I’m going to make a bold assertion. You should never have a bad lesson.
Before you start feeling pressured to dash to the harp for some frantic last-minute practice, I need to explain. I didn’t fully understand this concept until I had been teaching for a while. As a student, I thought that a bad lesson was when I didn’t play well. When things didn’t go as well in my lesson as they did at home, I was disappointed, frustrated, upset or even angry. I thought that if I didn’t play well, it meant I hadn’t practiced enough or practiced correctly. Or maybe I just wasn’t good enough.
After I started teaching, I discovered a completely different perspective. From my teacher’s perspective, a lesson isn’t a performance. It’s a check on the path the student and I are pursuing. Are our strategies yielding the results we want or do we need to try something different? What are our next steps toward our goal?
A music lesson isn’t like a test that you either pass or fail. In fact, it’s so far removed from a test that the mistakes are actually essential. Yes, you read that correctly. Your teacher needs to see your mistakes in order to help you prepare your music so you can play it more confidently. Teachers view mistakes as weak points that need to be strengthened or signs of skills that need to be developed. The mistakes are the bumps in the road that a teacher can help you smooth out.
The challenge most students have with their lessons is overriding the instinctive desire to perform well in a lesson. Most of the time, you won’t be taking a finished and polished piece to your lesson. You will be taking a work in progress, and a work in progress will have flaws. Furthermore, you are playing for your teacher and this adds a level of stress which you don’t have in your practice. Expecting yourself to play fluidly and without mistakes in your lesson is unrealistic.
Your playing in your lesson is a snapshot of where you are at that moment. While you may feel that it doesn’t reflect the work you did since your last lesson - we all know it went better at home - your teacher is able to see where you need more confidence, more drill, a better fingering, a different approach or maybe simply more time.
As a student I certainly had the highs and lows we all experience, those lessons when you feel like you’ve made great strides and those lessons when you’d rather crawl under a rock. But at the same time, I knew that my teachers were on the journey with me, through the easy lessons and the harder ones. Especially the harder ones. And that’s what kept me coming back to the harp bench.
I have created an acronym which may help you approach your next lesson with a more relaxed mindset. Even better, it should help you leave your lesson with positive energy and motivation.
L: A Lesson is for Learning, rather than performing.
E: A lesson is about Exploration, not perfection.
S: Your teacher is there to help you Solve Problems, not mark a scorecard
S: In your lesson you will take Steps Forward, even if it means you stumble a little along the way.
O: You and your teacher share an Objective for your harp playing. You are working together as a team, to achieve your goals.
N: No shame, no blame. Mistakes are part of the process. Think of your lesson as a laboratory where some experiments fail and some succeed. Remember that many great discoveries have happened by accident!