07 May Interview with Siân Monaghan: “Learning drums aids confidence, boosts mental health”
It can be tricky to find a female drum teacher in London. Finsbury Park based tutor Siân Monaghan has been teaching from her own studio for the past few years. She has a wide range of students who love her inspirational and exciting lessons. We’ve been representing Siân in the North London Drums hub for a quite some time. Given we’re all at home right now we thought it was a great opportunity to find out more about Siân. We talk about her background, including her approach to lessons, particularly as a female drum teacher in London.
Hi Siân. Thanks for taking the time to have a catch up during this rather bizarre period we find ourselves in. It would be great to start at the beginning and find out a bit about why you started drumming. What was the tipping point for you deciding to try it out?
I was nine years old when I first got into drumming. My older brother was good at everything musical and I used to hang out at his band rehearsals. He showed me a few beats. When I wouldn’t put the sticks down my parents gave in to me having lessons at school.
Were you taking any other lessons at school?
I learned guitar around the same time and kept that up through school. But I went through all the grades on drums and that was my first instrument.
You studied at the prestigious Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, founded by Sir Paul McCartney. What was it like going there?
It was an amazing experience! As one of four drummers in the year group I was in around ten bands each semester. It was chaotic but I loved every minute. Liverpool was such a great city for music. I ended up staying there for another four years after I finished at LIPA. It was a fantastic time for me.
So after four years of living in Liverpool did you decide a move to London would be inevitable?
My family are all based in the South and ultimately I wanted to move back here at some point. The reason any musician comes to London though is because there are more opportunities here than anywhere else. The competition is high. I needed that to push myself up a level and get involved in the music scene here.
Moving to London
The music scene here is vast. And it didn’t take you long to start playing with some big, known names. What has that been like over the past year?
Last year was a busy one for me and really amazing. A stand out day has to be Black Deer Festival, where I played with the Jessie Buckley band and The Wandering Hearts just a few hours apart from each other. I’m a fan of going to festivals in general. It’s a great way of discovering new bands to listen to. Just walking around soaking up the music at Black Deer after I’d performed was an amazing day. Both gigs that day were really special too. Nothing beats a mainstage crowd singing along with you at a festival.
Back to North London, what do you enjoy the most about being a drum tutor at your Finsbury Park studio?
Making a lot of noise! When looking for a studio it was important to have around the clock access and able to make noise at any time. The community at the studios is a really nice atmosphere too with lots of musicians and creative people. Finsbury Park is so well connected so it’s really handy for my students. It’s a really easy location and a great complex.
Your studio is really well equipped. Is there somewhere in particular you go for your rig?
Being from near Southampton I’ve always used a drum store called Graham Russell Drums. They have always gone above and beyond expectation. The shop is in Fareham but they deliver all over so I still use them as my go to! I just love the guys there.
We find ourselves in a challenging environment right now whilst we deal with coronavirus. Although you’re a Finsbury Park based drum tutor, you’ve made the extremely successful transition to online, or remote, lessons. We’ve had such great feedback. How have you found that experience?
Yes since the lockdown I’ve been offering music lessons via Zoom, which is working great so far. I tend to allow a little longer for lessons in case there’s any technical issues. But in general I feel like my students have been more focused and are using their initiative more than usual. It’s fantastic.
A lot of people are using their spare time at the moment to pick up a new skill or hobby. What advice can you give to someone thinking of picking up the sticks?
Learning a musical instrument is such an enriching activity. It not only boosts academic and social learning but also aids confidence and boosts mental health. It becomes part of your personality. However if you’re considering learning you must be prepared to dedicate time to the cause!
And for those currently taking lessons?
I would advise – do your research. There is so much out there and lots of different influences, so don’t just practice what your teacher tells you. Explore further. Dive into the different types of music that you really love and discover more. I use Drummerworld.com a lot. There is so much on there in terms of notated solos, videos and exercises. You can also discover drummers that you didn’t know before.
Diversity in numbers
Drumming is often criticised for its lack of gender diversity. Being a female drum teacher in London do you find this to be the case in the capital?
It’s absolutely true that there are fewer female drummers than male drummers in the world. But it is changing, and there is a lot of support out there for all drummers, regardless of gender. Between drummers we have an amazing ability to unite and not be against each other. I have definitely felt this over the years.
Ultimately everybody wants to learn the instrument they enjoy, which tends to be boys when it comes to band instruments. But the balance is different in every instrument.
What do you think we, and the industry as a whole, can do to make music more inclusive. And to encourage more non-male drummers to start playing?
I think schools, and people in general, are being more open about what’s on offer to the younger generation. Many are making a real effort to close the gender gap which is great. Anyone who has an influence on young musicians whether it’s parents, teachers, or even musicians out there doing it. It all helps kids think “Yeah, I could do that”. Ultimately though, you have to be really good to succeed. Regardless of your background, gender and so on. And that should remain the most important thing.
You’re a pretty inspiring teacher and we get so much feedback on how much your students enjoy their lessons. But what inspires you? Are there any drummers you really admire or had a great influence on you?
I think my top 5 drummers would be – Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, Buddy Rich, Stewart Copeland and Travis Barker.
That is a truly great list! There’s not much I can add to that!
Have you ever had a particularly stand-out moment from one of your lessons?
I’ve had a few students come to my gigs. One time a student came to a soundcheck and had a go on the kit after we’d finished. The first time you hear a mic’d up kit through a PA is awesome! That’s what I wanted them to feel. It really made me smile! It’s having those opportunities to see where music can take you.
Those opportunities are vital. So many musicians cite that kind of experience as the moment they realised that “yes, I can do this!”
Before you go is there one single tip you think would make the difference to anyone currently learning the drums?
Listen to Buddy Rich playing. Find video footage of Buddy Rich playing. And when you’ve finished, do it again!
Siân, thanks so much!
If you’re looking for a female drum teacher in London and would like to contact Siân for lessons, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her Siân’s profile right here for more details. If you’re looking for online drum lessons rather than London drum lessons, Siân has a great set up too! Contact us for more details.