Baby Boy Drummer - How It All Began
On February 20th, 2019, I packed up my son’s gear and headed out to Burbank, CA. Twenty minutes into our 60 minute drive, with my son beating on the back seat to the fusion group, Snarky Puppy, I started chuckling to myself. Never in a million years did I think I’d be setting up drums for my 4 year old to play on Ellen.
In the Beginning
Little Justin’s (L J's) love for music and musical ability began in the womb. He would tap rhythmically when Shelana would tap her fingers on her belly and move when she sang to him. On July 11, 2014 as my wife and I anxiously waited for our first born son to arrive, the heart rate monitor started beating rapidly. I jokingly said that he was "playing drums in there". We had a good laugh. Five hours later, Justin Andrew Wilson, II was born at 8:12am July, 12, 2014.
Of course we had no idea LJ would have any interest in playing the drums. We had no desire to teach LJ drums nor were there any drummers in the family for him to emulate. When he was born, we got him what I call the 'musician starter pack': The toy piano that sounds more like a harpsichord and goes out of tune 5 minutes after you open it. The percussion starter pack that you regret buying immediately after your child bangs the triangle 100 times in a row. And the xylophone where the keys pop off and all you're left with is the nails underneath to impale you when you step on it.
The Bright Idea
When LJ was around 1 month old I was thinking about music and how we learn new things. I surmised that while our musical vocabulary/proficiency grows as we practice and perform with other peers, what makes the most musical impact on us and what pushes us to higher levels of musicianship and creativity, is hearing new music that’s out of our box; musical ideas and expressions you hear for the first time that change the way you think about music and what you thought was possible. Listen to what 4x Grammy winner, Jacob Collier recently said about my hometown choir, the Oakwood University Aeolians, and how listening to them the first time affected him.
So I go back and tell my wife my theory: that if we play all the music we think is so crazy and creative and cool for LJ when he’s a baby, then those musical impressions will be inside of him. And if he decides to create music when he gets older, he will be pulling from a much deeper musical well of knowledge. So instead of the nursery rhymes, I started playing the same crazy music I listened to. Don't worry, he still got to listen to the nursery rhymes with grandma and the babysitter. haha. About two months later, I saw an incredible video from a father and his young son. He was showing off his son's otherworldly skill with perfect pitch. The dad’s name was Rick Beato. When I looked him up to find out more about him, I saw that he had spent years researching how complex music can forever alter a baby’s brain and open up new, neural pathways that nurture development in every aspect, not just music. Wow! So at about 4 months, in addition to playing a daily playlist of complex classical and jazz, we also started adding the craziest music we could find for him to listen to. It’s not like he could tell us to turn it off; he couldn’t talk! haha. But luckily, his smiles and laughter and even occasionally a sense of calm, let us know that he was enjoying it.
Early Family Life
"Exposure without expectation facilitates exploration. Over time, that becomes experience, which can foster expertise." --Shelana Wilson, L J's mom
We are a very musical family. We make up songs for just about every activity: eating, changing a diaper, nursing, crying, etc. When LJ was three, we took some of those songs and made our first album, LJ's World. But more on that later. When I was in my studio, I would have LJ on my lap or in his rocker as I arranged my own music . I would explain in detail what I was doing as he looked on and drooled on my keyboard. As he got older, I never stopped him from coming in the studio. I figured that there was no way to stop a curious child from exploring, but if I showed him how things work
as best as I can, then it's less likely that he'll break something. My wife would sing him to sleep at night and a dance party was always only a song away during the day. Saying LJ was exposed to music at an early age is an understatement. But none of this was designed to make L.J a prodigy on any instrument and it definitely wasn’t done to make him a drummer. It was just a part of our everyday life. My wife explained our educational and parenting philosophy perfectly when she said "exposure without expectation facilitates exploration. Over time, that becomes experience which can foster expertise."
At 4 months, we discovered that LJ could match pitch. Shelana would sing a note and he'd sing the same note. He was an early talker, saying his first word (mama as my wife likes to remind me) at 6 months and by 10 months, he began singing along to songs, verbalizing a few lyrics. At this time, he began his first attempts at maintaining rhythm with beat boxing, saying, 'dubba dubba' to the beat. By 13 months, he was keeping time to songs, banging his spoons at each meal. And by 15 months, he was able to identify and mimic unique syncopations and tinker on the piano in the correct key as a song was played. It was around this time that my wife and I started really thinking that he was gravitating towards the drums. Not only would he consistently bang his toys in time to the beat of a song, but as the songs would change he would take a moment, listen to the pattern and tempo, and then very quickly start beating in time to the music again. He would often anticipate the different sections of a song he’d never heard. He would get excited when he felt a bridge or vamp was coming in a song and just start rocking out! We bought LJ some kids' drum sticks because we thought it was cute and he was using everything as a stick anyway. We still weren't thinking about buying a drum set. Typically buying a drum set for a child is what you would do to a parent that you really don’t like. haha. All the screaming, crying and banging in the world can’t compare to the decibel breaking racket of a child on a drum set! One day, we were hanging out in his play room and out of the blue he started doing two different syncopations in each hand, at the same time: a simple hi-hat and snare pattern. My mouth dropped wide open and the next week we ordered a kids' drum set on Amazon. He was 18 months old.