Mike Liszka knows bands. He’s been playing in them – rock bands, concert bands, jazz bands, and others – for nearly 15 years. He’s currently playing with a band, Sonnder, that plays at some of Philadelphia’s biggest venues, tours regularly, and is starting to have its songs picked up by local radio stations.
Interestingly, he goes even further back with orchestra. He started playing in violin at age 4, and played in orchestra through middle school before percussion, which he began playing at age 10, took over.
“When I was ten years old, I was playing violin two hours a day,” he recalls. “I did both orchestra and band from age 10 to 14. Drums were always the ‘fun’ instrument.”
He wants his students to see his chosen instrument the same way, and he passes along his love for drumming through Individual lessons, Percussion Construction (introductory percussion classes for young children and their parents), and directing the beginning band at Hardy Williams High School through the Music Education Pathways program. Bands, in several different forms, are still a major part of his life.
His high school students started the 2016-17 school year as beginners, though a few of the percussionists had played in churches and other settings. “It was a really good class. I got to see them perform on stage for the first time, and they all got excited,” he says. “They were all really proud, and it brought back great memories for me.”
Since he’s so active as a performer, he frequently breaks out tricks and approaches from rock-style drumming to illustrate percussion basics; he’ll take one of the fundamentals – a paradiddle, for example – and demonstrate how it applies to playing a fill on the drum set. “This is where you can take it,” he tells students. “The lesson here is that you have to do the boring stuff so that you can do the fun stuff.”
He breaks down concepts like grip and technique really carefully for his students, giving demonstrations and asking, “How am I able to do this? What makes this hard for you?” For other students who are hesitant to work on fundamentals at home, he’ll often say, “if you go home and practice this, you could do it by next week.”
Liszka displays a highly positive attitude during lessons and conveys constant encouragement to his students, who range in age from 5 to 58. Even several years out of college and into his teaching career, he still draws on advice from the teachers he encountered when he first started playing an instrument.
“My teachers were all so smart and so dedicated. My elementary school orchestra teacher even came to my senior recital in college,” he says, clearly proud to be following in their footsteps.