As a student and as a teacher, professional drummer Don Wiseman pursues music education from both sides of the book. In this video, expand your vocabulary by developing your brush technique with Don Wiseman. You will see brush patterns that have served effectively in performance over the years in all genres of music.
“In talking to students and colleagues, I learned that there can be perceptions that brushes are for Jazz only. Brushes can add a great dimension to all genres of music. I didn’t make any of these patterns up, but I use them frequently in low volume situations,” Wiseman explains.
“ On the drums, it’s better to be felt than heard.”
– Pat Pfiffner
Getting to know Don Wiseman in his own words
The quote above is something my drum teacher Pat told me when I was 12 years old, I keep it in mind every time I approach any percussion instrument. At age 10, I started drumming in school band percussion sections. When I discovered the drum set through a school mate, I became very interested in playing it as often as possible. We’d get together at his house and play every day after school. He had a guitar and we would switch back and forth playing whatever songs we could figure out.
In high school, I played in the marching drumline and was really into the rudimental side of drumming. Then came Drum Corps International where I listened to shows and would hack out my renditions of what I heard on my practice pad. I auditioned for the Velvet Knights, a drum corp based in Anaheim, California, in 1991 and got my eyes opened up to how incredibly talented people can be. My talent level was nowhere close to the talent level required to be in this group. I took my medicine and worked very hard for two years and auditioned again in 1993 and landed a spot. Among other things, I learned is that there are no shortcuts in music and hard work and focus gets positive results.
After high school, I taught in a private drum studio for many years—mostly drum set technique and school percussion techniques to students of all ages. I worked in a music store and was learning the sales side of the music business. San Diego has a robust live music scene, so I was playing gigs with bands of all styles. Many connections were made through the music store and I would play gigs all night, then work at the music store in the mornings, then teach in the afternoon.
After 10 plus years, I decided that I wanted to become a public school music teacher. I had many great music teachers at school.
“So many music teachers made a positive impact in my life and I wanted to share the gift of music with others that they shared with me. “
At age 40, it was off to college to study music education. I sharpened my chops on keyboard percussion instruments Marimba, Vibraphone, etc., with the help of my teacher Pat Pfiffner, with whom I studied on and off for 30 years. Pat had me in a sort of boot camp where we would have marathon, 2-3 hour lessons followed by six-hour-a-day practice sessions. I had to get my keyboard chops at a university level while knocking out general education classes in community college.
My music education degree and teaching credential were completed at San Diego State University. Currently, I am teaching general music and band for the Ramona Unified School District for kindergarten through sixth-grade students. It is the best job I’ve ever had. Students, for the most part, love listening to music. When they learn the ability to make music through singing or playing an instrument, they understand how music works, and they love music even more than before.
A chat with Done Wiseman
Chuck Schiele: Do you play drums every day?
Don Wiseman: No. But I think of drums every day. I am always listening to music from a drummer’s perspective. I like to hear how different drummers treat music and if I would do the same or something different. In the end, I am constantly learning and practicing by listening.
CS: Some of us see barrels with skins and metal frisbees. What do you see when you look at that kit?
Don Wiseman: When I look at the kit I see a positive place. I have had many positive experiences behind drums in practice, gigs, etc. When I’m behind drums I can take risks, play safe, and get weird and usually walk away with a great experience.
CS: What are some of the things you do in your non-musical life that makes you a better musician?
Don Wiseman: I spend a lot of time with my family. I have a two-year-old daughter who loves to play musical instruments. I try to explain techniques of the instruments so that she can understand them. I take what works for her and apply it directly to my K-6 teaching. It makes me a better musician and teacher to be able to explain musical techniques and ideas in their simplest form.
CS: Please tell us the positive effects of music in your life:
Don Wiseman: Music is always a source of challenge. Whether I was practicing a difficult drum pattern, learning the marimba, or trying to understand how atonal music works, I always had a challenge. Through the challenge, there was musical growth. I would put forth the amount of effort to meet the challenge and that poured over into my daily life. I always learn life lessons through music.
CS: How has the digital and social media influence affected your music?
Don Wiseman: I would say digital and social media has affected my ability to teach and make music greatly. Currently, during the pandemic, I am teaching 100% through YouTube and Zoom. I teach kindergarten through sixth-grade music students in Ramona Unified School District and the only way we connect is digitally. Students don’t have all of the percussion equipment at their homes, so I need to get creative with how I want them to participate. In the last few lessons, we have played spoons, pieces of paper, and pots and pans. The students love it.
CS: Number one habit for becoming a better drummer?
Don Wiseman: I guess my number one habit is to listen:
- Listen to all of the music I can and adapt it to my playing somehow.
- Listen to the people in my band play their parts and try to fit into it.
- Listen to the singer in the band and play off of their vocal rhythms.
- Listen to my drum tuning and determine if it is the best for the band’s sound.
- Listen to my favorite drummers and copy them, then make it my own with their influences.
For more about drum techniques, contact Don Wiseman.