Both of my boys are musically talented. My oldest has taken guitar lessons since he was about 13, but my youngest hasn’t quite shown the focus to justify paying for lessons on the drums quite yet. However, he does enjoy playing, and he has his own drum set, and I’ve always wanted to get him some sort of formal instruction to learn actual drum technique. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to check out DrumsWithWillie from JazzEdge for this review.
Lessons in DrumsWithWillie are based around the Six Step Cycle that focuses on technique, rhythm, ear training, reading music, song, and improvisation and each unit is broken into lessons that focus on these specific skills. The drum lessons consist of three levels. I guess students who already have experience with drums could start at level 2, but for my son, who really hasn’t done much but bang around the drums here and there, we began at the very first level.
The very first lesson in each unit introduces the basic technique the student will flesh out in the subsequent lessons and gives you a PDF download of the sheet music they will refer to throughout the unit. We printed this out to make it easier for my 14 year old son and we kept all of the sheet music in a folder. In the second lesson, students learn more about rhythm, and there is usually a short quiz where students listen to musical notes and identify the rhythm they hear, from there they move on to a lesson in reading music and then learn to play notes in a song (in later units they actually learn real songs!) and finally improvisation (my son’s favorite part!).
Now, the first thing I want to say about this program is that the instructor, Mike Marble, is absolutely fantastic in his presentation. He is very personable and comes across as extremely likable, which is often hard to do in a situation where someone is sitting by themselves speaking into a camera. Often, when my kids are in an online learning situation, they find the instructor speaks in a dull, monotone voice, and they quickly get bored. That is not the case here. Mike kept my son entertained the whole time, and he is really, really good at explaining how to play the drums.
The screen is set up with a large view of the drum set where you are actually looking down at the drums, so you can see all of Mike’s hand movements, making it very easy for your child to copy what he is doing, and then there is a smaller inset of Mike at the bottom where you can see his face while he is talking. As he gives instruction, he refers students back to the sheet music so they can relate the lesson and their actions to the notes on the page, helping them make the connection between the two.
The lessons themselves are short. No more than 15 minutes (at least so far) and some are around 5. Now, I will say that we usually went over each section 2-3 times before moving on, because my son needed to practice each technique for a few days before he was ready to move on to the next step. I think this would vary depending on the child and what their prior knowledge was and what their inherent musical skill was, but for us, each unit (with 5 sections per unit) could take 2 weeks to complete if we did a section each day. More if we did it 4 days a week (which was more likely). But that’s okay with me, because I would rather take our time so my son could really learn it well. There are three levels and each one has 6 units, so that’s about 18 weeks of instruction. At the rate we are going, this will be sufficient to give us music for one full school year! Drums with Willie costs $299 for access to all three levels. My son really really enjoys this program. He likes it so much, he plans to continue doing it on his own during the summer, so that says a lot to me.