Friday, May 29, 2015

Playing DrumsWithWillie (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Playing DrumsWithWillie - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew  @

Boys just kind of naturally like to drum on things - have you noticed that? My boys all do that (even my husband!), so when we got the chance to review self-paced online drum lessons, I had no doubt that my high school son would be all over it. He's been learning DrumsWithWillie from JazzEdge for several weeks now.
JazzEdge  Review

JazzEdge founder Willie Myette is a Berklee College of Music graduate, and his goal was to place all his jazz education and performance resources in one place. The result is a family of websites that include piano lessons, theatre, and performance CDs. (There are piano lessons in jazz, funk, latin, rock, gospel, and blues styles, as well as lesson designed especially for homeschool families. We got to review HomeSchoolPiano last year - see: Jazzing Up Our Piano Lessons With HomeSchoolPiano)

DrumsWithWillie is a program for drummers of all abilities, beginner to advanced. There are three levels of lessons available, so students can learn the basics of drum technique and how to read music, and move on to improvisations and composing music of their own. The lessons employ the same 6-Step Cycle as the piano lessons, working on technique, rhythm, ear training, reading music, playing songs, and improvisation. And by the way, this cycle works with the National Standards for Music Education to create a well-rounded music curriculum that covers all the NAfME requirements.
JazzEdge  Review

Of course, you'll want to know who your instructor is! It's Mike Marble, who has taught drums privately for over twenty-five years and counts some pretty high-profile drummers among his students. He has been published in "Modern Drummer" magazine, and is one of the busiest session players at Berklee School of Music.

How did we use it? Landon is our aspiring drummer and his experience before starting this course was mostly from playing the rock music video games, and what he has been able to teach himself and pick up from the drummers in our church. As I predicted, he was very eager to try out DrumsWithWillie and hopefully even get a Fine Arts credit out of the deal! He quickly tried out the Free Lessons available on the website to start, and assured me that he would find a way to view all the streaming video lessons, even if it meant staying up late or viewing lessons on an iPod or Kindle. You see, this is a streaming program, so obviously you need reliable high-speed internet. We do have reliable internet, but it is also a provider that restricts our download speed after a set amount of usage each month. So that did present a challenge for us - Landon watched a couple of lesson videos during our late-night "free zone" internet; and also watched some at our church using wi-fi (with permission, of course!)

The set of free lessons and the CoreDrums lessons, which are recommended for all students, but especially beginners, are available only online in streaming format. But, we were delighted to find that once Landon got to Level 1, we could download each video as an mp4 and he could play it at his convenience! CoreDrums teaches basics such as how to change and tune drum heads, choose a location for and set up a drum kit, how to hold the drum sticks properly, and the very first lesson is a really important one (in my opinion as a worship team director!) - Being a Team Player.  With the foundation laid, the student is ready to continue playing and developing their technique in three levels of drum lessons. There are several units within each level, teaching rhythm patterns, how to read music, and developing improvisation skills.  Below is a screenshot showing part of Level 1. There is a dashboard on the side reminding you where you left off and letting you shortcut to "Continue Last Lesson". You can also see that there are "Level Resources", which are pdf downloads with the music notation for the rhythm patterns taught.

Playing DrumsWithWillie - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew  @

Within each Unit, the lessons follow that 6-step cycle mentioned above, as you can also see in the screenshot below. There is also a Lesson Quiz for the student to check their understanding.

Playing DrumsWithWillie - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew  @

Landon has an electronic drum kit to use here at home, and is allowed to practice on the drum kit at church as well, so he has been able to practice on both types. He is learning how to read music, and learning excellent technique from a master teacher, and I have to say this is probably a life-saver program for a guy that needs that Fine Arts credit, but isn't interested in piano lessons or painting and water color. From a homeschool mom standpoint, I'm ecstatic because he is excited about doing the lessons and likes to practice. From a church worship team leader standpoint, I'm happy about having another drummer in the works! I've encouraged Landon to talk about his DrumsWithWillie lessons with our excellent drummers at church and maybe even have them evaluate his playing as he continues. It seems like drum instructors are hard to find, and private drum lessons aren't exactly cheap, so a work-at-your-own-pace program like DrumsWithWillie is perfect for us, and probably for many other homeschool families as well!
Playing DrumsWithWillie - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew  @

Playing DrumsWithWillie - A Homeschool Coffee Break Review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew  @
The customer service is outstanding, by the way. At one point, Landon didn't realize that I had already downloaded and printed the pdf's for a Lesson, and was confused about where to find the resources mentioned in the lesson he was looking at. He tried the Live Support Chat feature (available M-F 9-5), and was answered immediately by a very helpful staffer. 
And another bonus?! I had been letting Landon have at these drum lessons on his own, but recently realized that I can learn all kinds of "drummer-speak" and be better able to communicate with the drummers during worship team practice! How cool will it be when I can tell my drummer where I want him to put the double paradiddles or flam accents, am I right? (I totally do not know what they are at this point - I just realized I could expand my vocabulary this way!) Unit 3 teaches "Neal Peart's Lick", a John Bonham style groove, and a "Bo Diddly Groove" - I am looking forward to hearing my kid be able to play those!
What we liked best:

  • the streaming videos work on all kinds of devices - computer, tablet, smartphone - which was great because our computer is not in the same room as the drum kit, and we don't have a laptop. No problem, because Landon could load the mp4 videos onto his iPod.
  • I loved that the team player aspect was addressed right at the beginning. Kickin' drum solos are awesome, but in a band we all want to work with a drummer who isn't trying to out-bang everyone else!
  • the ability to read musical notation is given high priority.
  • playing real songs and learning improvisation techniques right from the start.

What I need to mention:

  • obviously you will need a drum kit - a basic set with a kick drum, snare drum, hi-hat, at least one cymbal, and one pair of sticks will do.
  • also pretty obvious - you'll need high-speed internet in order to watch the streaming videos, or be able to download and play the mp4 files. You'll also need to be able to print the pdf portions of the lessons.
  • you or your student will need to be able to listen and evaluate your own progress.

Our bottom line: I think this is just such a fantastic program and a great way to learn to play drums. Quality lessons in all aspects of music, from a respected and experienced teacher, and the student can work at their own pace and convenience, and review lessons as often as they want. I'm looking forward to updating sometime by saying that Landon is taking a turn playing drums with worship teams at church and doing a great job of it. And Landon is enjoying being able to play well, and he is looking forward to checking off that Fine Arts credit when he completes the course.

JazzEdge  Review

JazzEdge  Review

Would you like to learn how to play drums or piano with Willie? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: and

You can follow DrumsWithWillie on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, on YouTube, and on Vimeo.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Other Crew members reviewed Easy Piano Basics and PianoWithWillie, so be sure to check those as well!
JazzEdge Review

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