Finding the Right Teacher-part 2, music

I have been a music teacher for decades now, and every day I learn something new about how to teach effectively.

My first instructors were in orchestra, as I started as a a classical musician. Ensemble teaching is very different from one on one teaching. It is valuable to learn to play in a group of course, but there is a more pointed focus to individual instruction.

My first one on one teacher was my mother. I don’t recommend learning from a close family member! However, she taught me quite a bit. It was bandmates however, that taught me the most.

When I was growing up, there weren’t many individual music teachers around. At least not for what I wanted to learn, which was the rock genre. Though it was heartbreaking for my mother for me to leave the classical world to be a rock musician, I was much more moved by this music than classical. I was also quite the rebel, which goes along with the genre’s attitude for sure!

I was lucky enough to be in many bands with very talented musicians. I would have learned even more had I had a private instructor for weekly lessons, but I was mostly on my own for continuing education. I took courses, and did much self study.

A lot of people these days believe you can learn just about anything from the internet, and there is a lot to learn there. I teach many students that started out with looking things up, or using a book, to teach themselves. Invariably they became frustrated or very limited with their skill set. There is also a lot of misinformation in random tutorials.

My main complaint about learning from videos or books, is that you miss a very important factor that you get with an instructor. We learn skills mainly by mirroring a teacher. The mirror neurons in the brain fire when you play along with your teacher. The interaction is a very important part of the learning process. This is exactly how I was able to learn so much from bandmates.

A good instructor will tailor each lesson to the student’s skill set, and music choice. There are some instructors who teach by rote, where everyone learns exactly the same thing in the same way. I disagree with that method as I have learned that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses. Getting to know how each person learns best is part of being a flexible teacher.

There is much beyond the scope of merely being a competent musician to teach well. You also have to be a good communicator, and be able to adjust the level of difficulty of each piece so that the student is neither overwhelmed, or unchallenged.

Beyond this there is also a personal component. I have had many students come to me that had teachers that were shaming and destructive to the student’s confidence. One student I had was so afraid to make a mistake, having come from a particularly insulting and impatient instructor, that she literally shook when I asked her to play the simplest thing.

I explained to this student that we all make mistakes, and it’s very important to be comfortable making them, especially in the beginning.

Regardless of my explanation, she was still physically shaking when she played. I had her make mistakes on purpose, which normally wouldn’t be a good thing for muscle memory. It seemed to me she needed to get over the psychological hurdle first, so I had her play as sloppy as she could. Once she was able to notice that nothing bad happened, she was not admonished, we could go about the business of learning.

I don’t believe people can learn when they are busy defending themselves, or are afraid of the teacher’s responses. If you are choosing a teacher, make sure they have respect for you, and you like their approach. You are the highest authority in what is right for you.

If you are a parent of a student, it’s a good idea to sit in on a lesson to evaluate the teacher and their relational skills with your child. It’s also important to notice if your child feels good and inspired after a lesson. They may or may not come out of the lesson beaming, depending on their personality, but they shouldn’t be worried, pressured, or despondent.

Teachers have a lot of impact on their student’s confidence, and it should be positive!