The True Teacher
I am now going to write about something for which I feel the utmost passion. If I could only get across one message, and for some reason wasn’t allowed to say anything else, this is what I would want to say. I want to tell you what I have learned about The True Teacher, and what True Teaching is.
The reason this message is so important, is because a widespread understanding of it would lead to a radical change in the experience and development of the aspiring guitarist, and because it would lead to a radical change in the experience of how so many of us are “taught”. And if by some reason you disagree with me at the end of the discussion, and that is certainly your right, you won’t be able to invalidate my conviction that my own experience and development as a guitarist and musician would have benefited immensely from having these things understood and practiced by the many people who served as my teachers. And I want to make clear that some of these were understood and practiced by some of my teachers, and I was eternally grateful when they were, and damaged when they weren’t.
First, let’s talk about the True Goal of the Teacher. It is empowerment. Empowerment of the student. The True Teachers utmost desire is to aid, guide, and do whatever it takes to bring the student to their place of happiness and fulfillment as a musician and guitarist. The student may not have a clear idea of what this place is, and certainly not where it is. The teacher may not know either, but he knows more than the student, and he must help the student feel their way if necessary. The True Teacher knows that if this person is destined to be a musician, (which is another way of saying if they really want it bad enough), then their place of happiness and fulfillment does exist, and can be found. And the true teacher resolves to do whatever it takes to make that come about.
For the guitar student, empowerment means the Confidence and Certainty that you have the Understanding and Knowledge you need to fulfill any desires you may have now, or will have later, concerning playing the guitar. For me, it meant knowing that I can do anything I want on the guitar, and if I can’t, I find out how, and by Correct Practicing, learn to do whatever it was I wanted.
As I began to have this feeling of confidence and empowerment, it was a wonderful thing. And for so long, I didn’t have this feeling. And needing to play the Classical Guitar, it was particularly necessary to feel equal to the challenges. Classical guitar is one of the more difficult styles, you know.
The urgent need, the necessity to have the student become “powerful”, and “get it”, every step of the way, is the hallmark of the True Teacher. The need to see results, progress, happiness and fulfillment on the part of the student, makes this kind of teacher try one way, then another, then another, no matter how long it takes or how creative or unorthodox he or she must become.
Teaching the Way You Were Taught
I contend most teachers begin by teaching the way they were taught. They begin using some approach that perhaps worked for them. Often it only worked partially, and there are still a lot of gaps in the teachers own Understanding and Knowledge. (The True Teacher is also the Good Student, always learning and expanding, and being open). But guess what! Once you start teaching lots of people, that one approach is NOT going to work for a lot of your students.
When I was 17, I had been playing for three or four years, and studied Classical Guitar for only one year, but the place where I took lessons thought I was good enough to start teaching there. It was a little Community Music School that had a lot of fine teachers, and I was extremely grateful that I had found a “real” classical guitarist there, who corrected so many of the harmful things I had done trying to teach myself classical. (I had no choice, since it was very difficult to even find a classical teacher back then). He equipped me, that is empowered me as best he could, but we both knew when he had reached his limits, and when I would have only continued to make, what I called in my first essay, Horizontal Growth, not a true raising of my level as a guitarist and musician, or Vertical Growth.
So in this condition, I started to teach there. Believe me, in that little fish pond, everybody thought I was a pretty big fish. The average person thought I played pretty well, impressive in fact, because the average person is impressed if you can play anything that sounds “classical”. Thank God I knew better!
When I started teaching, forget it! I couldn’t get results from most people. Later on I would understand why. I would understand that I had a fair amount of what is called “natural talent”, and I also practiced all the time. So I learned real fast. I quickly learned how to make a decent showing with some rather complicated pieces in the classical repertoire, but many of my students were struggling with the simplest things, and I couldn’t get them to “get it”, to play at least somewhat like I could. I was also, in my ignorance often giving students pieces that were far beyond them, that would do them harm to try to play, because they would be acquiring many bad habits in trying to cope with the technical demands of these pieces. I would also see later on that this was and is a common occurrence.
It was so frustrating, I felt like a thief taking their money, so I quit my teaching gig. ( I don’t recommend this. I’d often wished later I didn’t, but I tend to be impulsive sometimes). When I went back to teaching a few years later, it was with a renewed sense of commitment to always searching for the answer for every student I encountered, to always figure out what it was this person wanted, and what they needed to get it. It is because of this constant orientation that I developed “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar”, those fundamentals of playing and practicing that are always true, no matter what style or what level of player you are. These are the things good players are doing, whether they know it or not. And most of these things are things they are doing when they practice, not when they play.
But I digress. I just thought it would be helpful to describe myself in the position of being The Bad Teacher, really The Ignorant Teacher. If I would have let it continue I would have become “The Lazy Teacher”. I have met some of those. They could also be called the “Hey I don’t care THAT much, after all, I can play, if you can’t it must be your fault, and anyway I’m getting paid either way, Teacher”.
I was once talking to a fellow teacher, and he said “God forbid I should be judged by my students”. I thought, “God forbid anyone who really wants to play and is willing to work should ever be your student”. I mean, how else SHOULD a teacher be judged? By how well THEY play? No, that’s how we should judge them as players. Teaching is a whole different thing.
Understand this. You can be a great player and a lousy teacher. Often, great players are lousy teachers. Segovia is an example. Just listen to John Williams or many other of his “students” describe his teaching. It was how Chopin taught. ” Do it like this, like I do”. If your were supremely talented, you could come up with something acceptable. If not, you got the boot! Guess which one happened most often. Great players often don’t know why they’re great. Always try to find one that does, or is interested in finding out, and communicating it to you. And then notice whether they ARE communicating it you. Are you making Vertical or Horizontal Growth?
I have a rule in teaching
If the student is not learning, it’s my fault. Assuming the student has desire, and is doing what I am telling them, if they are not making real progress, then I’m not telling them the right thing to do. Or I’m not telling them anything to do! So I need to pay attention, and keep trying new things, or put it in a different order, or whatever, until something WORKS for them. My last essay was on Aggressive Practicing, you could call this Aggressive Teaching. I guess that is why I’m writing this now, because if you are not being taught this way, you are being short changed in your training to DO Aggressive Practicing, and you should know this.
Also understand, no teacher is perfect. Being a True Teacher is not a state you attain, it is a PROCESS you engage in. A Good Student tries to help the teacher be true by always letting them know when they don’t “get” something. Always keep asking questions when you don’t understand something, unless your teacher wisely lets you know you cannot have full understanding of something, but you can have enough to use it, and allow your understanding to grow. It is often this way. But you must never feel like you are totally CONFUSED, that is, feel CLUELESS. You must feel like you have some kind of handle on something. Keep asking questions till you do.
Beware of teachers who get irritated when you don’t get something. That is a warning sign. You are making them feel inadequate. And they want to put the blame on you! (Unless you are not paying attention and trying your hardest, in which case, you should be blamed). They don’t want to examine their approach. Have you ever seen the situation where someone is trying to talk to someone else, and then discovers that that person doesn’t understand English, or whatever language they are speaking? The first thing they do, and it’s kind of natural, is start talking louder, even shouting at them. As if that would make them understand! How many times did I have a teacher who wasn’t paying enough attention to notice I had no idea what they were talking about! I used to have a voice teacher shout at me all the time “Space, give me space”. I was clueless. My head is on backwards when it comes to singing. I need it broken down to the molecular level. I think I made him mad. I’m sure it worked with lots of people. Not me.
The True Teacher is always concerned with what the student is hearing, not what they, the teacher, are saying. Often, for whatever reason, even though the student is listening, he or she isn’t “hearing” anything.
Let me close by saying this. True Teaching is Love. For guitarists, it is intense love of the guitar and intense desire to share that love with someone who desires it also. And what is Love? It’s simple, to love means to “be with”. That’s all. The True Teacher loves the student, and loves the desire in the student that is the same as his own desire. The True Teacher is always trying to be inside, or “with” the student, knowing what they are thinking, feeling, and how they are experiencing this process of “learning the guitar”.
I have to Teach, it’s the only way I can learn!
And for teachers, here is the most important and wonderful fact. When you engage the process of True Teaching, and are truly “with” the student, your own insight and growth will be accelerated! You will come to an awareness and understanding of your own areas of confusion, and you will be shown the light by your honest attempts to show it to someone else. And again, I have found this to be true as a teacher of guitar, and as a parent, which is another name for “Teacher”.
In the movie The Crow, (starring the son of the great Master Bruce Lee) the main character says something I have always remembered. He is talking to a drug addict mother who is abusing her child. He says “Mother is the name of God on the lips of children”. He is trying to make her see her real responsibility and position. To the child, the Parent IS God. The parent can, and will create a wonderful empowered being, or a partially or completely crippled person. I know this from personal experience as both a parent and a child.
I am also a student and a teacher. When it comes to music, “Teacher is the name of God on the lips of the student”. The teacher has the power, especially in the beginning. The True Teachers job is to strive to transfer and share that power with the student. The True Teachers fondest desire should be that the deserving student takes everything, uses it, and surpasses the Teacher. Let us all be the best we can be.
For more information, and to get answers to your questions, visit my site.
Copyright Jamie Andreas, Guitar Principles.