12 May Practise for results, not hours: An interview with tutor Az Khan
East London drum teacher Az Khan has years of experience teaching, recording and playing live. Here he lets us in on how and why he came to play the drums. We also get some crucial nuggets of advice for those looking to learn.
If you’re looking for an East London drum teacher, check out Az’s full profile here.
Hi Az. Thanks for sitting down with us to talk drums. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you get the drumming bug?
It all started when I was 13. Myself and a friend decided we wanted to start a band because it looked like fun. Turns out it was fun, even if we had no idea what we were doing! I recall originally saying I wanted to play guitar. My uncle had one in his room that I would try to play whenever I visited him. However my new bandmate already had a guitar so it was decided, it had to be drums. And I never looked back.
Shortly after I found myself tapping on just about everything. From pencils in the classroom to the computer desk late at night. I spent ages staring at John Otto’s drum kit every time I saw Limp Bizkit videos. They were on a constant rotation on Kerrang back then!
Do you play any other instruments?
Yeah. I did eventually pick up the guitar and I play little bit of piano too.
What’s your current kit set up?
In the last year I have done a huge upgrade job on my kit. It’s gone from being hard rock inspired to a more jazz fusion setup. I have the pleasure of owning a Yamaha Absolute Hybrid Maple drum set with a machine snare. This snare has quickly become my pride and joy. You can play just about every style you can think of on it. As for cymbals I have a full set of Sabian HHX cymbals which has been inspired by Dave Weckl. The set up includes 14″ Click Hi-Hats, 21″ Groove Ride, 18″ Evolution Crash, 18″ Evolution O-Zone Crash, 12″ Evolution Splash stacked with a 7″, and a 18″ Evolution Crash stacked with a 14″ Evolution China.
Wow, that is pretty insane! I daren’t ask but is there anything you’re planning to add in the future?
Possibly a steel snare and perhaps some more rock-focused cymbals. The ones I currently have can cope. Having made the change to a jazz setup I’ve come to realise that for rock you need slightly heavier cymbals. I did a punk gig with these cymbals last year and some of them struggled to cut through the guitars. As hard as it is to believe, drums can be drowned out, especially if unmic’d!
Practise, practise, practise
What does your typical practice routine consist of?
My routine always changes. The busier you are the harder it is to commit the necessary time. The fundamentals I stick to usually start by spending a couple of minutes warming up. If I have time I go for full stretching and rudiments at various speeds on a practice pad. It gets the blood flowing! With less time, I do a couple of rudiments or linear fills on the kit to work all my limbs. Warming up is crucial to lessen the risk of injury.
When I’m not learning songs for gigs, I will usually spend some time focusing on metronomic work and note placement. These are very important aspects to becoming a solid drummer. Then I work on some fills and patterns of my own. Let’s face it, we all enjoy playing the flashy stuff! In recent times a lot of this has been linear exercises. However rather than playing them one after the other I tend to mix them up. I do this with as many “out there” combinations as I can think of. This has helped me immensely with improvisation and co-ordination.
I play along to a lot of recorded music too. This is a useful tool for getting familiar with a style of music. It is something I recommend to all my students. I’ve constantly been humbled by the fact it always sounds better whilst you’re playing rather than hearing it played back. It’s about getting the balance right though. This should never replace playing with other musicians.
That’s a pretty comprehensive routine. If you were pushed, what would be your one single piece of practise advice?
Practise for results, not for hours.
Is there any advice can you give anyone who might be thinking about taking drum lessons?
If you are interested then the first step is to try a lesson and see if you enjoy being behind a kit. It is more challenging than it looks but equally as fun! You should also set yourself realistic goals and expectations. I’ve had younger students who have so much free time on their hands that they can dedicate more of it to becoming the best drummer they can. On the flip side, I’ve also had adult drummers who have very busy work lives. Alongside parental duties, this means they have less time to practice. Either way, it is totally achievable!
If you have a good teacher you should be playing a basic rock beat by the end of the lesson. If you are serious about making it a long term hobby, or even profession, I would suggest also thinking about investing some kind of kit. As with all instruments you need to allocate yourself practice time outside of a lesson to keep improving.
And what advice can you give to anyone currently taking drum lessons?
Always challenge yourself with something out of your comfort zone. If your mind wanders during a difficult exercise it means that you are trying to walk away from a challenge. But as fun as it is to play all the flashy stuff, never neglect the basics! Focus on being as solid with the metronome as you can, with everything you practice. That is what will keep your pockets filled in the future. As they say, timing is everything.
Never too late
We get so many enquiries from people who believe it’s too late to learn. What advice would you give to older drummers thinking of trying it out?
It’s never too late to learn to drum! But you also have to set yourself realistic goals. As you get older having time to practice does become an issue. You may not be able to practice as religiously as a pro but you can still make progress. Make your first set of goals fun ones! You’d be surprised how many songs utilise what you usually learn in your first drum lesson.
Is there anything you bring into your teaching from the lessons you had growing up?
A relaxed attitude, patience and drive. I look to push my students to get the best out of them without making their lesson boring.
What’s your favourite book or resource to use when teaching?
It depends on the student. I personally love tucking into the really advanced stuff like Dave Weckl’s The Next Step. As an all rounder, Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials book is one of the most comprehensive books on the market. It is an amazing tool that every drummer at every level can benefit from.
As an East London drum teacher what do you enjoy the most about this side of the capital?
I’ve lived here for half of my life and, although it has changed a lot, I particularly enjoy that it still maintains so many multicultural aspects. It’s also a lot easier to get around London from here than it used to be!
Are there any secret spots in the area you can let us in on!?
Yes! Cafe OTO has some great jazz music throughout the week.
Playing to two people
You’ve had extensive experience gigging all around the country. What’s the most memorable gig you’ve played?
Boomtown Fair in 2014 with an old band of mine. Outdoor festivals are always great fun!
Has there been a worst?!
Back in 2008 my band got offered, and accepted, a gig at Nambucca on Holloway Road. We were told it was going to be broadcast on Channel U. The organisers told us we would get £100 and that demand to see us was high. When we got there we played to, oh, I don’t know, two people… both of whom were bar staff. The £100 was never paid either. Nightmare experience!
That’s pretty bad and, incredibly, not that uncommon either! Is there a best gig you’ve ever been to?
That’s a tough one because I have been to so many great ones. It’s either got to be any of the five times I got to see Toto (from London to Stockholm!) Dave Weckl and the Mike Stern band at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in 2017 was amazing. And Muse at the Emirates Stadium in 2013 was great too!
We’re just about out of time. To finish, do you have a favourite drummer? I know it’s a ridiculous question…
As far as influence and biggest impact on my playing it no doubt has to be Dave Weckl. But special mentions should also go to Simon Phillips, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Steve Jordan, John Bonham, Teddy Campbell. And of course, Buddy Rich!
If you’re looking for an East London drum teacher and would like to contact Az for lessons, drop us an email at email@example.com. You can also check out Az’s profile right here for more details.