Personalities in Lessons
I taught four totally different lessons today. Two were so different that they made me think of how student’s personalities play a huge role in the mood of the lesson. As much control as I think I have, they honestly have just as much, since I base my teaching style around their personality. What motivates them? What terrifies them? Cello lessons at home can be so varied and it makes me contemplate the whole nature of lessons; how each student is so radically different in personality that even though multiple students may play the same instrument, be the same age, and even be about the same level of technical skill, the general color and feeling of the lesson for each student is different.
The first student is a new high school freshman in Houston. He has confidence issues and is his own worst critic. He often says horrible things about himself like “I’m so stupid!”, usually right after he makes even the tiniest mistake. My hardest battle with him is making him realize that he doesn’t have to play perfectly and that everyone makes mistakes. I’ve often heard other teachers in various fields speak about teaching as fifty percent therapy and fifty percent actual instruction and in this case I find that to be totally true! The most nerve wracking part of cello lessons at home is being judged and critiqued by your teacher and that’s especially challenging to overcome for sensitive students.
With this particular one, I positively reinforce him constantly. Way more than I normally would. For him, each positive comment is a huge boost and the most carefully put critique can really send him into a self-loathing episode. The mood of these lessons is a fragile one and after teaching him for 3 years, I know how to walk this delicate line.
My second student is of the same skill level as the first. She is in the same grade. She is roughly the same size as the first. But the lessons could not be more different. She is confident and prepared. While the first student takes the time to stop and point out every error he makes in his music the second plays all the way through, powering through any mistakes until the end. When I begin to critique her playing, she acts slightly surprised that there were any mistakes at all. While I know she made all kinds of errors, she is so confident that she “nailed it” that I am almost sold enough on her performance to just leave it alone. I don’t know a single musician who is THAT confident. What a gift! The mood of these cello lessons at home is confident with lots of playing. I say a few things, she fixes them, and then she plays a bunch more. A lot of fun for me and I would hardly call it “work”.
Each student has their own personality that effects how they learn and how we should approach teaching them. Whether a student is shy, hyper, confident, insecure, nervous, frustrated, engaged, or distant, we have to find our way in and teach them in a way that they respond well to. It is fascinating how students exhibit such developed personality types, and how these personality types “play out” when it comes to tackling an instrument. As I grow and evaluate my own teaching, I wonder what my teachers thought of me when I was taking lessons. I have memories of being extremely hyper and engaged, but I also remember being in
outer space at times. This is why I continue to have confidence in all of my drastically different students- because there’s no one single recipe for a good musician. Students of all personality types have the same opportunity if they have a patient and creative teacher!