In April we’d like to spotlight one of our long-standing Drum Instructors, Dave Cifelli. Interviewing Dave is a breeze; he is so committed to drumming and loves to share his thoughts about the instrument.
You are really passionate about all things drums. When did you fall in love with drumming? Were there any key moments in your life? I think I fell in love with drumming when I was very young. My dad played drums to a limited extent and so did my cousin. I went to drum events when I was too little to remember! When I started playing at age seven, my dad immediately got me started with lessons and it all just blew up. Even before that though, I think my love for drums was preceded by my love for music. My parents played me so much music when I was really young, like really cool hip music. I was probably the only 3 year old to quote Lou Reed. I think listening and being exposed to tons of music throughout your entire life is just as important as the time you spend practicing.
You have a loyal following of drum students at HAA. What do you enjoy most about teaching drums and working with your students? Well, I think almost any good teacher would say that they enjoy sharing something they love with the students, but beyond that, I enjoy how much I learn from them too. I am constantly hearing new music that is brought in by my students, and I love the challenge of trying to transcribe so much stuff for them (at least until they can do it on their own, which is the goal). I like that it keeps me learning, and not just in a metaphorical way. I am literally learning new songs every week. That’s pretty awesome for me.
We have come to appreciate your knowledge and advice on helping us purchase and repair drum sets at HAA. When it comes to the instrument, what advice do you have for students just starting drum lessons? Two things: first, as drummers we are very fortunate because the drums, unlike most other instruments, are adjustable, morph-able, customizable in so many different ways. Take advantage of that. Don’t just play your drumset the way it was set up at the store or the way you saw some picture on the internet. So many times, students are slaves to their kits. It’s your kit. Mess with it, you won’t break it. That’s what all those screws are for. That’s one of the fun things about drums. Also, tuning: tune your drums. If you don’t know how, ask. I will help. But beyond that, mess around. Tuning is like playing; it takes practice and if you don’t practice you won’t get better. Unless you do something extreme, you’re not going to break anything. Go for it!
How important is it for drum students to play in a band, and at what point in their training are they ready for that? Playing in a band is so important for any musician, but especially drummers. It’s tough. If you play piano, guitar, etc you can play some chords, maybe sing along, and it sounds like the song. With the drums, it’s a little tougher because you can play a whole song, and maybe no one will know what it is. It’s hard to keep motivated to hear the “bigger picture” sometimes. Playing music solely by yourself regardless of instrument makes no sense to me. First of all, wouldn’t you want to play with other people? It’s really fun! Second, there are so many skills that you can only learn by playing with other people. You can play along with the record all day and maybe you think you sound amazing, but I’d almost guarantee the first time you go play with others it’s going to be a lot harder than you’d expect, and you probably won’t be too good. And, when should they start: the earlier the better. Once you can play a beat, once you can play a simple three chord song, you should be playing music with other people.
Do you currently perform in a band, and if so, what excites you about performing with others? I don’t currently perform in a band, but it’s not just what excites me about playing with others, it’s what excites me about playing FOR others. Music is about sharing. Ever play a gig for no one? It doesn’t matter how killin’ the musicians are, how great the music is, etc. if there is no one there to hear and experience what you’re doing, it’s not a great time. The only time I enjoy playing for basically no one is in the recording studio. I really enjoy recording and the process of working together with musicians to create something new. That’s exciting to me!
What are your favorite musical styles? Believe it or not, as a kid, besides listening to classic rock, I listened to a lot of jazz. I really got so heavy into jazz music for so many years, and I still love it. However, I love so many styles. I used to love going to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra every week when I lived in Philly, I love The Beatles probably more than any band ever, but my musical influences stem so far, and I think you cannot underestimate how important it is to have diverse musical interests and knowledge as a musician and educator. There is too much good music out there to only listen to sort of thing.
What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? I like that there is a great effort for quality music education taught by very passionate teachers. I think some of the students really appreciate how much effort and care their teachers put into their lessons, and really respect them for it. It’s a two way street of motivation. A motivated student makes a motivated teacher and vice versa. I think there are some great students here.
Outside of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, what are your interests and hobbies? My biggest thing is cycling. I love riding my bike and love following professional bike racing. I also love traveling as much as I can afford. I am also really into cooking. Gotta ride more so you can eat more, so you can ride more so you have to eat more. It’s a cycle… very terrible pun intended.