Why you should impress your teacher, and how to do it

June 5, 2014, 11:06 AM · Once upon a time, most music teachers and programs accepted only students who showed "talent." A first meeting between teacher and student was fraught with tension and likely involved a battery of tests for the potential student: Can you match pitches? Do you have a good sense of rhythm? Are you coordinated? Let me see your hands. Hmmm. Are you a disciplined enough individual for the work? Do you have "talent"? Maybe you can take lessons. Maybe you can be part of this program.

Many adults can remember the sting of being rejected from a music program as a child. Being told that "you have no musical talent" can stick for life.

Fortunately, times have changed. Many current teachers have embraced ideas such as those promoted by Shinichi Suzuki: that all people have talent, if only they start early, cultivate a supportive environment and have patient, persistent and well-trained teachers. Programs such as Venezuela's El Sistema and its offshoots around the world embrace the idea that every child can learn, and that musical outreach can benefit society. The Internet has opened the doors also, especially for adult students, providing all kinds of information and encouragement.

In fact, I daresay it's the currently prevailing sentiment: Everyone can take part, everyone can get good at this, everyone can learn.

I'm idealistic enough to believe it's true, too. Yet, it's not easy. You can't just find the right Internet tutorial and play like a pro. Likewise, you can't just hire a high-quality teacher, run your credit card and have ability. Good teachers and good education are not consumer products.

You still have to put yourself to the test.

It would be gravely out of fashion these days for a teacher to berate a student's efforts when they fall short. Yet very often, that is the reason for lack of progress. Did you practice every day? Did you learn what the teacher assigned this week? Are you making excuses?

If a student wants to progress, here's a formula for success: Work to impress your teacher. This is the way of progress. Though you may not have to show "talent" at your first meeting, you do need to show respect and good-faith effort throughout your teacher/student relationship.

Sometimes students are looking to reach the end product, without the work. Here are some tactics of students avoiding the work (and sometimes it's not conscious): deciding that "your goals" are at odds with your teacher's, thinking your teacher should be able to make you learn faster, wanting to play different music right now instead of the music your teacher has assigned.

Your teacher already knows how to play and how to teach; presumably, this is why you chose the teacher. To make the most of your lessons, learn what the teacher is offering. Most good teachers can adjust to your learning style; but when you tell your teacher how to teach, you are compromising that teacher's ability to give you his or her best.

When you have committed to lessons and to a teacher, then put your trust in that teacher and in the learning process. That is the shortcut, that is the secret. Practice every day and learn this week's assignment to the very best of your ability. That's how you make your ability grow.

In time, your goals will come into focus, as will your ability to direct them for yourself. In fact, that is the ultimate goal: to become your own best teacher and direct your own lifelong learning. Ironically, the way to musical and technical independence is to submit to the process, so you can master it and make it your own.

Replies

June 5, 2014 at 06:29 PM · Excellent post Laurie! Great to read!

I think that the same can be applied to practice in many situations as well in general.

Thanks and Cheers!

June 5, 2014 at 06:44 PM · What a refreshing read, with wonderful, "Laurie-stated" gems of truth immersed in a style of light-hearted directness -- exactly what your faithful readers have all come to know and love about you. Appreciate this so much!

June 5, 2014 at 06:59 PM · This makes sense to me. Students can also get a little too used to and a little too familiar with their teachers. It's important to remind oneself (and it's easier to have the presence of mind as an adult or older student) that a lot of what carries you forward in your studies is how closely you pay attention to what your teacher is saying, and following the instructions. It's easy to do when you get to a new teacher, and you can feel like everything the teacher is saying is a revelation, but eventually you lose that edge in lessons and can get a little too comfortable, and start getting away with what corners you can cut. It's funny how a student can hear some piece of advice from an old teacher a thousand times, and only put it into practice after the first lesson with a new teacher as if it were the first time they heard it. I think that trying to impress the teacher is a good way to cover how to deal with that.

June 5, 2014 at 07:26 PM · I'm sending this to all of my students immediately! Thanks so much, Laurie. One of the best articles I've read here. :)

June 5, 2014 at 08:53 PM · The issue of caring for the instrument and also bringing needed materials to class is also a big one. It's very difficult to teach a student who has failed to bring their shoulder rest, their music, their assignment notebook, their practice chart, etc. etc. You can impress me by showing up fully prepared, too!

June 5, 2014 at 11:23 PM · Thanks for the post Laurie!

June 6, 2014 at 12:05 AM · Fantastic, Laurie. Thank you! I'm bookmarking and will share widely.

June 6, 2014 at 12:58 PM · "Work to impress your teacher" is exactly correct, regardless of the age of the student. The teacher should be more of a guru. A very well-trained, patient, and caring teacher should be the object of something approaching worship.

Teachers should not hesitate to tell the student, or the parent, when the expected standard has not been met. When everything is "good" or "very good" then nothing is good or very good because these are relative terms. At the same time teachers need to understand that violin is on a long list of priorities that includes homework, exercise, and such, and that if violin is at the very top of that list, then something is actually wrong.

June 9, 2014 at 11:56 AM · Amen!

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