Wait…who’s teaching here?

I have been teaching for a really long time. Last count? 52 years. Half a century. Most of my teaching has been in the field of music. I have been playing piano for 63 years and I listened to my mom giving piano lessons that whole time. I have a degree in Music Education that goes beyond most anyone in the field. You have to have 120 credit hours for a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, 50 of which need to be in Math, about 50 in education, and the rest general education. If you go Pre Med, it’s about 67 hours in the field of medicine. I had about 80 credit hours in music for my undergraduate degree, then I got recertified and got a 2nd degree in business finance, but still took music! I ended up with about 127 credit hours in music. Would you guess I know what I’m doing?

I have had a few students that decided what they wanted to learn and how they were going to learn it. Excuse me? I understand that most people haven’t a clue how they learn stuff, and I have developed over the years an approach that covers all the learning styles: by hearing, by reading, by watching, and by doing.

So today…sigh… The first thing out of his mouth was, “I didn’t practice the two weeks between our last lesson.” Big surprise. And the second thing was, “I wanted to move faster. I don’t feel I am progressing.” Read the first statement he made. (Can I slap him please?) He said, “Teach me like this:” and he put on a video of a woman playing a hymn that he liked using a I, IV, V and vi progression, but when she was singing the chords were much more complex because she was altering the chords with her melody. She’s playing a C chord and singing a melody centered around an F which is really interesting but that’s not how she’s presenting this. All the chords are in root position so the student needs to move his hand all over. In addition, all she’s presenting is the accompaniment but the melody is sung rather than played.

“See?” he says. “She makes it easy.” No problem. Can you play it in D? How about F? G? Do you know why those chords fit with those notes (which they don’t by the way) and how she knows which to play? No? What did you learn then? The progression isn’t written down, the melody is not written down. How do you remember the whole song? Close the computer. Now play what you saw. Do you think I can play what I saw? You’d be right. I can play it the way she showed you and at least 4 other ways.

The student underestimates the difficulty of the stuff he wants to play so he wants to skip steps. He wants to jump from Kindergarten where he doesn’t know the note names to elementary college music theory. If you are studying with someone, shouldn’t you go at the pace that both you and the teacher can agree on? I do explain every step of the way. But after 2 months, he still refers to C as Do. I told him Do could be any note on the piano. But C means C. “Oh, OK, I will make flash cards and learn that tomorrow.” No, you will simply name your notes as you play them so you get a sound and letter and a physical feeling all connected. And No, you can’t change the fingerings. “But…” NO you will learn it better this way. Fill in these blanks in the exercise with the note names. Then say the notes as you play–all three songs.

I get so frustrated. No you can’t tell me how to teach you. I know what you can and cannot do. It will take you longer to do it your way and you won’t remember. Step 1: Teacher is right! Step 2: Look at step 1.

Update 12/14/2020

Can he name his notes? Did he fill in the blanks under the notes? Does he now know the song? No, No and No. So I asked him, “Did you name your notes when you practiced?” No. “Did you make those flash cards you were talking about last time?” No. “How did you think it would go when that was precisely what I told you I was going to ask you to do at our next lesson?” Not well. (Where’s my cast iron skillet? Ka-Bong!)

OK… For Christmas we are going to learn this song by ear. I teach him the melody–Joy to the world. I explain that on the strong beats such as 1 and 3, the notes in the melody should be part of the chord he’s playing in his left hand. We’re in the key of C, so if there’s a C, an E, or a G on a strong beat, then we play a C or “I” chord. If there’s an F or an A, we need to play an F or “IV” chord in this inversion. If there’s a G, B, or D, we need to play a G7 or “V7” chord in that inversion. Do you understand why we need to know the note names now? He has a pretty good ear, but true to form, he gets some of the patterns mixed up. This is normal. His next lesson is in January.

Here’s the thing. If he hadn’t followed my instruction but had used his own instead, he might have been somewhat successful. It might have taken him longer to accomplish the result than if he’d done what I’d told him, but it would have been better. But instead of thinking “She’s nuts, I’m not going to do that!” and then making an attempt on his own, he did NOTHING! I do not think he will be a student for long.

Have I ever been in a situation where I thought the teacher was wasting my time. YES!!! Educational Methods class. However, I used their methodology to finish the projects. I used my methods to learn their methods. They had everything timed out. It was an 8 hour course. Under their constraints, it should have taken all 5 weeks during the summer session to complete 3 hours of the requirement. I told them I’d finish it. They nodded in that annoying “Yeah, Right” way and told me it was impossible. I did 2 hours of requirements in the 1st two weeks, then I did 5 hours in the remaining 3 weeks. I made them all sign my course completion paperwork. They had a tradition of ringing a cowbell when someone finished the course. I brought in a gong.

Another time, I was frustrated by this teacher who insisted on her methods and I found it terribly inefficient and fought tooth and nail on every assignment. About 1/4 of the way through the semester, I had an epiphany. The teacher was, *gasp* right! She didn’t explain her reasons for teaching the way she did, and, like a dummy, I assumed it was random and illogical. I went in to talk with her and asked some pointed questions which she answered, and I know she saw the light bulb go off. There was that “OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH!” moment. From then on, I did precisely what she asked and breezed through the rest of the class.

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