND be able to take kids from scratch, that’s a rarity in this country. There aren’t many people who are willing to take those two ends of the spectrum and put them together for their students.
Jason: It’s an important philosophy for me. I’ve obviously had some contact with great teachers over the years. I’ve tried to pass on the stuff I’ve absorbed from them. But also fundamentals, basic musicianship, are really important to me too. I try to instill that in students as well, and I don’t mind showing a new student how to count eighth notes. It’s just a path. I just try to get my students on the right path from the beginning so they can get to those bigger experiences later on down the road.
Brian: Yeah, at some point all students have to go through the experience of, “Count the eighth notes, read the notes on the page. DON’T pretend you know what it is and stop looking. It’s right there, and now it’s time to play it.
A lesson like, “On the snare drum, make the sound of a train going through a tunnel,” may not be as valuable without the background of being able to play with good technique, counting and playing rhythms accurately. It’s a different context to have a teacher say, “Make these weird sounds on the drums.”
Jason: Totally. It’s similar to the free movement in jazz. They knew the rules first, and then they broke them. You’ve got to know them to be able to break them.
Brian: This is a great segue to talk about how you start a kid from scratch. How you start a kid, six, seven, eight, or ten years old? Are you working mostly one-on-one or in classes?
Jason: Mostly one-on-one, but some classes. I’ve got my own private practice which we discussed last year when I hired you as a consultant. That’s a mobile lesson setup where I travel around and do lessons in the Seattle area at students’ homes. I also teach at a local music school called Meter Music School.
Brian: Yeah, one of your clients mentioned that recently.
Jason: Yes, and most of my young students are at the school. I’m teaching kids as young as four years old—I’ve got quite a few in the four to seven age group there, plus a few older students. Most of my work in the school is private lessons, although I’ve started a “Beginning Drums for Kids” class. At this point, I’ve got kids five through seven years old in the class.
In the class setting, it’s mostly fun drumming activities like rhythm training, ear training, and rhythm reading on the dry-erase board. For that class, I’m using the techniques from your book—the rhythm animal names, singing them, playing them, writing them, and then recognizing them. We play games like, “I’ll play a rhythm on the cowbell and raise your hand if you recognize it.” We keep score.
Brian: Wow, keeping score!
Jason: I was really hesitant to do that. I had never had a student much younger than six or seven years old. Teaching four and five-year-olds, I was a little hesitant to keep score. I wasn’t sure if it would turn into fighting, but they love it! Keeping score keeps them focused.
I try to keep it fair if someone is really lagging behind—I might call on them even if they didn’t have their hand up first. They love it, and they think it’s the funniest thing. We play to five points, and, “Whoever wins the game gets first pick of the stickers I brought today.”
Brian: I love it!
Jason: That class is actually the introduction to the method in your book with the animal names.
Brian: How long does that class go? What’s the session length?
Jason: The school does it by semester. A student is invited to take the class for as long as he/she or the parents would like. Eventually they get to the point where they top out on the information because as new kids come in, there’s only so far I can go with the class.
Brian: Oh, so are they rotating in through the class?
Jason: They usually sign up and attend for two or three months. After about two months, if the student has attended every class, they’ve got it all figured out. Then I encourage them to move into private lessons.
Brian: I really like this idea. Are you saying there is no beginning or end to the class?
Jason: Exactly. There really isn’t a graduation. Kids are coming in all the time, and it’s up to me to decide when a kid who’s winning all the games is ready to move on to private lessons.
Brian: Does this class meet once per week?
Jason: Yes, Wednesdays at 4:00, for 55 minutes.
Brian: Does the school have similar classes for other instruments?
Jason: Yes, there are group classes for keyboard, guitar, voice, ukulele, and strings as well. I started teaching at the school about a year ago. The guy who runs the school, Brendan Bosworth, is great. The Kids Drum Class is something Brendan and I started. Shortly after I started doing private lessons, he came to me and said, “We’ve got young students who want to do drum classes. Can you come up with something?” We talked for a bit, and I came up with the class.
Brian: I love this. It seems like a very low-risk way for parents to bring their kids in to get exposure. They see that the method works, they see how great you are as a teacher, and within a couple months, they’re converted.
Jason: That’s it! You get the kids involved and excited to come to class, and it plants the seed for the future path.
When I started, I had all these ambitions to cover lots of material. But then I realized that with that age group in a once-a-week approach, I had to simplify down from a large assortment of instruments. Now in a class of six, I’ll have two snare drums, two floor toms or other stick drums, and two congas. We’ll also use cowbell and/or clave. We keep it simple and focused.
I realized that with more instruments, like drum set, it got a little rambunctious.
Brian: Well, working with groups is a totally different animal. Hats off to you for having the guts to try anything and then adapting as you went. Do you have them do any section playing—playing different rhythms at the same time?
Jason: I do a little bit, but it really depends on who I have in the class. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The major deciding factor is how well-behaved and how calm the kids can be in class. With drums, it can get crazy quickly.
Brian: Well, it just depends on who shows up. I can see advantages and some huge disadvantages to having this rotation system, like if you get a green kid coming in who doesn’t know what a caterpillar rhythm is, while everyone else is singing and playing chihuahua’s.
But it’s also a cool, organic way to learn. A kid walks in and says, “Hey, all these people are doing something cool here, and I guess I’d better figure it out.”
Jason: Yeah, and if we have a new student come into class, everyone introduces himself, and we review the rhythms we know. It teaches patience and being supportive listeners and helpers in class. Sometimes I’ll assign one of the kids to be the “new student buddy” for the day to help out.
It’s been a bit of an experiment for me. I haven’t done anything else like this. I don’t have any kids of my own, so this whole thing is new—“What can a six-year-old do?”
Brian: Beautiful! So what would you say is your conversion rate from kids doing the class for a couple months and then moving over to private lessons.
Jason: It’s over fifty percent I would say. Fifty or sixty percent, I’d say. Some kids fall out of the class for a while, and then call me a few months later: “We’re ready to start again. Let’s do private lessons.”
Brian: I haven’t heard of anything quite like this with the rotating setup. In my sometimes boxy thinking, I’ve always imagined a beginner class should have a start and end, but this rotation idea is great.
Jason: Yeah, and Brendan Bosworth is doing a great job with the school [Meter Music School].
Brian: So once a student moves into private lessons, what do you like to focus on?
Jason: I start with a good foundation on snare drum, then eventually move into drum set. We also work on basic hand percussion—congas, djembe; getting tones. We play other instruments like cowbell and clave too.
Brian: What do you like to do in a student’s first lesson on snare drum?
Jason: After using your book with my young students, including five- and six-year-olds, I have to tell you that it often works a lot quicker than even I thought it would. There have been first lessons where after the student can hold the sticks and play basic strokes, I’ll say, “You know, sometimes I like to think about animals while I play.” After showing them the animals for a few minutes, they are able to sing, play, and combine most of the twelve basic rhythms in the Animal Rhythms Table from pages 1-2 of the book. I never imagined this could happen so fast.
Brian: Once the ball is rolling, what do students seem to enjoy most?
Jason: Another thing that’s a huge hit in the book is the student compositions. Over and over, I’ve been amazed at how even five- and six-year-olds do so much correctly when they show me what they’ve written since their last lesson. The percussion clef is there, the up-stems are connected to the right side of the note heads, and the student can’t wait to play the composition for me.
I always enjoy the titles they come up with too—they’re often hilarious. One kid recently brought in a title called “Banana Drum.” I said, “Why’d you call it ‘Banana Drum’?” and he said, “Well, I like bananas, and I like drums!” “Cool!” I said.
Brian: That’s great! Is there anything you have students work on while they’re in The Snare Drum Plays The Zoo?
Jason: I work with beginners on rudiments. Eventually, I get them into Louis Bellson’s Modern Reading Text In 4/4.
Brian: Do you use The Snare Drum Plays The Zoo with all of your beginners?
Jason: With older, more mature beginners, I use the Alfred Snare Drum Method.
Brian: Any other books you like using with your students?
Jason: On drum set, I use John Riley’s bop drumming book for jazz. I really like the Latin section of this book too. I use a lot of Alan Dawson method ideas as well.
My favorite Latin books are Afro-Cuban Rhythms For Drum Set, by Malabe and Weiner, and Brazilian Rhythms For Drum Set, by Duduka da Fonseca.
Brian: I use both of those books with my students too. Fantastic resources.
Jason: I don’t do any keyboard percussion yet, but I intend to add it down the line.
Brian: Jason, it has been a pleasure chatting with you today. Thanks so much for taking time to talk about your background and your current teaching activities!
Jason: Thanks for inviting me to do it!
You can keep up with Jason Kenyon on his website kenyongrooves.com
Find out more about Meter Music School (where Jason teaches) at metermusicschool.com
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