The first thing I have to never forget is that my students are with me because they want to be, not because the have to be. Usually, anyway. This may sound like a small thing but it’s incredibly important. Where things can get iffy is teaching youngsters. Quite naturally they compare guitar lessons to going to school, which is something they HAVE to do. If they are good students in school they will most likely succeed in their guitar lessons. In their minds, doing homework is naturally compared to practicing although the pay-off for working on a musical instrument is quite different than learning math facts and writing techniques. Most of the time there is not the straight line that a kid gets from doing his homework correctly when compared to practicing an instrument. It’s a curvy line at best, or more like peaks and valleys along the journey to a far away mountaintop. Less successful are kids who shirk homework and maybe have found a way to avoid it and still pass their tests. That type of kid will probably not succeed on an instrument, sad to say. Just wanting to play the guitar is the starting point but that alone is not enough.
I happen to have a student like that right now. I confess that it is very difficult for me to stay positive with her when she shows up week after week unprepared and quite obviously having never picked up her guitar at all between lessons. I’ve tried every trick I know to motivate her, reminding her over and over again that I do not expect perfection and neither should she but I do expect some evidence of effort made. My last resort with youngsters like her is to tell them as gently as possible that they are wasting their parent’s money if they are not going to practice. I used to add that they were also wasting my time but I came to realize that was an ego statement on my part and served no purpose so I bite my tongue on that one now! If that doesn’t work I will take the final step and speak to the parents, advising them that guitar lessons with me are probably not a good idea at this point. Being a parent myself, I realize there may be other factors that I know nothing about. This is why I never, ever display anger or displeasure to a young student who just won’t practice. I certainly don’t want to be lumped together with whatever it is that is causing stress I know nothing about. I want each and every one of my students to enjoy the learning experience regardless of their age.
When it comes to adults though, things can get quite a bit more complicated. Adjustments to my own GEMO Factor are going on all the time. This is vital because each student comes to me with a different mindset but getting back to my first point, without exception they are with me because they WANT to be. This why I spend a couple hours every weekend doing lesson planning for the following week for each individual student.
One of the biggest things I have to remind myself is to listen, not just to what the student is playing but also what they are saying. In my other life as the editor of a fishing magazine I knew a writer who taught me the value of that. He is a crusty guy, as salty as they come and he wears his views on just about everything right on his sleeve for all to see. But in casual conversation Charley also has the amazing gift of being able to listen intently to what the other person is saying. I hope I learned that skill from him. This gets to the “E” in my GEMO Factor. Although I have to assume a student is with me because he or she assumes I know way more about playing the guitar than they do I have to always read between the lines with what is said at the lesson. This helps me find the pace of an individual’s learning potential. Coming off as a hotshot guitar player (as sadly some local teachers are wont to do) with the Knowledge of the Ages to impart is just silly, in my view. I’ve seen the results of those types of student/teacher relationships and they are hardly ever good.
So the current state of affairs in my lessons appears to be….. pretty good. My schedule of available spots is almost always full and many of my students have been with me a long time, so I must be doing something right! However, I vow to never stop trying to see the big picture and teach accordingly.
Peace & good music,