In my mind, a private saxophone lesson is always an opportunity. When I walk into a student’s home, that’s what I think. It’s just as much an opportunity for me as it is for the student. I, like many musicians, am my own worst critic. I constantly wonder if I could be doing more or better with a student, or if I could be approaching a challenging situation in a more effective way.
Will this lesson uncover some new method for me to be a better teacher, or will this student teach me the deepest meaning of patience? For the student, it’s always a chance for them to take a leap to the next level. They can break down a new wall, without realizing it. Sometimes what seems like the easiest thing can be a major road block for a student and then there are times when I’m anticipating that they will have a lot of trouble grasping a new rhythm or concept and then they impress me instead. Saxophone teachers in home are given an ideal environment for learning and possibility.
The First Note
When a student plays the first note of a lesson, we naturally go into evaluation mode. We evaluate our students from the first note and we try not to interrupt, because the first second of music often contains a million “solutions” for the teacher and it’s tempting to jump in right away. I always find that I have to hold myself back, keeping the analysis from coming out of my mouth before the student is done playing. I don’t want to break their spirit before they are even done with a single song! So I wait, and I congratulate them on their achievement, and then I evaluate. I always try to evaluate in a way that isn’t deflating because when they try to play it again correctly, they should feel that they have an opportunity to succeed and also a soft place to fall if they make mistakes again.
If I was volunteering my time, I’d probably spend a little more time hearing every detail about gymnastics camp or what they did on their play date. But since parents are paying for this 60 minutes of instruction, we feel that we need to be productive for every one of those minutes (at least I feel that way). Productive to me often means doing something. Actively fixing a problem. Critiquing. That’s a little extreme, though. An hour of critique is not necessary, especially for a young student. Many times the best thing for the student to do is perform what they’ve practiced for someone who understands it. It’s fun to play for your mom but she ALWAYS thinks it sounds good. When a student performs for their teacher, it’s a whole different vibe and the teacher has the power to turn that vibe from scary and nerve wracking to encouraging and fun! The opportunity for performance every single week is just as important to student growth as the lesson itself.
As a teacher, I think it’s easy to see your own challenges and get tunnel vision when it comes to other people’s challenges. This is true to students too. We think it’s so hard to say the right thing, or promote the right techniques that we sometimes forget to remember what it’s like in the student’s shoes. A young person’s ego is like an egg: only strong on the surface. I think they need a boost! The feeling of opportunity is a huge boost. New concepts and rhythms are daunting. You can sometimes feel the terror in a student’s voice when they see something new. They see it as something they “can’t do”. Saxophone teachers in home have the power to turn that negative mindset around into a feeling of great opportunity!