Getting In Touch With My Inner Beginner
I am a Show Director at the School of Rock in Eden Prairie, MN. I am also a private instructor at the school, teaching both drum set and keyboard. As an experienced instructor, I thought I had a solid idea of which songs can best help my students learning. However, it wasn’t until I started trying to get back into the mindset of a beginner that I began to look deeper at what lessons students can take away from the music they study.
When I began teaching at the School of Rock seven seasons ago, I fell in love with the students’ energy and was impressed at their high level of musical proficiency. As my reputation as “the new teacher” wore off, I learned what to expect of the students, both the good and the bad. In my mind, I could identify strengths and weaknesses. My strategy for strengthening those weaknesses was to provide opportunity and encouragement. I’ve watched other instructors provide a challenging attitude to inspire students to work harder, and I’ve seen teachers pick up an instrument and give an example of how it’s done so students can learn from that. All these are fine teaching tactics and certainly add to our teacher bag of tricks. But I’ve learned that it all isn’t quite enough.
Consider this: one of the perplexities of becoming an expert in our field is that we are inherently out of touch with the hurdles of being a beginner. We instructors have years of experience mastering our instruments, stage presence, and the many other details of putting on a great live show. However, I had to ask myself questions like these:
- What is it really like to have no experience at this?
- What is underneath why they can’t figure out this passage?
- How is my brain wired differently than theirs so that I can do this effortlessly and they struggle?
I decided to take cello lessons. Why cello? Because it’s awesome, but also because I have no experience playing any stringed instruments. Plus I like the challenge that the tenor and bass clefs bring to sight reading.
My process began with choosing the right instructor and/or school. As I called around, compared prices, researched cellists, and took trial lessons, I was reminded about the responsibility the students and parents were likely to feel when choosing me as an instructor. I bargained with a few shops that rented cellos, compared the details of instrument insurance plans, and found myself the best deal. I wrestled with my calendar for a day and time I can schedule my lesson time as well as practice time at home. I found clicking the mouse to start my SmartMusic program annoying, so I got the USB footpedal. I YouTube-searched how to rosin my bow!
Jeez, I totally forgot what commitment it takes just to get to a level where I can make my private lesson worth the money! I didn’t want to pay $20 to say “show me how to use this rosin thing. How do I hold this instrument? Oooooh, there are micro-tuner pegs at the bottom!” –but I did spend my money doing this the first week with a very patient Bob Galombeck at Groth Music.
I’ve been taking cello lessons since October 2011. I am able to play tunes marked “E” for “Easy” if I practice throughout the week, but level “ME” for “Medium Easy” still seems impossible. I”m very much a beginner still.
Now when I get to the School of Rock to direct rehearsals or teach private lessons, I see firsthand a beginner, like myself. The only difference is that they are on an instrument that I understand very well. I see the student’s embarrassment about how they sound on their instrument because they know they’re musical inside but are learning to prove it through their new instrument. I see students who know they sound great at home and choke in front of their teacher. I see it, and I’ve been there – like three days ago in my lesson.
I’m amazed at how I’ve grown as a teacher through the practice of a foreign instrument and the desire to play songs I know and love. New goals reveal themselves every day, and they inspire and shape how I work with my own students. It wasn’t until I really refreshed my memory on what it’s like to be a beginner that I was able to understand how songs can have many lessons in them beyond technical notes.
So, the biggest advice I have for teachers everywhere is become a student. Go through that experience again. And wish me luck on my cello ventures!
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