The emotion that goes into private teaching has to be one of the hardest things to learn how to deal with. It's different from a school teacher who already knows from the get-go that they have students for a set amount of time. A private music teacher should, ideally, be taking students with the intention of teaching them over a long period of time.
So much focus tends to fall on the student's struggles. How is the student progressing? What are the student's goals? Should the student be with this teacher or that teacher? Very rarely is the teacher as a person even considered in all of this. They are simply "the teacher."
Yes, it is the teacher's job to be "the teacher" rather than "a friend." But private teaching is not an easy task. It requires an enormous amount of energy to try and keep a student motivated when the student is so clearly losing interest. Being connected enough to share a laugh with a student but at the same time being able to let go when the student wants to move on is always rough.
Most experienced teachers know that there are usually many outside forces that contribute to a student's decision to quit. But it still feels like a bit of a teaching failure when they do. At the same time, a teacher can't help but feel proud when a student has a major playing milestone.
The intent of this is not to rant; merely to make the non-teachers aware of both sides of the coin. And to ask that if you appreciate your teacher, you should tell them every once in awhile. Teachers need encouragement too!
Music is an intellectual pastime. Though any full-time musician will tell you that there is definitely a physical element, I don't think anyone would necessarily qualify it as a "sport." Now, we could go back and forth arguing about this, but it isn't really the point of this particular post. The point I wanted to make is that those that don't play an instrument already will immediately categorize music as a "study" rather than "training."
I think this lack of awareness of the physicality of instrument playing is the cause of 99% of all frustrations for beginning students regardless of age. As soon as they know how to do something they should be able to do that something, right? Well, if you were memorizing history dates, I would say yes. But playing an instrument requires muscles.
Yes, muscles. Those poor finger and back muscles are so easy to forget. Playing an exercise once on your instrument is like running once around a track and saying you're in shape. It doesn't work like that. Olympic runners run around the same track over and over and over again. They know that they have to condition their muscles if they want to expect peak performance from them. They have to establish muscle memory.
It's true that you probably won't get winded playing an instrument. And you're not trying to reach your optimum heart rate. But the muscles in your hands work exactly the same as any other muscle in your body. Response time and strength must be trained, not just thought. Thinking about having nice biceps won't make any develop. Unfortunately.
Therefore, the mastery of difficult techniques must be approached like an athlete. Endless, tireless repetitions are the only way cure screeches or awkward fingers. That's part of the reason why learning to play any instrument takes so long. Our muscles are slow learners.
The goals of a music student are something that are easily looked over and often a source of frustration for teachers. Something to keep in mind is that the music teacher is someone already invested in music. He or she obviously values their instrument enough to not only have kept playing over the years but also to now be teaching others how to play. Even if teaching isn't a dream job, they wouldn't be doing it at all if they thought it was a complete waste of time.
This kind of passion is something that every teacher wants to pass on to their students. The "perfect student" is the one that regularly practices exactly what you told them to practice and is excited to learn more. No muss, no fuss.
But the "perfect student" is few and far between. I think this is where the teacher must take a step back in order to figure out what the student wants to accomplish. Are the parents putting their child through music lessons to score scholarships and create the next Joshua Bell? Or are they just wanting their child to have an activity? Is that adult student fulfilling a lifelong dream? Or are they just doing something to keep their brain active?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of these reasons. But you have to acknowledge that the student may be there for different reasons than you are. This really takes a lot of stress out of the lesson. So what if the adult student didn't practice that week? They may not be there to become a fluent violinist in six months or less. They may be there just to get out of the house.
Understanding the goals of a students allows the student to completely enjoy their music experience. In turn, the teacher then knows where to start from in order to slowly push the student toward becoming a better musician.
More entries: March 2011
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