October 30, 2013 by Tony Lee
Studying with a teacher is the best thing that any student can do for his/her development. While this fact is undeniable, it’s also dependent on the student’s being open to instruction from someone that is his/her superior and can demonstrate instructions with ease and confidence. Much like martial arts masters were challenged to fight by potential students, so too must a musical “master” be worthy of pupils.
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The Ego Problem
Ego is not inherently a bad word or a bad thing, but it is the one aspect of our personalities that can sabotage our ability to improve and/or how we view our improvement. This “ego problem” can especially affect a person’s decision about whether to take private music lessons or not. Genuine objectivity is needed to decide that the “outside influence” of a qualified music teacher is the ideal influence on our musical development.
Admitting that you could benefit from some qualified help is a big step in the right direction. Too often, the need to feel like we are “talented” or “gifted” enough to teach ourselves prevents us from seeking help from a teacher. Separating this need from objectively admitting your shortcomings is a key part of the process. Then, finding a qualified music teacher with whom you have a great relationship will accelerate your rate of development.
There are plenty of frightened, but talented, musicians in this world that deny practicing or tutelage has shaped them. It’s unfortunate when this type of negative association with learning occurs and is propagated. I can only assume that somewhere along the line, these jaded or fiercely independent musicians had a bad experience with a potential teacher or mentor. While these incidents certainly can happen, it is no reason to discourage others from pursuing the path of studying (as the drummer for the Black Keys – never mind his name – has done).
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
That brings me to my next point: just as not all students require the same type of instruction, not all teachers come in a “one size fits all” option. It is very important to connect with your teacher on some level. This connection doesn’t need to be overt or deliberate, but without some reciprocated trust and respect, the relationship is pointless. That description sounds a lot like other interpersonal relationships, doesn’t it?
The relationship that you have with a teacher is just as crucial a factor in determining how you feel about your progress on your instrument as any of your technical skills. A teacher can be a mentor, role model, and friend, but above all, he/she is an inspiration to his/her students. There is no substitute for the genuine connection that occurs between an enthusiastic student and a confident, qualified teacher.
The second thing that the Talmud instructs a person to do is to find a friend. How great is it when your instructor turns out to be a friend as well?!