My Earliest Memories of Learning to do Something

My earliest memory of learning to do something is when I was about six years old. This is when I first really notice someone playing the drums, and from that moment on I was captivated and wanted to know everything about it. To provide some background in how my fascination with the drums came about, I grew up in the Baptist church, my mother and grandmother sang in the choir, and my godmother was the choir directress, therefore a lot of my time was spent at church, and my attraction grew toward the music department, specifically the drums. I remember trying to play the drums at six years old; my legs weren’t long enough to reach the foot pedal, I had the wooden sticks in my hand, banging on the snare and crashing the symbols making an excessive amount of noise. I would pretend I was the young teenager who played on a regular basis during the Sunday morning worship service.

I remember my mother and grandmother being there, my godmother, and other musicians. I can remember musicians from other churches also there playing instruments such as the piano, the organ, the bass guitar, and the saxophone. Because of all the loud noise I was making with my banging the drum, I remember the adults telling me “okay baby, that’s enough now” and hiding the drumsticks away from me. At that time, I was feeling anxious, wanting the chance to play again, just because I loved the sound that came from the drum. Because my family did not own a drum set of our own, I looked forward to coming to church all the time just so I could hopefully get a chance to play the drum.

Learning for me during that time happened just as it does now, visually. I learned with my eyes and by physically engaging myself with the subject. For example, I can recall playing with drum sticks in the living room at my grandmother’s house. I would take the decorative pillows from each corner of the sofa and stack them up, I’d get plastic topple ware from the kitchen cabinet and beat the life out the pillows and plastic containers pretending to be a professional drummer at a church musical or sold out concert. Learning also came by the use of my imagination. I visualized each of the items I had gathered were different parts of the drum set. The two decor pillows were the tom-toms, the plastic topple container were the snare drum, I gathered those thick pacific bell yellow pages from the bookshelf and used them as my bass drum, and my mother’s sheep skin tambourine for my crash symbols. Although the loud noise, “racket” my granny called it would drive everyone in the house nuts, I remember the noise also bringing them joy watching me grow and learn in my own imaginative way.

As I grew a little older, in addition to my learning at church on the actual drums, or at home in the living room in my imagination, I made my everyday surroundings a pretend drum set. I think I learned more playing the drums in my imagination than I did on the actual real drum set at my church. In other words, I made my environment into a drum set to practice my timing, my coordination, and to build confidence. For example, in the car on the way to school each morning, the back of the passenger seat was my drum, and my drum sticks were either ink pens, or number two pencils. At school in the classroom, the bass drum was my desk; the tom-toms drum were Houghton Mifflin reading and math text books, and I made sounds with my mouth as the crash symbols. I remember this being a distraction in class, my 3th grade teacher Mrs. Scott had to write my name on the chalk board a few times, he even called my grandmother and said Mrs. Mendenhall, “she’s beating on the desk again.”

This was the process for me learning to play the drums, and as I continued to grow older and gain more experience, music continued to be a big part of my life both in the church and in my own personal life. Learning for me took on many forms. I learned different beat patterns through listening to my favorite songs on the radio, watching soul train on Saturday mornings with my homemade drum set, and hanging out with my stepdad in the garage when he would play his vinyl record player, or his VHS cassette tape footage of artist like BB King, Curtis Mayfield, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, the Bee Gee’s and my personal favorite, “Earth Wind and Fire.”

My stepdad was a huge influence to my learning of the drum and my attraction to music as well. I remember his stereo system in the garage with a combination of vinyl records- 45 rpm, cassette tapes, CD’s, headphones, and other electronic means to listen to and record music. I spent a lot of time in garage listening to music, learning about different genres of music, and creating new beat and coordination patterns for my learning of the drum. I began to learn more about my stepfather as I got older. I later learned that he too was a drummer, and although he never played professionally or took on a career in music, his background in playing the drums in high school became another avenue of learning for me. Having a stepdad who shared his love and interest in music had a huge influence me.

This was so impactful to my learning to play the drums because I received the best of both worlds in my youth as it relates to music in that, my mother gave me the gospel at church, and my stepfather gave me the blues at home. When I was about thirteen years old, my grandmother purchased a drum set for the family; the drums were set up in the garage with the record player and stereo system. I can remember my younger siblings and I would argue over whose turn it was to play next on the drums. When the confrontation between the three of us got to out of hand, we were given three warnings to work out our conflict, if we couldn’t manage to do so, as a punishment, my stepdad or mom take away the sticks and cover up the drum set with a blue king size, bleach stained bed sheet, this was the sheet we used in the garage to keep dust from collecting on our drums. Each of these experiences growing up played crucial roles in my learning, in my observation and in the way in which I took in information.

In reflecting on my own experience, some of my biggest barriers to successfully learning to do something are lack of personal interest, if there is lack of time to comprehensively understanding what I’m learning, and lastly if I feel like what I’m learning is not meaningful and aligned with my life’s purpose. Learning for me as far back as I can remember has always been difficult, In order for me to learn, I have to be genuinely interested in what whatever it is I’m learning, if I’m disinterested, I won’t put forth the appropriate effort or give my personal best to the subject matter. In the case of the drums I was interested in learning, there was and attraction to the sound, I took time in creating beats, and I liked the idea of the drum as being the heartbeat of the pulse of the band.

Another barrier I’ve experienced in my learning is the amount of time I have to learn. I’ve notice that if I’m not given much time to learn a new idea or concept, a new cooking recipe, or in this case a new drum pattern, my frustration builds quickly and I suddenly become disinterested in what it is I’m learning. I believe that learning doesn’t happen in a hurry; like learning to play the drums, it’s a process. The process of learning is ongoing, in fact I’m still learning to play the drums today even as an adult. Time allows me to learn new things about the drums, learn about the history of the drums, and learn ways I can use my love for the drums to share with and impact the lives of others.

Lastly and most importantly, if what I’m learning is not meaningful to me or aligned with my life’s purpose and values, I see it no purpose of learning it. Learning to play drums was meaningful to me because of my connection to and upbringing in the Baptist church. The combination of my mom’s passion for singing in the choir, and my stepdad’s interest in music and past experience with playing the drum is what gave my learning value. These are the people who taught me to play the drums from a child up until my mid teen years, the exposure I got back then was so inspirational. Each person taught me something different, I remember my mom playing the tambourine in the choir, I watched her play the tambourine for years, and that taught me rhythm and timing of a beat. My grandmother taught me by letting me use my imagination with my homemade drum set made out of couch decor pillows, and plastic kitchen containers.

My stepdad taught me music and drum history in a sense, by opening up to me and sharing his past experience with playing the drums, he taught me by playing his old records in the garage, and buying my younger siblings and me our first family drum set. As an adult I still sometimes have an interest in playing the drums at my church on Sunday’s. I see many of the youth at my church taking an interest in the drums and learning how to play just as I did when I was their age. The youth at our church are learning by association, because learning must be culturally relevant and connected to purpose in order for it to be effective and meaningful. I think what I learned many years ago, and what I’m still learning today is connected to my purpose, it is aligned with my values and beliefs which is giving back to my community, impacting lives through sharing my personal story, and ultimately helping others learn to be lifelong learners.

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