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The Student/Teacher Dynamic.



After seven years of private tuition, I have taught hundreds of students globally both online and face to face.

As a guitar instructor, I have taught students of all ages, skill levels and interests. I've been fortunate enough to watch some of my students progress into fantastic players with an admirable work ethic and inspired curiosity. There are many students that I'm still in contact with, who will shoot ideas or messages from time to time. As a student myself, I have taken lessons in every capacity; from informal jamming, studying through the academic system to one-off sessions with other inspiring players. I'm a big believer that a good teacher never loses sight of being a student.

The process of humbling yourself, breaking old habits and nurturing new growth is truly never-ending.

There is a method of 'purification' that comes from learning. It requires both student and teacher to cast aside their egos for a greater purpose. As a student, it's a hugely personal experience to allow someone to critique your playing; it isn't always easy to hear from a teacher that your skillset needs improving. As a teacher, balancing lessons between what a student needs to learn versus what the student wants to learn is the biggest challenge. The goal is not to train a 'mini-me' version of yourself but to give students a dynamic method to explore their curiosities.

With that in mind, I'd like to address some on-going thoughts about the student & teacher dynamic.

Generally, a good student is one who willingly relinquishes their egocentricity. Granted, some students will be more advanced than others as their approach might be more characteristic of their sound, rather than a 'flaw'. By the same reasoning, a good teacher can identify and keep intact a student's idiosyncrasies if they are complimentary.

An unsuccessful lesson is inevitable. Every teacher has taught one, and every student has had one. Often, cognitive dissonance is at the heart of an unsuccessful session. Perhaps the student doesn't understand the reason for the subject content. Or maybe they don't embrace the primary critique by the teacher. In this scenario, both the student and the teacher are at fault. While it is the teacher's job to conduct the lesson and explain content clearly, it is the student's job to reciprocate the attention and arrive open-minded. Left unresolved, you might see this as a 'power struggle' over the direction of the lesson. Whether you are the teacher or student in this scenario, identify your role and do your part to ease the situation.

Students take lessons with teachers for the simple reason to help them 'think critically about how they think critically'.

Let's break that down.

From my own experience, I have tutored several self-taught players that describe a similar experience of reaching a plateau with their self-learning. At some point, students are not able to analyse their playing. That is the nature of being human. We require help, motivation, inspiration and critique. These are all things that are hard to 'self generate'. A teacher is another set of eyes for the blind spot that we cannot see.

By failing to relinquish control of our understanding, we willingly deny the existence of our blind spots.

In most high-level, accomplished musicians, you will find an aspect of self-awareness in their personality. Scratch a little deeper and you're likely to discover that the individual shows a deep curiosity for other interests away from music. The ability to internalise complex information and remain humble in discovery is a common trait for creatives.

Being a good student is about embracing a lifestyle and a way of conducting yourself. A good teacher shouldn't only be a person of expertise, but an example of a way of life.

With all this said, I feel that it's important to mention that being a teacher is not for everyone. It can be hard work and requires a selfless quality to understand each student's personality and learning requirements. Arguably, taking the time to learn about who the student is away from the instrument is the most important aspect. Knowing why they want to play, compose or improvise will allow you a broader understanding of their thought process. The goal is to observe your style of teaching and lesson content through their eyes. While you have no control over how inspired or hard-working a student is, you must have the means to show them a path to self-learning in their creative journey. Tailoring content and material to their learning style is a great skill, but offering them reliable tools for their creative investigations is the most useful skill. Once more, a teacher's job is to help students think critically about how to think critically.


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