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I was the first accredited tutor and clinician for Drum Sense, an international teaching programme for drummers founded in 1997 by Colin Woolway.

I studied music technology at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford, and have performed at professional drum clinics alongside legendary musicians such as Bobby Arechiga, Russel Gilbrook, and iconic bass player David Markee.

A founding moment in my life as a musician and educator

Looking back on my music career over the past 30 years, there are always challenges to overcome within the industry, and these challenges do not go away for a professional musician who also happens to be blind.

I was diagnosed with Bardet Beidl Syndrome at the age of 11 and lost all my sight at the age of 20. This was a very challenging time, and it was drumming that got me through it, along with my family who supported me through the most difficult period of my life.

I started teaching drums at the Warren, a youth centre for musicians in Hull. Whilst there I had lessons with Bobby Arechiga and worked in a drum shop called Repercussion run by Phil Oaton.

During this period, I found out about a music technology course run at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford. Little did I know, this was going to be a founding moment in my life as a musician and educator.

During my time at the RNC I learnt all the skills needed to work as a professional sound engineer. This was where the challenge began!

Barriers to music education for the visually impaired

I very quickly had to learn how to overcome the challenges of using studio-based recording equipment despite being blind, and how to thrive in an ever changing world.

I had to manage both positive and very negative attitudes about my abilities, due to having to constantly find out-of-the-box solutions to everyday issues that sighted people do not have to worry about.

Barriers to simple tasks – such as not being able to use the same computer software (ProTools, Logic, etc.) as others – meant that I had to concentrate on my strengths. I was able to work by ear in a live studio, and played drums as much as possible in as many different situations as I could.

I continued to have lessons with Bobby and he set about helping me craft my own way of developing the skills that I would need as a professional drummer, despite not being able to see.

My time at the RNC taught me to survive and to always think outside the box to find new ways of doing things. By the time I graduated in 2000, I had a unique set of skills that I have developed and added to ever since.

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Developing my career as a drummer

After a period of further study at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in Redhill studying Radio Broadcast Technology, I founded Redstone FM with other blind students.

We were the first digital community radio station being run by visually impaired adults wanting a career in the radio industry.

Alongside this, I was hungry to develop my career as a drummer. I spent considerable time playing in bands with other blind musicians, including Right Off, a three-piece power trio that played a lot of original music and covers.

We played a lot as a house band for recording projects for the college, as well as for Rod Stewart at an event promoting the talents of visually impaired musicians.

After moving to South London in 2004 I started the band 'Yell Robot Yell' with fellow bass player Brian Chalk, and spent the next 5 years playing and recording indie rock all over London, including at festivals, as well as recording two studio albums.

During this time, I had to really overcome some challenges as I was having to gig in London every week.

I would go to gigs and rehearsals with my guide dog and a trolley with my gear on, and walk all over London to try and get work.

The only accredited blind tutor in the world for Drum Sense

As I was doing research, I found an advert looking for drum tutors at Drum Sense. I was up for any challenge at that point, even if it didn’t seem possible – so I gave it a go!

I contacted Colin Woolway and arranged to meet him, but did not tell him I was blind. This wasn’t because of any shame, but because I didn’t want my blindness to get in the way of any potential opportunities that might come from the meeting.

We met in Croydon at his teaching studio, and I feel he was a little shocked at first. He had never had a blind drummer who wanted to be a tutor, but was really up for giving it a go.

We began meeting and we began the journey of turning me into a Drum Sense tutor. Today I am still the only accredited blind tutor in the world for Drum Sense.

I have never let my blindness get in the way of teaching opportunities

During the past 20 years as a drum tutor and clinician, I have strived for excellence.

Whether it was teaching drums for Mind in Croydon, running a weekly drum workshop for adults with mental health issues, or running the first speech and language intervention programme for deaf children, I have never let my blindness get in the way of teaching opportunities.

I also teach drums in mixed ability groups to 150 primary school children per day in Upney.

2010 to 2016 saw me putting on professional drum clinics, sharing stages with drummers including Boby Arechiga, Colin Woolway, Robbin Guy, David Markee, and Russel Gilbrook, to name a few.

I also continued to study further with visiting tutors Johnathon Moover and Ric Lathum.

Teaching drummers to play from the heart, not the page

I continue to develop my skills today as a tutor, and there are still challenges.

For example, not being able to sight read means I must master aural communication and be able to demonstrate that to my non-sighted and fully sighted students.

The students get a unique experience of learning to play the drums, learning by ear.

This has led to some very unique skills developed by my students, enabling them to be much better musicians when it comes to working with musicians who want a drummer to play from the heart, and not from the page.

Through teaching and drum clinics thanks to the power of Drum Sense, I have been able to teach in a way that I feel meets the needs of many students who struggle with reading.

My teaching methods give them the tools to learn in a way that makes drumming more accessible to whatever the challenge is for them.

Hopes for more accessible and inclusive learning

There are many attitudes and challenges still to overcome.

I hope that the music industry will start to accept more accessible and inclusive means of assessment for students who are unable to access teaching and learning materials. Trust me, this happens all the time.

Organisations developing curriculums for exams and formal training need to understand that they need to do more to make the programmes of education more accessible.

I would like to see a charter brought in for good practice that educational establishments can sign up for. By doing so, they would commit to making their courses accessible and thinking outside of the box when it comes to exam and assessment grading criteria.

In terms of true accessibility, there is still a long way to go

One of the ways in which this could be achieved is with an accessible app that provides all the information needed to study for examination boards, such as Rock School.

A student who is blind could then access the information in a way that is truly accessible for them, giving them equal participation and the ability to achieve the same goals and outcomes as their sighted peers.

There is a lot of work to do with the accessibility of software and mobile apps for the delivery of drum education, as well as making recording software more accessible for blind and partially-sighted musicians.

We need to ensure that accessibility is a standard feature of any music-related software instead of an afterthought, as is generally the case.

A lot of progress has been made over the past few years, but in terms of true accessibility, there is still a long way to go.

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Steve Burge

Steve is a professional drummer tutor and clinician for Drum Sense. Find out more at:

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