Moved By the Beat of a 16-Year-Old

October 21, 2017

There once was this little boy stoked about beginning middle school. He couldn’t wait to be in the band and play the drums.

Side Note: The students had to be in middle school to play in the band. This was his year! 

He was the child that played air drums since he was about two-years-old. Everything that remotely resembled drumsticks made music–from straws at restaurants, toy blocks, wooden spoons, screwdrivers, and even tampons from his mother’s purse. Yes, they were in the wrapper. Yes, I was mortified when I looked over and saw him rockin’ out with those in the church. As you might imagine, it was quite a scene– a curly-headed toddler, eyes closed, and completely immersed in the song with tampons flying like he was on stage in some sort of rock band. 

Point being, the kid was destined to be a drummer, and middle school couldn’t come fast enough.

Then, the day came. Middle school enrollment. He was elated! When he went to sign up for the band, they asked if he had two years of piano experience?



Kaleb answered, “Sir, I actually want to play the drums. My mom plays the piano, but I want to be a drummer.”

He was simply told, “There would be no place for him in the percussion section of the band if he hadn’t had at minimum two years of private piano lessons.”



We both were.

Plan B

My brother-in-law was (and still is) an excellent drummer, and he moved into town just a year after Kaleb’s big heartbreak. He began showing Kaleb the basics, and Kaleb instantly started “learning on the fly” aka playing alongside me at church. I still think that’s the best way to learn–just dive in! He picked it up quickly. He was (and still is) a natural. (It’s a shame so many missed out on such talent, but I couldn’t let him miss out on plugging into his passion.)

Fast forward a few years…

This past Sunday, we were playing a familiar contemporary song in church and Kaleb was slightly slow on the tempo. No matter how many times I gestured for him to speed up, he didn’t look my way. He just closed his eyes and was feeling the beat (much like the above toddler-tampon-drumming-episode). 

Within the first few measures of the song, the bass player and I looked at each other and decided we will have to follow his lead or we will ruin the song for everyone.

We didn’t practice this way.

However, even during practice, he had suggested it. To which we replied, “Well, that isn’t how we normally play it. Let’s stick with what we know.”

Follow the Beat of the 16-Year-Old

The more we played, the more I realized how beautiful it sounded at that tempo. Granted, Kaleb threw in a few drum solos and played “his drum” for all it was worth. 

It was moving. Innovative. Perfect. 

Not only did the crowd show their appreciation for the new sound, Kaleb’s passion while playing was priceless.

16-Year-Olds Have Brilliant Ideas

Afterward, I couldn’t help but praise Kaleb for trying something new and forcing us “oldies” to believe in it. “I need that more often, buddy. Thank you for owning your idea.”

How often do we preach one thing and do another? When it comes to education, I’m all about trying something new, but with this song–I didn’t dare want to rewrite the music. Truth be known, none of us play by sheet music anyway; so what was the big deal? Why the hesitation? 

I’m just glad the youngest of the bunch and clearly the rookie, believed in his plan and implemented it. Most of all, I’m grateful I was able to experience it.

This quote describes the experience beautifully,

“Creativity is where we start to think differently, and innovation is where creativity comes to life.” 

George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

Kaleb had a vision and executed it. He even did so while “innovating within the box.” #InnovatorsMindset

Music To Many Ears

When students tap into their passions, they create and reiterate things in ways we might never dream, and the outcome is music to many ears.

Let them play their drum.

It might move you.

It might move many.

I’d like to conclude with one of my favorite quotes from the excerpt Play Your Drum in Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess,

“Play with all of the passion, enthusiasm, and heart you can muster. Nothing else really matters. You can offer no finer gift or higher honor to the world than to find out what your “drum” is and then play it for all it’s worth.”

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