I was extremely blessed when I found my last drumming mentor (lets call him Alex*). He was part of the same mailing list I was. Then when a jazz guitarist mentioned that I should keep an eye on how Alex approaches rhythm, somehow my brain took note and I found myself sending an email asking if he would be my mentor.

Alex didn’t ask me why I chose him, and somehow we just ended up chatting about mundane things. That’s how great conversation works right? You know that you don’t have to prove anything and it’s all about being present and giving the assurance that your conversation partner has your full attention. Did Alex have other mentees? I have no idea and I didn’t ask. If you asked me one of those ‘time travel’ questions, I would probably have that as my answer.


My mentor before Alex was a drumming teacher who also did session work, but the connection fizzled out because I didn’t agree with his (we’ll refer to him as Mike*) life outlook (not to mention I was starting to notice how arrogant he was). It was just a bonus that Mike didn’t specialise in cutting edge jazz, so it made sense not to take any more lessons from him.

During the first year of our mentor-mentee relationship, I mentioned to Alex that I wanted to speed up my drumming. He suggested a couple of books that may help towards it, and at some point, I eventually accepted that I was not a ‘speed’ drummer (I’m still figuring out how to immensely speed up my playing when applying the ‘Moeller Technique‘, but I think it makes sense now that I couldn’t after learning about my ‘rebel tendencies‘).

Reading a portion of Shane Snow’s ‘Smartcuts’ reminded me why Alex worked out and Mike didn’t:

1.) Getting paired up rarely works

I paid the music school for the tutorial and if I had known that I could have gone about it in another way, I would’ve. But now I realised, I had some ‘levelling up’ to do as well.

“In fact, one-on-one mentoring in which an organization formally matched people proved to be nearly as worthless as a person having not been mentored a all.”

Shane Snow, Smartcuts, p. 44

2.) The mentor must be willing to open up his life to his mentee

Mike shared with me some details about his life, and looking back, there wasn’t really any humility on his part. He seemed just to want to boast about the cool things he did (and the kind of young women who were drawn to him).

One anecdote I remember Alex telling me was when he broke his foot and had to drive himself to the hospital. Unfortunately, he was not in good terms with the only other person close enough who could have driven him there. He laughed as he recounted how he swallowed the pain (his vehicle was manual) as he shifted gears. Alex pointed out that he regretted clinging to his toxic pride because of the amount of pain he was in, but stuck with his decision anyway.

Compared to Mike, when my time with him (an hour) was limited, Alex had me tagging along to gigs as well as other mundane things (shopping and sharing his love for Indian food — which I unfortunately did not absorb). This meant I was exposed to not just his band’s music, but also his way of thinking.


I’m glad this all happened way before I started to be fascinated by photography (or even Instagram!). Phones that had cameras didn’t exist yet, and digital cameras were an embarrassment. I definitely would have prepared more in terms of chronicling our chats as well as thinking of questions to ask (the long form Q&A series could be my way of subconsciously trying to travel back in time).

Compared to now, when I regularly write notes of what I’ve learned, There’s barely any record of our interactions. No recordings of thoughts I wanted to remember. It’s really a good reminder how much tools I have in my disposal (or maybe how carefree I was in that period of my life), in which I could just record a thought or do a screenshot of what I could see on my phone.

“The best mentors help students to realize that the things that really matter are not the big and obvious. The more vulnerability is shown in the relationship, the more critical details for a student to pick up on, and assimilate.”

Shane Snow, Smartcuts, p. 46

Another thing I wanted to learn was to understand jazz more. I got a crash course of how to tackle an instrumental piece: pick up the main melodies then the improvisational parts. So a track can go from A to B / A to C / B to A. Somehow if there were lyrics, it made it so much easier because improvisations (even by the vocalist) were easily identifiable. I do wonder now if that was another sign that I was innately a writer.

Though I didn’t end up like Alex (going the ‘purely jazz’ route), his influence in my life is definitely there. I experienced the benefit of having a safe space to share my perspective. This also meant I didn’t feel like I needed to hit a certain level in order to be worthy of his time.

* I just wanted to note that there wasn’t any particular reason I chose those two names. I didn’t have any particular aversion to the name Mike or have a special connection to the name Alex. I know that all the Alex’s and Mike’s in my circle my feel like I favour one over the other…and I will make it a point to sit with each one and let them know how much they are more than their name (and be careful that I don’t mean that they should change it!).


How did you reach out to your current mentor? I look forward to your thoughts via Twitter!

For more content click here for my other pieces and here for previous entries from the Music Discovery Project.

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Note: For the source of Antonino’s photo, head to this page.