My tips on teaching very young children.


wy yung

Hi guys. This was actually a PM to a member who asked my advice. I thought I may as well post it here just in case it may be of use to someone. Here goes...

Teaching children.
Currently my youngest student is 3 years old and my eldest is 62. I have discovered that teaching various ages is not so different really, keep the student entertained and enthusiastic and the atmosphere fun and positive. Of course kids have widely different needs than adults, but my approach of teaching the individual carries me through. Hopefully something here will be of help to you.

When speaking with parents of very young kids I warn them that first we must see how it goes. Sometimes the child is not ready. If that is the case I ask them to try again in a year or so. Happily I have only had one small boy I had to turn away. The class became a nursery. Keep this in mind. There are plenty of babysitters out there.

What to expect from children aged 3 to 5: The unexpected! Planned lessons? Forget it! Stick Control by Mr Stone? Forget it!

So what do I require? Patience. I like to use a kids drum book. In Australia there is a series of books called Drumming from top to bottom, by author Tom Jackson. The Jnr edition has lots of cartoons, large type and easy to understand descriptions. For example; breaking down a 4 1/4 bar note in to four pieces of pie.

Classes are booked for 30 minute blocks. However, I never expect a full 30 minute class from a 3 or 5 year old just beginning. Often I have had 10 minutes, 15 or 20. The concentration span is short. Remembering this is perfectly fine and OK is important. I am happy to get what I can and allow things to build over time.

Time: This is a huge factor. I currently have a small boy who began at 3 and who turned 4 about six months ago. We worked bit by bit each week. His parents understood that it would require patience and time. I spoke to them at length on the subject. This too is vital. The parents have to be aware so that unreasonable demands are not expected. This is the second time I mention this, because it is that important.

Well now this 4 year old is reading and playing 8 bar solos. I am always vocal in my enthusiasm and congratulate his successes. This again is vital. Children feed on positive feed back. If the teacher is insincere the child will know.

There is no formula I use to pass on. Here is a basic description of a first class.
I greet everyone with a big smile and be sure to pay special attention to the child. I have a chair in my studio for a parent and they are welcome, provided they do not interfere and offer instruction. My rule is one room, one teacher. No exceptions!

I begin by asking the child to hit various things. Usually they are shy and scared to make noise. Once they realize noise is welcome and they wont be punished, the gleam is wonderful to see in their eyes. Then I show them how to hold the sticks.

Holding the sticks: I always remember that this child has been walking for about 2 or 3 years. The first year was probably spent falling over. I do not expect small children to hold the sticks perfectly. It is not going to happen. At least for me. I am more concerned with their general movement around the kit. Basic coordination is my goal. To hit a snare and a cymbal together. Or a bass drum and hi hat. There is plenty of time in the future to perfect a Moeller stroke. I am never pedantic over minutiae with small children. That is a sure fire way to lose the student. I do not wish to kill an interest in playing drums.

Communication: Just how does one describe a group of four 16th notes to a 5 or 3 year old? I use language children understand. For example, CocaCola = four 16ths. Peanut = two 8th notes. Jellybean represents a triplet. So CocaCola Peanut = four 16ths leading into two 8ths. You can use your own terminology.

The classes, how do I structure them? There is no structure. Remember. Rather it is the individual child's mood on that particular day that shapes what will take place. If the child is surly or tired, there is no perfect remedy. If I am able to pull them out of a bad mood, all to the good. If not, that is fine too.

One way I have found to bring a child back to me when he or she may be losing focus is to play simple phrases, one at a time and see if the child responds in kind. Have them copy you. Chances are you'll get 7 notes when you wanted 4. As long as they regain focus and start smiling, perfect! Another way is to play 16th note fills around the drums. Be sure to get a crash at the end.

Remember, I take what I can get and allow time to do its thing. I have no expectations at this point and so avoid disappointment.

Samba: Children seem to be able to hear a samba very clearly, provided it is simple. I use a basic street samba, snare, floor tom over 1/4 bass drum. Simple. Easy. Last Saturday I had a three year old playing along with me while his shocked and delighted father watched on. It can be done. Be patient. When it happens, it is fantastic!!

Shortly after I had a 5 year old in for his first lesson. This young boy was full of energy. His focus all over the place. I responded by gaining his attention by asking him questions. "Do you know what that is called?" "It is a snare." etc. I also allowed him to burn off some energy by playing short solos with him. Once he had gotten "it" out of his system, things were easier. I told his mother I reckon he will grow up to be a heavy metal drummer. She said "Oh No!" Laughs all around. I am sure I can teach him and put his energy to good use.

Short periods spent on various techniques: I keep things short. A few minutes spent on Momma Dadda is fine. A little on a beat etc etc.

What is in my studio?: I have a tine child's throne. I also teach percussion, so there are congas, djembe, reco reco, cabasa, shakers, tan tan, tamborim and even a pandeiro. I have no problem with a child getting up from the kit and playing the cabasa. It is an instrument worth knowing. This allows me even more freedom of movement within the time span of the class and the student's attention.

Michael Jackson: Love him or not, kids relate to his music. A song like Billy Jean is a perfect play along for a little kid. So is All I wanna do is have some fun, by Sheryl Crowe. Indeed a four year old loves singing a duet with me when the title words are sung. This blew his mother away the first time she saw both of us playing drums while singing "All I wanna do is have some fun". There are many songs to use. This particular boy loved that one. So that is where we went.

Equipment, what does the younger student need. The basic kids drumming book, sticks, I recommend Regal Tip 7a's. Very small and light. Vic Firth makes kids sticks, but I reckon the Regals work better. Practice pad. Don't expect the practice pad to get a good workout for some time. Little kids are not likely to do much practice. Again that is fine. A lesson each week adds up and there is plenty of time in the future.

What I need as a teacher is buckets of patience, enthusiasm, genuine interest in the student's progress and an open mind.

I hope the above is of some interest and help.


Platinum Member
Great to see that someone else is actually educating younger students. I have seen threads on this forum that basically suggested that the teacher let the student bang around a bit and then play some "copy what I play" games with time to eat snacks built into the lesson! That's not what parents are paying me for. Teachers need to be honest with the parents. Some kids that age don't have the attention span yet. If that is the case, I will recommend an early music education or Kindermusik type class first - then lessons later.

Children at young ages are like sponges. They will read rhythms, play mallet percussion instruments, play coordinated rhythms on drumset - they just need someone to show them how. And going between the pad, mallets, and drumset keeps their attention better than 30 minutes sitting at the drum set. Keep up the good work wy yung!!!

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Silver Member
Some great advice here, what would you try and get young students to do at home as practice? And what would you suggest to their parents in terms of getting them to practice and how long to do it for?

I've found some students respond well if I give them an easy song and tell them all I want them to do is just to clap along at home while others are more than happy to work on quarter note reading, paradiddles etc.

Edit: Oh and I agree with using language children understand to learn rhythms. I usually use fruit: pear, apple, pineapple, watermelon.

wy yung

Some great advice here, what would you try and get young students to do at home as practice? And what would you suggest to their parents in terms of getting them to practice and how long to do it for?

I've found some students respond well if I give them an easy song and tell them all I want them to do is just to clap along at home while others are more than happy to work on quarter note reading, paradiddles etc.

Edit: Oh and I agree with using language children understand to learn rhythms. I usually use fruit: pear, apple, pineapple, watermelon.

I am so sorry I missed your question.

Practice is beyond my control. I speak to parents and ask them to become involved and help. The parent sitting in on the lesson helps because they too can learn basic reading. However what then takes place in the home is anyone's guess. Many parents have no time or inclination. It is obvious many don't want drums in the house! Many today are scared to remind their kid to practice. As if they don't want to be a bad guy.

If there is a way to make students practice, I don't know it. I can only offer advice. But I do find showing useful ways to use rudiments does help. It is not enough to say "practice this paradiddle!" A student deserves to understand these things are useful. Little kids may not understand this anyway. Mostly not. But that does not matter. Their interest in coming to class is what matters. How I do this is based upon the character of each student. As mentioned, I have no formula. Just ask, show a result and use and hope for the best. A five year old is not likely to think or remember to practice a paradiddlediddle.

I don't mind a lack of practice from tots. This is where my patience kicks in. Often it is myself that must step back and allow time to twkes its course. These children are very young after all. It is probably more about me than the child.

If anyone has a clear method that works, please post it here because I need to learn it. I lost a young student today. It happens, but I really enjoyed our classes and will miss them. I too need advice and help.

You take the good with the bad I suppose.


Senior Member
Thanks Jeff. That makes a lot of sense to me. I was thinking that anything in-ear would be difficult for a little kid. Something like the Vic Firth Kidphones makes sense.

PS: My instructor just started me working from your book. Just got my copy. Great stuff. Thanks for that too.


Gold Member
I was told that the old style high collars that musicians used to wear was to cover up the burns from shock collars. I cannot verify this. . .

Great article/advice on young kids! This ought to be stuck into place.

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
Great tips and gread thread! Patience and the teacher's own motivation and enthusiasm
are really the key to teaching young or even very young (or wy young, haha) children!

I think it's not too important for young children to know about notation. But then again,
if they don't have a clue it's much harder to make them know what they should do on
their instrument at home.

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
There tends to be a rule in most public music schools around here that one must be at least 10 years old to play drums. Though it sounds sort of reasonable it seems to me it doesn't work. At that age they already generally expect to get behind a kit and become masters over night with no practice,

I have some younger private students now. Offcourse they are naturally more motivated because they have to lok me up the parents have to drive them to my own practice space and they also pay about 4 times more than thay have to pay the public music school.

Still these younger children are amazingly easy to work with. Great attitude, naturaly disciplined with just a big smile on their faces and they don't mind learning to read music at all.

It's a bit of an investment, but the future payoff will probably be worth it.


Senior Member
That's nice to hear Odd-Arne. I'm about to get my 5-year-old son started. He's had his heart set on drums since he was 2 or 3, and he already totally identifies with drums: he thinks of himself as the drummer in the family. Should be a fun adventure.