Now, I don’t want to have a race to the bottom, but I should tell you that you can buy drumsticks on Taobao for only 1RMB. That’s $0.14 USD. Hey big-spender, go out and buy a class set for the price of $4.33! 

I’m telling you this because I learned about chair drum-sets at Musical Futures International this past weekend at a workshop in Hong Kong. You know when you learn something so fundamentally obvious that you just want to do a head-plant? That was me when I first learned about chair drum-sets. I tried to find a student video to show you, on YouTube, but there’s none to be found. 

Basically, the kids play drums on their chairs. Yup. That’s it. 

This is a screen capture from their tutorial PowerPoint. Your right foot steps up and down (pretending to be the bass). Your left hand hits the seat of the chair (snare drum) while your right hand hits the back of the chair (high hat). 

Then, you are given non-traditional notation – measures with pictures of the drum pieces, showing which are played on which beats. The files you get with MFI include cool rock favourites with the drums simplified and yet varied for the different sections of the song. It’s harder than your typical, basic rock beat; it’s much easier than intermediate drumming. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s just right! 

What if you don’t have access to MFI files? Well, I made the salsa notation shown above. I simply Googled, “Salsa drums sheet music” and found an example from  Then I went to websites offering free clipart and quickly put together this picture. 

Here is an example from a workshop in Cyprus (you’ll need a VPN, my China-based friends!) This is a teacher’s workshop; however, when I was in Hong Kong, they had a grade 5 class learn this for the first time, and the kids picked it up really well. 

Why am I so impressed with chair drum-sets?
a) It’s cheap and so you can get an entire class drumming immediately
b) It takes away the prestige of the drum set, in which only a few chosen kids get to play it. 
c) It gives the basic skills on drum set, so when the kids get into their creative cycle groups and start deciding on instruments, everybody in the group can already play
d) It’s a great gateway to playing on a real set. It’s a way of talking about proper hand positions, etc., before they get on a real kit

I should say, thought, that standing isn’t very helpful. When we learned this in the workshop, the teachers all sat down. This was better because it was more comfortable, but also because it more closely mimicked a real drum set. (Drummers don’t typically stand when they play a kit!)

Real examples from Middle and Upper School Students:

MYP Year 1: Grade 6 xBlock

xBlock is a new course that some schools are doing. Like Creative New Undertakings or Genius Hours, this is a course in which students are allowed to pursue any line of inquiry approved by their mentor teacher. I currently have two grade 6s who want to have a rock band. One is learning bass guitar and the other drum kit. Unfortunately, my drummer was terrified of touching the drums. He was worried that the sticks would go through the skins. He was worried it would be too loud and would upset people. He was worried that he wouldn’t be good enough. In general, he was just worried. 

We went into the hallway and turned on the Just Play Drums PPTX file. Together, the two of us went through few tutorials. Once he was comfortable, I headed off to help my other xBlock musicians. The boy worked through the file. First, lap drumming, and then chair drumming. Over the next few classes, he became more and more confident. When he was finally ready to move to the drum kit, his confidence was soaring. He hit the drums loudly and proudly. He was now ready to start working on his piece with his partner.

We made up an xBlock promo video featuring the boy as he explained his progress through the creative cycle. The xBlock coordinator was amazed. He kept saying, “The level of confidence! The use of vocabulary! He really knows his stuff and is talking with a lot of critical thinking!”

MYP Year 5: Grade 10 Music
With the normal turnover rate of International Schools, we often get kids in with very limited music skills. This year, I had a student arrive in grade 10 with zero background in music. She signed up for the course because she loves music… though she had no skills. She attempted finger-picking guitar, and that went okay. She tried ukulele and did pretty well. Then, I gave her the Just Play Drums video.

I was worried that it would seem too childish for her. After all, the block before I had a 10 year old working on it, and she’s 17. However, she faithfully sat and lap drummed with fast concentration. Next came the chair drumming. Over the next few classes, I walked around the different groups and didn’t focus on how she was doing. On day, I noticed she was teaching another new boy how to drum. She was teaching him pretty complicated rhythms, especially for a newbie, and he was struggling a bit. I followed her back into her group’s practice room to see how they were doing –> she was wonderful! It sounded like she’d been playing the drums for two months or more. She had more complicated rhythms than you’d expect for someone only playing for two weeks, and her sense of beat was spot-on.