Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Re-boxing the Snare Drum Rental for Students

By Mark T. Burke:  For a printable version:  Download a PDF version of this article.

Facing higher than acceptable drop out rates, Mr. Brian Barckley of the East Lycoming School District in Hughesville, PA set out on a quest to gain and maintain the interest of budding young percussionist. I learned about Brian's innovative solution while talking with Alysha Sides of Robert M. Sides Music in Williamsport Pa. (viaAcademies preferred provider). Alysha is the Director of Institutional Sales at Sides, working closely with companies such as Roland to build great educational products for schools.  After just a few minutes, I realized I had to see what Brian was doing with his kids.

Teaching snare drum is tough, much tougher than other instruments in my opinion.  Brian's experience mirrored my days teaching elementary and middle school band.  Kids generally hate playing on a drum pad and guess what....that is exactly what we give them to learn on.  The pad is cheap, produces less than exiting sounds and is easy to push under the bed and forget.  If we get brave, we have beginners buy or rent snare drums.  Again, they are often cheap, make bad sounds or even worse make REALLY LOUD sounds that parents and neighbors dislike.

Brian's experience is that while he may start a lot of "drummers", many of them drop out. He attributes that high dropout rate to the many negative characteristics of the drum pad including the sound, the cheap quality and the ease with which it is forgotten (ie...it is easier to forget about a $30.00 drum pad than a $400.00 trumpet). His goal was to provide a high quality instrument, one that could create good sounds, was portable, provided volume control and provided built in motivation to beginning students.  He found a solution in the Roland RMP-5 Rhythm Coach.

As you can see, the RMP-5 provides a drum pad surface and an electronic brain.  The pad is a synthetic, adjustable head (notice the tensioners). The pad feels like a snare head when played.  The brain provides a number features, the best of which is the ability to output  a variety of sounds triggered by the head.  The brain also has output to headphones (which are included in the pack) or the unit can output to an amp.

You can learn more about the RMP-5 at Roland's site.

The aspect of Brian's solution that is important, is that he worked closely with Sides (his vendor) to develop an "out of the box" instrumental rental solution. Sides provides the RMP-5 kit as a rental option for Brian's students.  This is a brave step forward for both Brian and Sides in my opinion.  The traditional pad cost $30.00.  The RMP-5 alone has a value of $200+.  Add to that the stand, the headphones and the backpack and you can see, the total package is much higher priced than the standard pad. BUT....the results are amazing according to Brian.

First, he said this kit motivates kids to play and practice.  I observed a lesson yesterday...and let me tell you, the students ARE excited about this instrument. They know how to use the settings like pros.  Brian even said., "If you ever forget how to do something, the kids will know."  I could see and hear their excitement for sure, something I have not witnessed in a lesson of several 5th graders on drum pads.

The RMP-5 requires a commitment.  The expense means the parents and students are involved for a longer term.  There are no guarantees, that's for sure. BUT, Brian's experience thus far, in this first year, is that he no longer has high snare drum drop outs. In fact, he has as 100% retention rate this year.

The best benefit in Brian's opinion is the ability to output sound to headphones.  This option keeps kids practicing without disrupting the household.  But, as we all know, we all want to hear our instruments "free from tethers." The kids were so excited to come into lessons and hook their pads to the amp. Brian uses a portable Roland AMP for this job and the kids LOVE it.

The kids aren't to the point in their first year where using the advanced coaching tools built into the RMP-5 are being used. But, they are close.  For sure, I can say they are ready to move on to that feature.  They are motivated to play on this device and to explore its abilities.  I have never said that about a drum pad.

I look forward to following Brian's percussion students and seeing how they progress.  I applaud him and Sides for thinking outside the box to "re-box" the snare drum rental.  This level of collaboration, innovative thinking and willingness to take on education and business risks to help students is exactly what the music education world needs.


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