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from Jono Diener of The Swellers:

Fueled By Ramen's picture
on January 18, 2012 - 4:07pm

My friend James teaches an after school program for seventh and eighth graders at Flint's Southwestern Academy which was perfect because we needed some younger kids to act in our new video for our song, "Inside My Head". James' co-worker let us use her son, Anthony, and his two sisters to act in the video and they did a killer job. In exchange James asked if I could come to his class and teach the kids a little bit about drums for their lesson "Things That Go Boom" and drumming was something everyone could relate to.

I'm always into giving back to the community and figured it'd be cool challenging myself with public speaking to some inner city kids who could honestly care less about me or our band. If I could hold their attention that would be a feat in itself. I was told it was 3 half an hour lessons I'd have to give but when we showed up we were told there were 2 classes and I'd have everyone for over an hour each... I'm good at running with things, but that seemed pretty scary. While we walked down the hallway everyone asked if me and James (aka Mr. H) were either best friends or brothers which I thought was hilarious. I loved how those were the only two options.

I brought a kick drum, snare drum, my pedal and hi hat stand into the class room and all of the kids already had drum sticks and practice pads ready to play along with me. I talked about how drums make the sounds they do, which one was which, and how I got started out drumming. They were pretty excited when I told them I get to travel the world with our band. The best was suddenly when kids started making requests for me to play Rihanna's "Umbrella", Green Day's "American Idiot", and for some reason "The Ozzy Osbourne Beat". I had no idea what they were talking about until they hummed the melody to "Crazy Train" which barely has drums in the beginning... it was hilarious. These kids knew about three rock songs total and it was actually cute they were trying to bond with me. I started playing a simple beat then a girl asked if it was a Michael Jackson song. I told her it could work for a few of his songs then she covered her ears and told me she hates MJ. Her classmates proceeded to berate her with insults at how dumb she was for not liking it. I then went to find out the girl hated drums completely and walked out when I started playing. Everyone was laughing at her and I tried to hold back a smile. These kids DO NOT hold anything back. I then told her the same beat wasn't a Michael Jackson song, but an AC/DC song and she was not amused.

After talking I did a little drum solo for each class and then let the kids come up to learn a beat for themselves. At first it was awkward trying to not only get the kids' attention when they'd turn away to start talking to their friends or use their cell phones (don't even get me started on kids using cell phones these days, I swear I'm too old). I played a straight beat and told the kids to add their own part to it on their drum pads so we created a big drum circle in the room. Think less of a hippie drum circle and more of a cool STOMP kind of deal. As we started a girl started rapping over it out of nowhere and it was really really cool. The craziest part was watching these kids learn a cool beat within minutes. They struggled and were ready to give up because of how weird it felt to play the proper way, but I made them sit down and try again until they got it. Whether or not they want to go on playing, at least I got about 15 kids going home and telling their families at school they learned how to play a drum beat. Maybe they'll go on to music? Who knows? The girl who rapped told me her stage name was Alex and she wanted to sing in a band, asking if she can join mine. She swore she only needed one dollar a day. She is a record label's dream. I played some more and she rapped in front of the class then the kids helped me take my drums down the hallway to my car. They were awesome.

It's pretty amazing being able to teach people something, especially at a young age. That's why I have so much respect for teachers because I know I wouldn't be able to do their job. Every little thing impacts someone's life and who knows, maybe music can keep these kids off the streets, off drugs and even one day get them some kind of scholarship to an awesome college. It's all about baby steps, but I'm glad I got to be a part of it.

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