There was once a time where the only way to learn the drums was to personally seek out a good teacher. Nowadays the answer to any percussion-related question is just seconds away online and often accessible in the palm of your hand. Does this modern method of online learning completely replace the need for a traditional drum teacher, or is there no substitute for good old fashioned face-to-face learning? Each method comes with its own list of advantages and disadvantages which we’ll be discussing within this online drum lessons vs face-to-face article.
It’s worth noting that we’re classing online tuition through Skype or Zoom with a private instructor as ‘face-to-face’. Online drum lessons could also include free content through social media platforms or YouTube, but also more specialist subscription services such as Drumeo, Mike’s Lessons or Drum Channel.
With online drum subscription services offering fixed monthly rates for unlimited access to lesson content, online is pretty much guaranteed to be the cheaper option here. Most also offer a free trial period to help you decide if it’s the platform for you before you shell out.
Aside from the thousands of tuition videos available for free on Youtube, even a paid service such as Drumeo will cost less per month than taking a single 60 minute private lesson (based on a one hour lesson costing between $40 and $60 vs a $29 monthly Drumeo subscription). An in-person drum tutor naturally won’t be able to compete with these prices, although costs can be kept down somewhat by block-booking or taking group lessons.
On the subject of free online tuition, while we understand that the lack of cost will appeal, it’s often much harder to find the right content with the right structure to fit your needs as a player when you go down this route. We would always recommend seeking out a paid-for option. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.
One potential downside when it comes to online drum tuition is the often one-sided nature of video lessons, due to the lack of personal interaction with a tutor or even other students. Let’s say you decide to learn the drums through YouTube videos - other than perhaps leaving a comment on the video, there really is no opportunity for a conversation with the person teaching you. That said, spending a little cash on a premium online service opens up the potential for more interaction through tailored messages, videos and feedback on your playing. Taking face-to-face lessons is not only better for building a rapport with your tutor but also opens up the possibility of meeting other like-minded people through their student network.
Regular feedback is a core part of learning any instrument and without it bad habits are easy to fall into. You’d be hard pushed to develop bad habits whilst under the watchful eye of a private tutor as they are able to provide real-time feedback on aspects such as technique and timing. Online learning can mean a lack of opportunities for this valuable feedback. That said, many online services allow students to submit videos of themselves performing to receive written or recorded feedback. Mike Johnston’s mikeslessons.com and Dave Weckl’s Online School are great examples of this.
There’s no doubt that one of the reasons drummers are drawn to learning online is the ability to map their learning to their own schedule. With pre-recorded lesson content there’s never a wrong time to pick up the sticks and develop your skills (as long as the neighbours don’t mind). This could be beneficial for someone unavailable during normal lesson times or perhaps lacking the time to commit to regular lessons altogether. Having the ability to hit pause during a lesson is a welcome addition too, although with a good teacher you should be able to work at your own pace without feeling rushed or pressured.
Many in-person lessons are run through music schools or music shops, which means signing up for lessons comes with the added bonus of joining a local community of musicians. Many music schools will create opportunities for cross-discipline students to meet and form bands. This gives us drummers the chance to meet guitarists, bass players, singers and more - in some cases forming our first bands.
Teaching establishments will also often put on live performances which is an invaluable experience for budding musicians. This is a perk specific to having a local teacher that won’t necessarily come with Zoom/Skype lessons and will seldom be available through an online platform. That said, we are starting to see platforms like Drumeo and Mike’s Lessons hosting in-person drum camps for their online students. We’ll likely see more of this in the future.
It’s hard to say which method will allow a student the most progress as it will largely boil down to the amount of time spent learning and practicing each week. However, we can draw comparisons on progress tracking which is an incredibly important part of taking lessons. Even vicfirth.com, which has a fantastic (and free) education area, allows tracking of the 40 rudiments via bronze, silver, gold, platinum and diamond medals for each rudiment.
Paid online services focus largely on goal setting with opportunities to track progress. But, in our opinion, face-to-face tutors have the win here as they can not only help set and achieve personal goals but also provide detailed feedback on progression.
For someone picking up a pair of drumsticks for the first time it can be a daunting world of information. As we discussed above, searching the internet for ‘how to play drums’ or ‘beginner drums’ might be the first port of call for many. With so many considerations of posture and technique, starting out on an instrument is the most likely time where bad habits are going to be created. So, with this in mind, we’d recommend either paying for an online subscription to a dedicated platform with a well thought-out, sensibly structured beginner program, or seeking out a tutor for at least one or two face-to-face lessons in order to grasp the basics.
8. Access to famous names
One of the incredible things about learning drums online is the access to big name ‘celebrity’ drummers; many of whom don’t even teach in person. Look no further than the legendary Ringo Starr who, quite incredibly, has a Drumming and Creative Collaboration video course available on masterclass.com. On the same website you can also find Shelia E. Teaching Drumming and Percussion.
Drumeo is another brand that attracts regular ‘celebrity’ tutors, enabling you that rare opportunity to learn from your heroes. There are many big name drummers that teach face-to-face lessons (particularly since the pandemic), although finding one in the local area is somewhat unlikely. Skype or Zoom lessons would likely be the best way to go in order to enjoy that one-to-one face-time with your drumming heroes.
9. Lesson quality
Quality of lessons is something that can vary enormously regardless of whether they are online or face-to-face. In terms of digital delivery, production values are incredibly important - where multiple camera angles and high-quality audio have become the most basic of requirements - not to mention decent lesson content!
In-person tutors don’t necessarily have the same concerns here, although providing the necessary equipment is important for quality of lesson delivery. The phrase ‘all the gear and no idea’ comes to mind here as of course it’s equally possible to appear convincing through a polished, professional appearance but have little experience or knowledge to back it up.
For some, merely being able to play the drums is qualification enough to teach the instrument. The reality is, a completely separate skillset is required to be able to pass on knowledge effectively and equip students with the tools they need to progress. Sometimes the downside to online tuition is that you don’t necessarily know the person teaching you. This is particularly pertinent to free content on sites like YouTube, which is why we’d always recommend a paid-for subscription. Who are they, what is their background and how reliable is the information they are giving you? The same could be said for face-to-face tuition, where it’s even more important to check out their credentials before signing up.