Having turned drumming teacher and instructor at the age of 18; John Vooght knows a thing or two about nurturing young talent. He now owns and runs the Drummers Academy of Music based in Hertfordshire, UK; a school for those who learn the drums but want to play music. Prior to this, he played sold out shows across the United States and Europe as drummer for indie-rock band The Filthy Youth.
What inspired you to start playing the drums?
I think the spark lit back when I was in primary school, I must have been 8 or 9 years old. Another kid a year or two above me was playing the drums at the school’s Christmas play. That was the very first time I saw or heard a real drum kit and thought it was wicked cool. That very Christmas, I begged my parents for a drum kit. Well, the best I got was a little toy drum kit so really I never played on a proper drum set till I was in senior school – at 13 years old. I had a group of friends with whom I played music with and they showed me a thing or two.
What was the turning point in your career?
When a band I was in started to take off and become popular. My first love was sport when I was younger and music came second but that all changed when our band started doing well, it took precedence over sport. I was about 21 when that switch happened.
Skills For Drum Drills
Have you picked up any tools over the years that have really helped you perform better?
Two things: ear monitors and a Tune-bot. Tuning drums is a difficult job and the tuning box changed things for the better and made everything faster. As for the ear monitors. Ear monitors are vital for drummers to be able to hear what they’re playing alongside what the band is.
How well do you think you do with improvisation?
I’ve always improvised and think it’s a huge part of being a good drummer. Improvisation as a drummer came naturally to me and it’s what I enjoy most about playing.
What do you think makes a great musician?
Life experience adds so much to one’s music so I think any musician who lets their emotions and soul channel into their music deepens their art. I find that I connect most with musicians who let their life experiences shine through their music.
Another aspect of this is a musician’s natural connection to their instrument. When someone is playing I think you can tell if it comes naturally to the and it makes every beat and strum seem effortless.
I also get a lot of my gusto and inspiration from listening to these sorts of musicians. People say ‘you are what you eat’, in music we say ‘you are who you listen to’. I love a musician who embodies all of the above; emotion, effortlessness but also a natural confidence on stage. Not all of these things come naturally, but those all who hone their craft in music get there eventually.
Who are your top 3 favorite drummers and why?
My top three would be Vinnie Colaiuta (played with Frank Zappa, Sting, Jeff Beck, Megadeth), Steve Gadd (who’s played with B. B. King, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan) and Brian Blade (American jazz drummer). They have all those intangible qualities that I think make a great musician. When I watch them play, you can just tell that their soul is reaching out through the music; their life stories call out as they play – it’s the stuff of greats.
School of Rock
Tell me more about the Drummers Academy of Music. How did it all start?
The academy started in 2004 in Stevenage, where I was teaching at students houses, then got my first studio in Stevenage in 2007, and then a bigger studio with multiple teachers in Letchworth in 2012. Everyone in my street knew I played the drums because you could hear me practice up and down the door. One of our neighbours came knocking on the door and what I thought was going to be an angry noise complaint was actually a request to teach his grandson a bit of drumming. Thereon out my list of students just grew to the point where all my evenings were booked up by students. I was doing it part-time when it was clear it was bigger than that and I looked into getting my own studio – soundproofing and all!
In 2021 I’ve had to move out to a bigger studio, and the teaching team has gone from just my to five of us – all teaching a shared syllabus that I’ve developed over the years.
A lot of our students are doing so well; getting into music schools, performing with bands in big venues or even forging a career in music. This is what fuels the academy, people just going for it and pursuing their goals and passions. It’s what fuels me too.
How easy is it to teach drum lessons online?
I’m a firm believer in in-person teaching but whilst this wasn’t possible all our online lessons were recorded. All the lessons we teach in-person are recorded and then uploaded online. Drumming has peeled itself slightly away from music and become its own art form, so I tried creating a syllabus that is focused on playing different genres of music rather than drumming in silo. Let’s say one of my students is interested in soul music, there’s a different sort of drumming you need to adapt to, and I help them do that!
As we move towards normal times, in-person once again dominates as students’ choice but the online classes are an added bonus for those who want to get there faster.
As an instructor in the academy, what is your main challenge when teaching people?
The average modern day teenager has so much more electronic equipment at their fingertips than I could have even dreamed of back when I was that age. They can progress really quickly if they’re invested in music and practicing. As a teacher, I find myself competing with their distractions more than anything else. They have so much fighting for their attention; I’m competing with Netflix, social media and video games – it’s a tough gig!
The main barrier is surmounted when I get them invested in music and really channel their passion through their commitment and practice.
Do you have any good advice for young drummers trying to make it?
Spend your time practicing and not just playing. Sounds strict but a lot of people will stick to playing what’s fun and not practicing what’s challenging. Listen to all sorts of music and get inspired to practice new styles. Place your faith and passion in genres and not musicians – people get too attached to their idols and spend all their time mimicking them. Instead, take the bits of their style you love and then develop your own – create your own voice.
Best advice ever received?
Follow your passion. People are hardwired to pace a career in earning, but do what you love because otherwise, what’s the point?
“Place your faith and passion in genres and not musicians – people get too attached to their idols and spend all their time mimicking them. Instead, take the bits of their style you love and then develop your own – create your own voice”
John Vooght, Drummers Academy
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