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A drum teacher’s spring time inspiration

by Patrik Stenström

When instrument lessons were abruptly converted into remote teaching in Helsinki in March 2020, drummer and drum teacher Tommi Rautiainen decided to invite guest teachers to his courses. Soon his students found themselves receiving coaching from international drummer legends.

When all teaching suddenly became remote teaching in March 2020, drummer Tommi Rautiainen, who teaches drums at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, soon realised that his young students would now need him more than before. He was concerned with how his students could manage to keep up their motivation, both for music and in life in general. Many of them were left quite alone. Living in student accommodation in isolation from the rest of the world was no picnic, and most students, for obvious reasons, did not have a drum kit at home.

“Schools and training facilities closed down, and things became very stressful for all of us. We were left to our own devices. I was determined to ensure that my students could continue to improve despite these challenging circumstances and even turn the situation into a positive,” says Rautiainen.

He continued giving lessons remotely but also announced that he would be available on Zoom every morning at 09.00 to discuss his own practising, inviting students to play along with him. These sessions included reviews of practice methods and technique.

Very soon these meetings became sharing-based. “I always asked someone among the students to share something with the others. Then we discussed it. The things shared had to do with playing drums but also with coping in general. My aim was to curate a forum where everyone could say what they wanted. It was all about community and about looking after one another. We had more than 70 sessions like this.”

The lessons included sight-reading tasks and audition assignments and also drum tracks to songs that had not yet been published – jobs received by Rautiainen through his international contacts.

Suddenly, Eric Clapton’s and Bob Dylan’s drummers turned up

Back in the day, Rautiainen studied the drums at the Manhattan School of Music for four years, and he has maintained contact with his teacher John Riley all these years. Once when they were catching up, Rautiainen asked casually whether Riley was busy or whether he could attend a session to talk to his students. Riley had practically nothing to do and instantly said yes.

“Riley came by on Zoom and played stuff for us and answered questions quite freely. He showed us the things he had been practising during the lockdown, now that he had more time than he knew how to fill.”

Rautiainen had established numerous contacts with some of the most prominent drummers on the planet during his time in the USA, and Riley provided him with more. Rautiainen boldly got in touch with many of them, and practically everyone was immediately on board.

“What amazed me was that though these guys are at the top of their league worldwide, they were sitting at home pretty much doing nothing apart from practising. They had never once been asked to participate in anything like this. They were all highly enthusiastic and motivated.”

Eventually, Rautiainen’s guest teachers included Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd, David Garibaldi, Cliff Almond and Jim Keltner. Finnish participating professionals included Jukkis Uotila, Teppo Mäkynen, Jussi Lehtonen, Risto Skrikberg and percussionist Pete Korpela, who now lives in Los Angeles. It would be difficult to imagine a more distinguished array of instructors. Students were treated to rarities such as seeing Erskine’s practice studio and the actual drum kit that he had used when playing with Weather Report – a virtually tangible piece of history.

When all the gigs stopped, nearly all these musicians had made use of the time they suddenly had to work on the basics, and they talked to the students about the importance of basic technique. Steve Gadd reported that he was doing the same stick exercises as he had done in drum groups at the age of 10 to 14. He also said that he was compiling a small guidebook of his warmup exercises.

Extended toolkit and enhanced sense of community

In their final Zoom session, Rautiainen and his students summarised some of the thoughts that had emerged in the course of the sessions, about music and about life in general. “We made a list with the idea that we should read through the list every day and think about which things to focus on that day. There are all sorts of things on the list, from honesty and getting enough sleep to various aspects of playing the drums and being a musician.”

Rautiainen believes that the experiences of spring 2020 enhanced the sense of community among his students. He believes the guest teachers provided additional motivation and fostered a spirit of helping and sharing for the students in their everyday lives.

“I believe that some at least have broadened their stylistic sensibilities and understanding and extended the toolkit they have for making music. It is important to store a lot of material on the musical hard drive in your head that you can then draw on. I hope that all this will help us remember these exceptional circumstances in a positive way,” Rautiainen sums up.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Tommi Rautiainen at a studio. (Rautiainen's photo album)

This article was first published in the Muusikko 4/2020 magazine in Finnish.