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Obscure Magazine
Promoting Maine's Original Musicians & Songwriters
Vol.1 ISSUE 03
Oct. 1993 FREE!
Page 6
Interview Dick Demers
By Douglas Papa
Q      How do you feel about the state of instruction for drum teachers in the State of Maine at this point?
DICK :  It has become a lot better.  In 1959, when I began teaching, most instructors taught only snare drumming.  A few did teach marimbas (a variety of xylophone,) timpani to some extent, but usually just snare drumming.  When I began teaching I could see that there was a lack of instruction on the drum set.  That was usually left up to the individual.  If he was lucky enough to have upper - classmen who played pretty well it was passed on in certain schools.  But then other kids who possibly had no one they knew playing a drum set would have no direction, thus the instruction was pretty bad.  You know if you go back thirty some years ago, when you played a drum set it was primarily reading, rudiments, rudimental drumming...that was basically it.  It has come a long way.  Not many kids know what they are doing at twelve years of age, some of them are on a set if they are with the right teacher.  Teaching has spread out throughout the state to a great degree.  I've been teaching in the Lewiston / Auburn area as well as surrounding areas for all of my teaching years.  Portland has some good teachers.  Brunswick also has some good teachers.  I'm not sure about
Waterville, they just seem to come and go there.  I also am not sure about upper-state...I don't know.  Some of my former students are presently band directors who I know are doing some teaching byt I have lost track of them.  Joe Weiner, one of my former students is teaching in Bar Harbor as far as I know and Dave Saucier, another former student, is teaching in Old Town.

Q   When you started teaching a student up here at U.M.A. what's the average problem you run into during the first month of lessons?
DICK:  It depends upon where the student is from.  If from the Bangor area or the Portland area where there has been a lot of good instruction, they are pretty much on track.  I've had some students who live too far away from any instructor who have to just pick up what they can in the school band.  Consequently, their reading, their sticking control, and their independence on the drum set is not that great.  So anyone, even if they have a natural sense of rhythm, still has some basic things that have to be mastered on the drum set when it comes to independence.  Those not able to study are lacking all three of these.  This itself will prevent anyone form going any distance and competing with guys who have these tools.  Some guys have to start from scratch as far as improving their reading and stick control, and of course they're weak on rudiments and sticking patterns.  Real control for four moving parts is what they are lacking.
Q    What are the major problems your students run into practicing today, opposed to the problems they faced when you first started teaching? (Ca.1959.)
DICK:  Well, a lot of them would like to practice more.  Many of them have more homework than they can handle.  They come home from school and do their homework right off the bat, go outside for awhile, go back into the house and do more homework.  by that time, it's too late to work on the drum set.  The parents are watching the evening news and other activities are going on in the house.  Most of it is due to just a lack of time.  I find that they can't seem to get everything in, but yet those who are eager usually find the time.  Either during a study period at school or immediately after getting home from school, they'll spend some time so that they don't disturb television during suppertime or after.  Some guys are able to get practicing in but it's getting harder.  There are more sports than the kids of thirty years ago were involved in.  They're busier, which I think is good, but that's definitely the problem, much busier and more homework.
Q      Do you think the invention of Nintendo plays a big factor in your younger students?
DICK:  Well, a lot of them will spend two hours a day on the game when they could be spending that time practicing.  But you know the novelty of the game will wear off.  Some of them I know just don't practice.  This past week has been a vacation week for most schools and would have been a great time for kids to catch up a little bit, but they'll find other things to do rather than spend an hour a day practicing.  If you want to do it, you'll find the time...that's the bottom line.
Q     Do you think when it comes to television, it's pretty much stayed the same?  When your students have been watching it, do you think more kids are addicted to it now than they were thirty years ago?
DICK:   (Laughing)  When I started taking lessons, television was not in.  We didn't have the major channels in this area at that time so when I started (taking) drum lessons about 1950, late 1949, there was no television, consequently no TV games to play which allowed more time to practice than now.  I can see a big difference, the hours they spent with their games and I think, a bit more homework.  But there still are some MONSTER students out there, probably more than thirty years ago.  Those who want to do it as I said, find the time.
Q          Have these years of economic trends,such as the recession in '74, early '80's and today, affected you?
DICK:     Yes, it does affect some parents if their job is threatened.  They'll have to cut back before they lose their job.  Music lessons are usually one of the first things that can be cut out without affecting the family too much.  If the parents are self-employed, usually music lessons are the first to go.  I've had quite a few students who had to stop because their parents were self- employed.  They can't cut back on their house payments or electricity bills so lessons are number one to go.  I found through the years that those who had to stop their lessons due to the economy usually were able to return.  The only thing that could affect lessons, not just the drum lessons, are cuts in some of the band programs.  If there is no band program, there is no need for parents to have their kids take music lessons.  Why learn an instrument if there is no place to use it?  I was talking to a principal a few days ago who told me that his band program was cut out at his school.  He said that he saw a difference in the kids.  He felt that they were getting into more trouble.  They weren't taking lessons because they didn't feel they needed to, so they had more time on their hands...we can see it already.  Hopefully, there aren't going to be too many schools that will be cutting back on their band program because that would make a big difference right there.  There are probably from 5,000 to 8,000 kids in the Central Maine area in school bands.  If their not taking lessons, that is going to affect a lot of teachers across the board.
Q               What do you feel is the best advice you can give a new drum teacher?
DICK:      What I think a teacher should do before he hangs our a shingle saying "Drum Lessons" is be certain his reading is good.  He should be able to cover all his bases from book one, basic learning of rudiments and notes all the way to advanced students on the drum set.  If they can't do that they are going to end up with egg on their face.  Somewhere down the line, if a parent wants their son or daughter to learn drums and to be in the school band, and you're not knowledgeable enough to help them in that department, you'll be in trouble from the start.  You can't fake those things, you've got to know it.  You've got to do your homework to play all that material without mistakes.  If a teacher can't play mistake free himself, it's pretty hard for the student to have much faith in him.
Q              On the subject of patience, what is some advice for the drum teacher having this?
DICK:      Usually I find that some of my former students have become good teachers.  Sometimes I find that if they found learning very easy when they were taking lessons that many times they assume that it should come as easy to their student.  Not everyone learns at the same speed.  Many times the teachers go too fast and don't have a sense in the beginning that they are losing the student...but that comes with a lot of experience of teaching.  The first rule of being a good teacher is to go at the student's pace.  You can push them to some extent and give them advice but you can't jump ahead because  they soon get bored.  They have to do rudimental drumming and have a pretty good grasp of it.  You can't just by-pass the whole thing and say, "Well, let's go onto something else."  So it takes patience.  But I think the more you teach, the more you realize, hey, this is just the way it is.  You can't go at the same speed you did when you were learning the same material.  Sometimes it has to be slower than that.  I think the more you teach, the more patient you become.  There are days when I have 20 students in a row.  I usually find myself having as much patience with the last one as I did with the first.  You can't start off with 50 - 70 students and control it the way I do at present.  I had to learn this myself and grow into that with many students.  It takes a while through experience.
Q           When you have a rough day or week, financial and family troubles, how do you try to let go of that so you can have a clear mind for teaching?
DICK:     Maybe I've been lucky and never have been in a financial bind, other than the usual monthly bills.  I've never got to the point when I feel myself sinking...that is not usually one of my problems.  Everyone does worry about certain things.  Usually when I'm teaching I tend to forget about minor concerns.  Fortunately, for the most part, all my concerns are minor.  They have never got in the way of good teaching but I have always been very lucky.
Q           Have you ever seen any of your students drop out after reaching a certain age such as 17 or 18, because they feel they don't need lessons anymore?
DICK:     A lot of them after high school, if they have been taking lessons for a long period of time and are good readers for the most part, will stop taking lessons.  I like them if they can read, have good skills, good independence, they can continue learning for the rest of their life.  If you can have these three skills down, there is no end to what you can accomplish on your own.  It's when you can't read, you're lacking stick control and independence that you tend to hit the wall all the time and can't go on.  Some students will take one or two lessons and say, "I don't want to do this."  I want them to learn to read notes even if I have to put them on a drum set.  We do use notes, we count, but some kids can't see that we need to do this on the set when they just want to learn a beat.  If all they want to do is learn a beat, I can teach them a beat and that would be the end of it.  But if they want to continue and grow with it there are some basic reading skils to learn.  Without having to interpret intricate rudimental parts you need to know basic eighth notes and quarter notes to learn basic rhythms.  Reading becomes a tool to learn by if you want to go any distance.  I take many shorcuts with them and it works well.  Some kids want to bypass everything...they just wanted to play.  Many tmes the kids who took only one or two lessons will come back and say, "Well, I guess I need to do it."  A lot of students that do that will eventually buckle down.
Q          What are the benefits for a student or teacher to keep taking lessons?
DICK:     I've had some students that have been taking lessons up to 8 years.  I think at that point they could stop.  I've had some stop for awhile and return again, they felt it made them practice more.
Q         Do you think it's easier teaching on two drum sets than it is on one?
DICK:     At my studio I've been using two sets for the past 20 years.  It's much easier, I can show a student exactly what has to be done without having to pull him away from the set.  We can trade solo's, take measures of two's, fours, eights, or whatever.  If I play a particular thing that he likes then we'll stop, talk about it, and I'll show him patterns he's interested in.  Other than my studio in Lewiston, for example, the University of Maine in Augusta, Windham, and Grey/New Gloucester, I use only one set.
Q          When you first started teaching did you feel that there were some obstacles you had to oversome to make it a career?
DICK:     I did have a lot of unanswered questions in the beginning.  I couldn't find any drum books that would help students with the art of independence.  It was trial and error.  Finally I found some books that saved me, and I was able to figure out most of the things on my own.  There were still a lack of books on the market.  That's when I started to develop myu own exercises.  I began applying it to the syncopationn book, which eventually led to having enough exercises to publish my book, The Beginning To No End To Control.  This book is just a practical way of breaking down drum barriers.  There was a need to work a lot of things out.  there was no one in the area at that time, if you go back to 1959, 1960, that could show me books and shortcuts that I could use in my teaching.  I had to do a lot of figuring ou on my own and it was very time consuming.  When my students came in for a lesson I could show them all of the things it took me years to figure out, playing time signatures and learning to count them.  Students could benefit from taking lessons, by shortening the time it takes to accomplish these things.  If left on their own, some students, if not curious enough, would never find the answers.  How to break these barriers down is why lessons on any instrument is important.  It's just learning the correct way in the beginning so as not to go in the wrong direction and have to deprogram yourself.  There are a lot of things you can learn that are not adequate skills that would be compensating variations of what should be.  You then are hung with that, so, that is why again, control is so important.
Q          Would you like to make any closing statements?
DICK:     (Laughing) Yes, practice.  (Laughing more)  That's the bottom line. You could take all the lessons in the world but there is an equation.  "X  amount of time equals X amount of results."  If you're being guided in the right direction and you're putting in the time, you'll get results.  You can get some results on your own, but it's usually slower.  For the same amount of time, with the proper instruction, you'll go further.
Dick Demers is the drum instructor at The University of Maine in Augusta.
Douglas Papa is the owner of Augusta Music Lessons.