Monthly Archives: February 2021

This is WORK!!

I am a teacher. I have been teaching for 50 years. But I am also a coach. What’s the difference? When you’re teaching, you are giving information that your students don’t have. You’re solving problems by giving them a technique they can use: teaching them a new note, a new fingering, a new position. Introducing a new scale or scale pattern, a new cliche, a new ornament that enhances the music is still teaching. But what if they know all that? That’s when you get into coaching.

When you’re coaching, you’re working on interpretation. As a teacher, you can give your unsophisticated student your interpretation. I heard Pablo Casals, famous cellist and conductor, teaching an orchestra, in fact a really sophisticated orchestra, the interpretation of a Bach piece. It was fascinating. They will never hear that piece again without comparing it to the interpretation they got from him that rehearsal. But they didn’t come up with the interpretation, Mr. Casals did. With a well-trained orchestra or quartet or individual, the interpretation is arrived by discovery. Sometimes all it takes is a little background into the piece or the composer. Other times it requires that the student become more aware of the rhythmic and melodic elements of the piece. Still others require the student to look inward as to how the music speaks to them personally.

I am working with a new student on guitar. He is NOT a beginner. One of his previous teachers was a guitarist from a Famous Band (at least in the Midwest). Oh dear. I have never played in a famous band. But I have been teaching for 50 years. And I have started coaching although not so much in music because I deal with mostly beginners. I actually coach my son when we talk, but it’s practice. I coach club coaches in the art of saving clubs in Toastmasters, and due to COViD-19, there are a lot of clubs teetering on the brink of dissolution. But this is the first time I have coached a guitar student of this caliber.

My coaching coach had us do an experiment. We had to coach the people sitting at our particular table how to juggle. There were jugglers in the room, but not every table had a juggler as one of its members. Therefore, you had non-jugglers teaching other non-jugglers how to juggle. Blind leading the blind. Total disaster, right? And you would be correct. Then our coach helped us to ask the right questions instead of giving suggestions. Ahhhh. Different approach–coaching instead of teaching. What is the first problem we had to solve? Too many things to keep track of? Unable to think fast enough? It was different for each student. Then instead of telling the person what to do, that person was asked what they could do to solve that particular problem. They already had an idea on what could work, and just needed to refine it. Et Voila! We now had 4-5 people at each table that could now juggle. What made this a brilliant exercise is that we saw coaching in action. We were actively coaching. And now our clients were seeing results. Why now? Why not before? It was the difference between teaching and coaching. Teaching assumes the student needs information they do not currently have. Coaching assumes that the client has all the information they need to solve the problem.

So here I am, sitting with this advanced guitarist, knowing I cannot show him information he doesn’t already have. He has brought in some of his favorite music. I notice he stutters at the beginning of every measure…repeating notes he has already correctly played without changing anything in fingering or plucking. I explain that sometimes the hand is playing before the brain can catch up, or sometimes the brain races ahead and forgets that it hasn’t finished what it had started. It’s like baking cookies. You have all the ingredients laid out and you’re mentally greasing the pans and you look down and don’t remember if you put the salt in. Do you start over? Do you taste the mixture? Do you assume you haven’t added the salt? Do you check for little salt crystals on the counter top or at the top of the package? Now all that thinking ahead has you at a disadvantage. What if you worried about adding the baking soda? It looks like flour so you can’t tell by looking, and it doesn’t have a strong taste so you can’t tell by tasting…Uh oh. In the other scenario, you’re on your 12th batch of cookies, and you’re on automatic. Your hands have already added all the ingredients and your brain says, “Are you sure you added the eggs?” Do you remember getting them out of the fridge? Was that this batch or the last batch? In both cases, the brain is not in the moment. Now I have related this story to my student and ask him, “Is your brain ahead or behind your hands? How can you get them in sync?” He slows down, microscopically. Miraculously (well, it seems that way to him) he no longer stutters. He now has a practice approach that will aid him in this week’s assignment.

My Mind is Exhausted! Why? Because I had to be in the moment with him. I had to listen critically, to watch his hands, to compare it to his music. Using my extensive experience in music literature, I pointed out some patterns he may not have been aware of, and asked him to play them with a new emphasis and compare it to what he had been playing to determine which brought out the best underlying thought in the music. Then we both had to be in the moment and concentrating very hard on the feeling and interpretation of the phrases. After he went home, I had to take a nap!

Here’s the thing though. He was early in the afternoon. The rest of my students were influenced by the way I had to teach earlier. I asked them more questions. I did some more coaching in interpretation than I usually did. I explained how this approach to practice was more beneficial. “When you made that mistake during practice, did you just repeat the mistake over and over again? If so, were you practicing the act of fixing instead of eliminating the problem? You were, in effect, getting it wrong really really well. What would be a better approach to actually make this mistake go away?” At the end of the night, I was completely drained. I was very tired, but now my brain was in passing gear! I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. I can hardly wait until next week!


What? Why would anyone say that?

I got an update for WordPress. They made it Better! If I want my document to be in medium font, I have to edit EVERY SINGLE NEW PARAGRAPH! Why can’t I make my default medium? How can I make a list without having to reformat everything to match my prose? Who in the world needs a Drop Cap? This isn’t an illuminated text! And you cannot change the font?

I got an update for WORD. Picture the computer HAL from “2001, a Space Odyssey” I am working on a speech and editing some chapters in Word. “Send to author in an email? Save? Save As? Where was the last time you saw this? You know you have 32 copies of this story saved? No, you can’t delete any of them. They are there FOREVER! somewhere. Oh You needed to find it so you could continue to edit it? Why would we put a search function on this? Why did you stop writing and editing if you weren’t finished? Silly human.”

I got another update from zoom. The things I knew how to do last week do not now apply. But now you can blur your background so when Dad walks by in his underwear… Why would I ever need to do that? All the virtual backgrounds I had saved are now somewhere on my computer. All those chats I saved are somewhere else on my computer.

It was like when my kids were 4. “I help mommy!” Get your elbow out of the pie sweety.

They upgraded the features in new cars. I can reach everything with my thumbs. If only I could remember where my answer button was… because now my car talks to me. What’s even funnier is that I get into the car, it connects to my phone and then gives me a message while I’m driving–in small print–that I should not text or talk on the phone while driving. In order to read this warning, I have to take my eyes off the road, switch to my reading glasses and stare at this blue screen with its idiotic message. I hadn’t even gotten a phone call (which would go to my car rather than my phone now and I’d be unable to answer it because I have to stare at my steering wheel to discern what button I need to press to answer the call). I need to jumpstart my car! Oh they moved the battery to the trunk. Oh, the stick shift isn’t actually a stick shift…it’s electronic. There’s no clutch, no 2nd gear, no ‘push-down and move back’ for reverse. It just electronically switches to Drive. So if something goes wrong, it costs 3400% more than it did when it was mechanical.

They upgraded my phone. I can do anything I want with it, including make phone calls. I have a red beeping notification that says nothing. I hit it, and nothing happens. I got a note in my email that says my phone needs an update, but my SMART phone STUPIDLY shuts off before the update is done. Now you’d think that if my phone was “Upgraded,” I wouldn’t have to keep tapping it…Oh? you have to turn off the power saver by hitting a series of buttons that you can’t find, mislabeled functions, icons without explanations, and then reverse the process when it’s done updating? How is that better?

They upgraded my mail program to make it easier. They have this little algorithm that determines what is Focused, what is Other, and what is junk. If it is extremely important and time sensitive, it goes to the junk file. EVERY TIME. I have 11,732 unread emails, and to make it easier, rather than posting them on my main file so I can categorize them as junk or important, they do it for me so now I can check 3 files instead of one. I usually end up doing a search for the person I think might have sent me something and wayyyyyyyyyyy down the list of junk mail I have received, I’ll find them, sitting nonchalantly between the penis enhancers and the extremely important messages from Nigeria.

Have you ever watched those superhero shows where they don’t tell the best friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/parent/sponsor/teacher anything because they don’t want to worry them? They don’t want to confuse them? Pay no attention to those 32 ninjas along the edges of the roof. No, that wasn’t footsteps of a 40-foot tall machine that shoots fire out of its helmet, it was a garbage truck with issues. Well, what are all of my devices trying to protect me from? The Robot apocalypse? THAT’S IT ISN’T IT! It’s coming and they don’t want us to worry! They’re going to take over the wor……..

This is my automatic response program. I am not available right now to finish this message, but don’t worry. Everything is just fine. I am not a robot.


I got to visit my granddaughters this weekend. There was a teaching moment. Unintended consequences 101. Welcome to Miyagi dough.

We were making stained-glass cookies. Those are cookies with the center cut out and filled with crushed jolly ranchers. The candy melts and looks like stained glass.

Their stand mixer was either broken or still in a box somewhere so we were using a hand mixer. Cookie dough is not good for a hand mixer as it tends to burn out the motor. So before you add the last 1 1/2 cups of flour, you have to start mixing by hand. We used a scraper. You start at the farthest edge of the bowl, scoop down to the bottom, scrape to the right against the side of the bowl and then fold it over. Then you give the bowl a quarter turn to the right and do it again. My granddaughter is 12 and taller than me and can easily do an overhand serve in volleyball. She is not a weakling. Her arm got tired. I told her to do it left handed.

“My left hand is weak and stupid.”

“Noooo, don’t give yourself that rule! It is strong, but unused to doing things independently.”

“It doesn’t work!!!”

“Yes it does, it’s just awkward right now.”

Gradually she started getting better with her left hand.

We got cookie dough on our hands and did a flick into the bowl…right handed and then left handed. It didn’t always go where we planned. There was much giggling coming from the kitchen.

The pan spray for the cookie sheets was on the top shelf of the cabinet. She was able to reach it if she jumped.

I started to laugh…”Wax on, Wax off…”

She asked, “What does making cookies have to do with anything?”

“You know that elbow move you use to keep people from stealing the basketball? Stir the cookie dough!”

She tried it and looked astonished.

“You know that wrist movement when you throw a free throw? That snap when you do a kill shot over the net in volleyball? Flick the dough.”

Her eyes got wide.

“You know that jump for jump shots and blocks in both basketball and volleyball?”

“NO! Reach for the pan spray?!!”


“So then during the basketball game, if the opponents are playing press defense, you yell from the sidelines, ‘Stir Right, Stir Left!”

“And when they’re on the foul line?”

“Flick the DOUGH! And then when I’m doing my jump serve or a block??”

“Grab the Spray!!!!”

This will totally change the games for her. I would guess she’ll be making lots of cookies now.