Today I welcomed drummer and fellow Bristolian Jon Clark to my workshop for a 'Make Your Own Cymbal' experience.
Over the course of 3 hours, we talked a little theory, and I let him loose on a Turkish B20 bronze cymbal blank with the hammers and lathe (under my guidance, of course!).
I've run several of theses experiences / courses now, as well as more in-depth training sessions with students who spend a number of days with me as we unpick the fine details and advanced techniques.
Whenever I teach, I learn something. Each student has a unique set of skills – I've taught everyone from experienced cymbalsmiths to folk who have barely ever held a hammer! This means, clearly, that in these cases the responsibility for communicating and passing on knowledge is solely mine, and I have to adapt to each situation to allow the concepts and physical work to translate.
Saying that, there are definite threads common to each session, and as more people come through, I find I can hone my skill as a communicator to better explain what can often be quite abstract ideas. This is somewhat easier when teaching in-person, but I love the online training I do too – managing to pass a concept via a screen to a student who could be thousands of miles away, experiencing a different time of day and whose first language may be different from mine is very rewarding, and I enjoy the challenge of getting some of my crazy ideas out of my head and into someone else's!
Jon asked to make a semi-raw 18" crash, so that's what we did. Working first on the basic shape with hand-hammering and then going to the lathe to work in stages and hear what each pass achieved in terms of sonic changes. Eventually, he settled on a cymbal which was lathed underneath except for into the bell, and lathed on top in the outer half of the cymbal only.
All these aspects of this particular cymbal's anatomy were the result of some discussion and planning. I'm all for just swinging hammers and seeing what happens, but in this case there was a brief – partly for the sake of having one and seeing what it felt like to follow it towards a loose goal, but also because Jon knows what he likes, so I wasn't about to tell him what he had to produce.
For me, this is how teaching should be. Reactive, interactive, open and sensitive. In this session, I learned that my expectations and ideas need to be flexible, because if I'd not asked for Jon's input, he would most likely have made a fully lathed crash cymbal. No bad thing, I'm sure, but he went away feeling connected to the work we did, with a cymbal he will cherish and actually play! I could also see the lightbulbs going on as he realised he was understanding what was happening, and he joked about now modding all his other cymbals. He was joking, but I know there's a spark of something serious in what he said, this craft is addictive.