Monday, April 03, 2006


The value of teachers

Though each was brief, I've had a number of music teachers. They always talked, and what they said was generally useless or already familiar, having been laid out more thoroughly in some book. However, my teachers did convey a certain type of valuable information that can't be written down at all well: namely, they showed me what is possible and what not to bother trying.

Certainly, I watched them play, but that sort of learning is already available for less money in live performance settings. What's unique about teaching situations is that the student can see how the teacher talks about music, which terms roll off the tongue and which require a bit of thought to recall, how long it takes them to recognize an interval or transpose a chord they're reading, what they consider difficult, how many notes they can improvise at once, how well they can execute an idea that occurs to them, which errors in the student’s playing they can hear and which they can't … Such facts contribute to a sense of what the brain and body are capable of, and that sense allows one to use one’s time well.

Music students treat teachers as yogis – these weird, other-worldly creatures who knowingly bestow well-delineated gifts which, given enough ponderment, can come to be understood. That's dumb. We should look at our teachers the way stock brokers look at each other's activities: jealously, intending to extract maximum information from an agent who doesn't necessarily recognize, let alone vocalize, all relevant data.

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