BRENTWOOD -- Justin Wilson is playing disciplinarian and cheerleader as students make a happy noise.
"One and two, three and four," he calls out as two girls bang away with mallets on 55-gallon barrels while a handful of others rap their drumsticks on upturned buckets.
Whenever someone lags, Wilson quickly steers the novice drummer back to the beat.
"That's band-killer stuff right there," he says. "If your timing suffers, the group suffers. You must play in time -- no ifs, ands or buts."
So goes another Friday afternoon lesson with the Brentwood Bucket Brigade, a percussion band the 33-year-old formed in early April to help young people stay on the right path.
"I wanted to give kids who are potential candidates for committing some kind of crime a place where they could be part of something positive," said Wilson, a Brentwood native who's been making music ever since he took up the trombone in fifth grade.
Wilson's inspiration for reaching out to at-risk kids arose last year when burglars -- two of them juveniles -- stole nearly $12,000 worth of guitars, keyboards and other music studio equipment from his home along with a laptop that contained the final cuts of compositions that had taken him about a year to record.
Yet Wilson managed to use his misfortune for good.
The same day his home was ransacked, he had received approval to lease some commercial space he'd had his eye on.
It had been a long shot because of his tenuous financial situation at the time, so Wilson took the news as a sign that there was a higher purpose for the site he planned to use as a music studio.
He decided to offer free lessons for children; they only needed to bring a can of food to the weekly sessions.
"They had to learn the importance of giving back," he said.
Wilson's first student was a hyperactive 12-year-old whose teacher had recommended the girl thinking that music would be a constructive way of channeling the energy that was getting her in trouble at school.
Wilson had been planning to teach piano, but when the sixth-grader said she'd rather play drums, it dawned on him that percussion was not only an inexpensive alternative but a way to teach multiple kids at a time.
"The very next thought I had was buckets," said Wilson, who'd seen the physical theater show "Stomp" in which performers turn everyday objects into instruments.
He set up a Facebook page describing his idea and asking for donations of "basically anything you can bang on."
As Wilson stocked up on dozens of bright orange buckets at The Home Depot, others began responding to his call for help. One business gave him a discount on 35 pairs of drumsticks. A Concord food-packaging company donated two 55-gallon steel drums. Two equally large water barrels came from a friend.
And as word of the lessons spread with the help of two local nonprofits that serve underprivileged youths, kids began coming as well; Wilson now has eight to 10 elementary- and middle-school-age regulars.
Not all of his recruits are potential mischief makers, however. Some like 11-year-old Amanda Little come simply to expand their horizons -- the Adams Middle School student had never played an instrument before she signed up with Wilson.
"I think he's given her a love of music," said her mother, Lisa, noting that her daughter now listens to jazz and blues, raps on everything from tables to the car's dashboard with her drumsticks, and wants a set of drums.
Wilson starts with the basics, teaching students how to count in 4/4 time and attune their ears to different rhythms within a passage.
Sheet music will come later: Having youngsters start drumming right away keeps them interested and motivated to duplicate the performances they hear, he said.
Students also learn discipline under Wilson: Pay attention, don't keep drumming when you're instructed to stop, don't talk over one another, and maintain at least a C average in school.
Hana Pratt knows Wilson means business.
"He's cool but strict at the same time," the 12-year-old from Byron said. "He's like a brother -- he can be really funny, but if you mess with him he can cut your head off."
Wilson has expanded his reach since he had Brentwood Bucket Brigade's first participants -- none of whom had any previous music instruction -- form an impromptu drum line in a Sacramento parade.
He's planning to hold weekly lessons at Antioch Middle School and other campuses in that district as well as introduce drumming to special education students in the Liberty Union High School District.
Given the array of benefits that a music education affords, Wilson considers his efforts a way to help cash-strapped schools that have reduced or eliminated that part of their curriculum.
"Somebody needs to make (music) open to everybody," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.
CLAIM TO FAME: Wilson established the Brentwood Bucket Brigade, a group of youths who are learning how to drum using unconventional but everyday objects. For more information about the classes, call 925-848-4065, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.atlasmusiclessons.com.
QUOTE: "Somebody needs to make music open to everybody."
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