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Stoke Newington drummer Az Khan has years of experience teaching, recording and playing live under his belt. He’s also incredibly friendly and has an approachable, cheery personality – perfect for a sit down chat about his experiences as a drummer during his career so far.
He lets us in on how and why he came to play the drums as well as some crucial nuggets of advice for those looking to learn, along with his thoughts on the transition to online learning during COVID.
If you’re looking for a Stoke Newington drum teacher, do make sure you check out drummer Az Khan’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 matching 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 practise 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. But 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 practise. But 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 practise time outside of a lesson to keep improving.
You should also set yourself realistic goals and expectations… you need to allocate yourself practise time outside of a lesson to keep improving.
What advice can you give to anyone who is taking drum lessons already?
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 practise. That is what will keep your pockets filled in the future. As they say, timing is everything.
As we all know, in March 2020 we were propelled into online learning pretty quickly! We get so many emails about the online learning experience – truth be told, with a lot of skepticism. What has your experience been?
I’ll be honest – like every other teacher who had to make the transition to online learning I found myself having an initial fear of it. Mainly I was concerned about the impact this could have on my ability to teach an instrument that requires a lot of attention to detail.
However I was incredibly surprised at how smooth the transition has been! I’ve taken the plunge and invested in a whole new setup to make the experience engaging as possible for my students. Every scenario is covered!
Seeing how much they put into practising for the next lesson really is something amazing.
Honestly, I feel the same. The transition was surprisingly smooth. And the students love it! We’ve had years of practise staring at screens, why not put it to good use!
What has surprised me the most though is that the whole situation has really given my students a new lease of life when it comes to practising. I have noticed how inspiring it is for students to actually be able to see me play – most lessons in the past were conducted with just them at the kit as most homes don’t have the luxury of having a two kit set up. When I get an opportunity to demonstrate exercises that appear frustrating at first in full flow the excitement on their faces is so encouraging. Seeing how much they put into practising for the next lesson really is something amazing.
I miss human contact – as we all do – but I imagine when things shift back towards something similar to the old normal I will definitely be using the online platform to compliment face to face teaching.
Do you have any tips for learners to maximise their online learning experience?
Take advantage of all the tools you have at your disposal! Sheet music is much easier to get access to. eBooks are also a wonderful tool if you have a portable device like an iPad. I always use mine. Backing tracks are also easily obtainable. Get inspired by indulging in performance videos on YouTube.
Never be afraid to ask your teacher for any advice on things you may want to know about. Most importantly – just like in face to face lessons – a positive attitude and knowing that it’s alright to find something frustrating goes a long way. We won’t judge you if you are finding something that seems easy on the surface to actually be quite difficult. We were once there ourselves!
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 practise does become an issue. You may not be able to practise as religiously as a touring professional 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’s an amazing tool that drummers at every level can benefit from.
What do you enjoy the most about being based in Stoke Newington?
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. You should go!
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!
Az, that was both interesting and inspiring. Thanks so much for your time!
All photos of drummer Az Khan are taken by the multi-talented Cloudy Galvez.
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