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Few drummers have the ability and skills to perform a wide range of musical styles such as jazz, Latin, rock, or pop. Faculty Mariano Steimberg is one of them. Hard work, dedication, and inspiration are the pillars of his teaching method, along with personalized learning, a methodology that favors the gradual achievement of goals set at the start of the year.
When asked what distinguishes a drum set from other instruments, Steimberg quotes a scene from the film Get on Up—a biographical drama based on James Brown’s life—where the legendary singer interrupts a band rehearsal, directs his gaze at the horn section, and says, “You are all drummers, so think like drummers!”
“I believe that’s true,” says Steimberg. “Every instrumentalist should play drums or percussion, and every drummer or percussionist should play a harmonic instrument to understand theory and harmony.”
Watch Steimberg's Groove Ensemble at Berklee recording of Herzog and Pastorious' 'Come on, Come Over' produced by Patrice Rushen:
A drum instructor in the Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) program and in the Berklee Study Abroad and First Year Abroad undergraduate programs, his first encounter with a drum kit was love at first sight. He was 13 years old, and a friend was hosting a party where his brother accompanied the music with his drums. All the kids asked to sit in and play at some point, but Steimberg was too shy to request his turn. “I was amazed when I saw that kit for the first time. So many toms to hit!” he recalls. Months later, his mother took him to a music school in his native Buenos Aires, Argentina, and when the director asked him to pick an instrument he didn’t hesitate. “I chose drums and never stopped playing them,” he says.
A Versatile Drummer
Steimberg graduated with honors from the Percussion Institute of Technology (part of Musicians Institute) in 1996; while there, he was named “outstanding student” together with two other peers. Reflecting on that period, he remembers working really hard to achieve his goals, a tireless dedication which paid off. “At one point, I was practicing from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and then attending class from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day for a year,” he remembers. Aged 20, it was the first time he was away from his home country.
Steimberg has lived in different cities and travelled extensively, resulting in a versatility of styles invaluable for the musicians he has played with. “It’s hard to keep up my level with so many styles, but at the same time it’s very rewarding. I have been asked by the best Cuban players in Spain to play with them, Brazilian musicians as well, famous pop artists, great jazz musicians, folk players….I love to be able to switch styles when asked,” he says. He believes this has also made him a better teacher as students benefit from his different career experiences.
Watch Steimberg's Groove Ensemble perform 'Crazy Race' live at a Berklee concert:
Three countries are especially close to his heart: his native Argentina; Brazil, which he has visited on numerous occasions; and Spain, a place he has called home since he was 21. “Argentina and Brazil are the countries that gave me a great, solid foundation on all the South American folkloric languages, while Spain gave me opportunities to grow as a musician,” he says.
So many travels translate to unexpected discoveries, like the time he played in Estonia for a week. “They love Latin music so much over there that for a moment it seemed like we were in Cuba. Not only that, the whole band ended up in a mambo dance lesson, invited by a Latin dance teacher who came to one of the shows. Don’t ask me to dance though,” he says.
Personalization and Inspiration
Steimberg started teaching at the age of 18 as a way to make some money before moving to L.A., but what was a necessity at first soon became a passion. “I have taken private drum lessons since I was 13, so the learning process was always clear to me. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from the best teachers,” he says.
When the opportunity to apply for a position as a drum set and percussion instructor at Berklee’s campus in Valencia arrived in 2012, he didn’t think twice. “I am becoming better at it every year, and this job gives me the chance to investigate deeper in different directions,” he says.
Watch Steimberg's faculty profile video:
He teaches Contemporary Ensemble, Mixed Styles Rating 2, Advanced Brazilian Rhythms and Percussion Ensemble, Brazilian Ensemble, and private lessons. “I am also starting a new elective called Global Rhythm, which is a journey around different musical global cultures,” he adds.
Steimberg is a believer in personalized learning as, according to him, “every person has a different talent. Even students with less ability can do great things if they work hard,” he says. He explains how his one-to-one sessions work: “The first day is about getting to know the students and what is their objective towards their culminating experience, so I divide my lessons in order to achieve this goal, class by class, and little by little. The amount of material will depend on the level of the students and the effort they put into learning. If they work harder, I am able to share more information with them.”
One of his tools to motivate students is to foster inspiration by inviting them to play in the jam sessions he hosts as well as in class, or by sharing the names of his favorite drummers. “And mainly speaking from my heart, trying to convey how passionate I am with music and hoping they will feel the same way. I am lucky to say that a lot of my students write to me after they graduate thanking me for what I have done. Even just seeing them becoming great and active players in the different cities where they live is a great satisfaction,” he says.