Les DeMerle: A Drum Teacher’s Greatest Disservice

SKF NOTE: This exchange is from my 1984 Modern Drummer interview with Les DeMerle. The back story is here.  We had discussed the greatest service a drum teacher can offer students. I circled back to that topic and asked Les, “What about the greatest disservice a teacher can give a student?”

Les DeMerle circa the time of this interview

Les DeMerle circa the time of this interview

Les DeMerle: Honesty is the key service. There’s alot of drum teachers out there that I feel aren’t really qualified. You can’t jump into teaching too soon. Even at the beginner’s level. You should really have a certain amount of knowledge and direction and your own style. And be open-minded.

There are alot of guys who are locked into a system and they preach that one particular system. If it’s a technical approach — that’s fine. But on the bandstand it’s a different thing. You have to get the natural quality out of the individual and deal with the way he approaches the instrument.

If I get a student who has only one way of approaching a certain thing because his teacher taught him that for five years — it’s like untying a bunch of knots to get that student to be loose again.

There might be one way to do certain things. But, to me, the most natural players — which is what we strive for — do it several ways.

Les DeMerle

Les DeMerle

Let’s use Buddy Rich as an example. I’ve seen him play a whole set with matched grip. He doesn’t always do that. But that night he felt like playing matched grip. Maybe it was with the butt-end of the sticks.

Certain teachers would say that you should never do something like that. Usually those students come in stiff to begin with. They are so scared because they’ve been taught one regimented way for so long.

The idea is to loosen it up.

Scott K Fish: Buddy used the term attitudinal playing in a recent interview. Can you hazard a guess as to what he meant by that?

LD: I would think he was saying that you should play with a good attitude. He hears everything. Just that alone is such a courtesy. Even though he’s such a force, he’s still one of the greatest sidemen in the world. I’ve heard him sitting in with trios playing as tasty as Marty Morell did with Bill Evans.


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