Teaching Music, Teaching Percussion: A Balance In Curriculum
By Brandon Kurzawa

Published in Tempo Magazine’s October 2006 Issue.
© 2006 Brandon Kurzawa. Reprinted with permission.
Email to bkurzawa@mac.com for information.

Percussionists, more commonly referred to as drummers, are a unique group of musicians.  Drummers are often recognized, and referred to as non-musicians and the old familiar saying, “There are four members in the band - three musicians and one drummer” is often comically stated when speaking of drummers and percussionists.  Percussionists should study music like all other instrumentalists and work towards perfecting their craft both technically and musically while understanding and practicing music theory and musicianship skills.  A significant difference for students who study percussion versus other instruments is, unless studying marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, or piano, in conjunction with percussion, students may not ever understand melody or harmony by only studying snare drum and drum set.

Percussion teachers can teach students a well-rounded music education by incorporating different areas of musical study into each lesson.  There is an increasing amount of private music schools for students of all ages and many musicians find part-time and full-time work teaching music in addition to performing and recording.  Great musicians may not be great music teachers initially and musicians may really find enjoyment teaching students music.

The practice of teaching requires great patience and knowledge of how to educate and instruct a student.  Many musicians who strive for a performing and recording career may have never studied how to teach music and realize rewards can be found in education, especially a stable income. As an undergraduate music student, I focused heavily on performance skills and didn’t think about teaching music. It was during my first teaching position that I realized the importance of having a progressive and comprehensive curriculum with instructional methods and strategies to accurately meet the learning styles of each student.      

Music lessons are most advantageous when students study individually with a professional musician or degreed teacher who has experience and dedication towards teaching.  It is important for percussion specialist teachers to incorporate not only percussion in the lessons, but music.  Percussion teachers can teach theory and harmony to students and apply the theory lessons to the marimba, xylophone or piano.  This application allows students to understand the importance of melody and harmony and will encourage musicianship skills such as ear training.  Additionally, percussionists can later enjoy their abilities to understand and compose music, similar to other instrumentalists such as guitarists and pianists, once their theory and harmony skills are developed.  

In terms of instruction, each teacher is going to have a preferred method of teaching as well as a preferred collection of instructional method books.  Percussionists are fortunate to have so many great method books by so many great renowned drummers and percussionists.  Each teacher should research method books that are applicable for each student’s cognitive ability and level of comprehension. A consuming task at minimum for newer teachers, this process will solidify the educational process for future students and organization when it comes to instructional options and delivery.

In the following issue I will discuss curriculum in detail and provide examples of method books that have proven successful for me while teaching students of all ages and abilities.  Musicians who want to begin teaching music may not know where to begin and what books to start with.  Teachers who have been teaching for many years can evaluate their curriculum and expand their own library of method books to accurately instruct and educate each student based on his or her needs. When teaching music, specializing in percussion, it comes down to a fine balance in curriculum and instruction and what is best for each student.    

Brandon Kurzawa, music educator and performer in New Jersey, teaches music, specializing in percussion, piano and guitar, to students of all ages via Music Notes Academy, a music school he founded in 2000. A member of Percussive Arts Society (PAS), NJ Music Educator’s Association (NJMEA), The National Association for Music Education (MENC) and an educational contributor and endorsee for Vic Firth, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of drumsticks and mallets, Mr. Kurzawa has a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance and a Masters of Arts in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, Computer Education. Brandon’s recent session work includes drums and percussion on John Sonntag’s critically acclaimed 2006 release, Chasing Stars, which was recently voted number four in NJ’s Top Ten Releases for 2006. Brandon has also worked with Amanda Avila, Ansel Matthews and Anthony Krizan. In 2007, Brandon was recognized by Metropolitan Who’s Who for outstanding leadership, achievement and excellence in music education. For more information visit www.musicnotesacademy.com and www.brandonkurzawa.com.