Part Two of K-Bo’s exclusive interview with Thomas Lang and Billy Cobham about their new online drum school…
Read Part 1 HERE.
K Bo: Let’s talk tech stuff for a moment. I noted that iPad compatibility was stressed in some of the promotional materials. What’s the relevance of that?
TL: It’s important, I feel, that since some people don’t have access to computers and the like that because they do have cell phones and mobile devices that this type of access be obtainable. It was very important to me that people be able to look at their curriculums on the road and on other devices like iPads and so forth. This is also very different from other schools. You can participate on your iPhone or any device that you might have. It allows students who might not have wireless service—but they have phone service—to stay in touch and see my updated submissions. They can stay in touch anywhere in the world.
K Bo: You’ve put out instructional videos and you have a lot of material on YouTube. Why should would-be students sign up with this online school as opposed to buying the CDs or just watching your videos?
TL: Again, if people think they can learn nuances just from watching a YouTube video I don’t think it compares. Yes, they can get information and it’s one-way. But, they can never be assessed and they miss out on the most important aspect of a teacher-student relationship—the teacher actually seeing the student and interacting with him or her. That’s the only way that you really correct mistakes. With this site I can do that. I can watch a student and say things like your left hand position is wrong or your palms should be facing down. In fact, even with my boot camps—which are very small—and clinics I’ve moved away from them because they are not personal enough. I would also think that this is more satisfying for the student as well since they can not only ask questions but also get answers. And again I get to see the student play. That also makes critique a lot easier and more effective. I can reach a large group of people and spend a lot of time with them.
K Bo: So you really like the communal and social aspect of this site right?
TL: Absolutely. That works well here. If one student asks a question other students can see it and say to themselves, “yeah, that’s a good question,” then they can learn as well.
K Bo: And that means that students really get to interact with other students too right?
BC: Yes. And that’s really important. It reminds me of when I was at the New York High School Of Music And Art and there were a whole lot of drummers that were hanging out there. These were great players and we really learned from each other just by trading ideas. It was like a small jazz community and we all lived and played in a small area and people really shared. But also what was important was that players needed to know their rudiments to hang in. They needed to be able to play certain patterns just to fit in. And this caused you to learn and everyone benefited as a result and indeed, if you wanted to be part of that scene you had to learn. The back and forth was great and we have that here. They can talk about what they learned from Thomas or how they saw the Latin thing or the rock thing and how they got around certain situations. This is not bad. This, in fact, is very good.
K Bo: Take a minute to talk about younger students who are, say, 14 years old. Why is it important for kids this age to consider the school?
BC: For the 14 year old kid, for example, you have to consider the competitive aspects of playing. A kid like that is seen in comparison to his friends. He wants to come in and do something that will make everyone say to themselves, “I can’t do that.” Our school can help him get there but also keep it fun. Again, I can’t stress the importance of keeping it fun. We also will show kids how to bridge the gap so that people can see a progression in the player and not just talk about how fast the player is or something like that. We’ll go beyond the basic tools. But for those 14 year old kids, it’s all about having a good time and I understand that. But it’s also about the technique and the sooner you get that down the better.
K Bo: They say you learn from every experience, even the teacher. What have you learned from this whole experience?
TL: You’re never too old to learn from other peoples’ approaches to things. I have learned that the social aspect and connectivity in this virtual world is important particularly in terms of assessment of students. The personal nature is the most important and most attractive element. This is a very different sort of conversation and it really works. I’ve learned that this is the most important aspect in teaching and that’s what is important to people. I also get inspired by some of the younger players like where they come from and what their problems are. And sometimes I forgot that at certain stages of development some players don’t know some things and that makes me more aware of what is really going on. It also makes me a better teacher. This just again proves how valuable that interactive element really is.
BC: To add to that—and I think he is spot on—I think that when you can sit down at your kit and see what a student is presenting and I can tell the student something and ask him or her to check out what I’m talking about—and also let them see it—is really important. When you send your video response back to the student and they look at it and they “get” it, I’m very satisfied. And this can all be done in private. Hey, that didn’t happen when I was a kid. I’ve also learned that everyday is a new day. I have learned that although everyone may not have the same technical ability as myself that their approach is, in and of itself, an education for me. I see different approaches to things and I too learn from that. Just remember, there’s always someone who is better in their own way at something so that everyone can be the greatest player in the world
for what they do—not in comparison to what you do. Everybody who plays the drums is like a snowflake—there are no two that are alike. Just stay open, that’s what it’s all about.
K Bo: Along those lines, how is teaching students via this online drum school any different that other ways in which you’ve taught students in the past?
BC: I actually have to put up or shut up. If I’m asked a question or to play something I have to prove it. I have to actually play it—not talk it. I have to show students this is what something actually sounds like when it comes out. I’m totally exposed.
K Bo: Tell me about your preparation, as a teacher, in preparing the lessons and assembling your curriculum for the online drum school?
BC: I focus on how to present it in the most effective way that I can for a beginner, an intermediate player, and, for an advanced player. I also think about what do I leave in and what do I leave out. For example, for a beginner what is most important? I want to stress to students to learn to control the pattern. Sometimes you just want the student to learn the pattern. For the moment, forget about the timing. Just get them to learn the pattern. Just play what you hear and get used to that. But most of all I want students to have fun. I can’t stress how important that is. But I do stress different things for different levels. For example, when you get to the intermediate level, I need to develop a program so that the player can start to put everything together.
TL: I want to stress the basic techniques. I want to deliver as many exercises as possible and as much information as possible. I want to stress as much variation or permeation of a pattern as is possible. I want the students to be able to apply anything that they learn to their playing. But clearly the concentration is on technique whether it’s jazz or rock or anything else.
Check back next week for Part 3…