Perception: Part One

A recurring theme in my experiences as a musician–both performing and teaching–is how subjectively people perceive situations.

As a performer I have noticed–often to my own shock and dismay–that there seems almost no correlation between how I feel about my performance and what people have to say about it afterwards.  It has taught me that performing is both an art AND a service. You can make someone’s day by playing their favorite song badly.

In the realm of teaching, differences in perception come into play in multiple ways.

I have high standards for myself as an instructor. These standards are often as odds with the volume of students I teach (anywhere from 15 to 35 hours a week over the course of my career) and with the vagaries of daily life. For the student, their half hour with me might be the focal point of their music week. For me it is one half hour in a string of 10 to 16 lessons. How can I make every half hour a great experience?

There are days when I’m tired, less focused, stressed out. Perhaps trying to teach on those days is a disservice.  But on one such day recently, I remembered how I tell my students that the most important part of learning is showing up: making time to practice every day no matter what they feel like.

So I decided coming in to teach was practicing my own advice.

The student isn’t going to know what is going on in my body or my head.  What they WILL know is that I’m there, consistently, for them. That I’m faithful in keeping that appointment and carving out an intersecting space in our two lives where something great sometimes happens.

The argument that not teaching on a low energy day is for the student’s sake gets turned on its head.  Maybe it’s really about me: my discomfort with not being perfect, my discomfort with being challenged by a student’s enthusiasm and energy when I might not be able to match it. By showing up anyway, I put myself out of the way, and I put the student’s agenda first. I allow their perception of the moment to be the dominant one, and that’s how it should be.


One Comments

  • Scott Semans March 14, 2017 Reply

    Even a bad music teacher on their worst day is going to know so much more than a student that their instruction will be valuable. So it is in any profession, in any area where we posses specialized knowledge or experience. Who is the better teacher, the consistent but mundane, or the brilliant but erratic? I suspect the student can learn from either.

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