Self-Delusion, Self-Deception, Avoidance, Your Student and You (you’re outnumbered): Part 1

Published Post author

No one ever said that teaching the violin is easy, Here is yet another reason why and it’s a biggie.

On my last post I made the comment that “self-delusion is very common among violin students.” I have been called on it – a very thoughtful violin teacher asked my opinion on what causes it. “Perhaps,” he asks, “it’s something other than a self-preservation instinct or limits due to overall maturity?” And then he gets to his real worry, “And it would be interesting to think about whether some self-delusion training is accidentally or inextricably built into early childhood teaching and parenting.”

Wow. I can certainly understand this last concern – I know he is about to become a father and is most likely worried that he might unknowingly scar his child for life – a concern all good parents have, in my experience with lots of them. And good teachers.

The answer is, no, we are not ruining our kids, turning them into self-deluding-head-in-the-sand ostriches. They are doing a nice job of it all by themselves. You see, apparently self delusion, self-deception and avoidance are hardwired into our brains (our hardware) and into our personalities (our software) on many levels. Our brains are deceiving us. So are our egos, AKA, our personalities.

First, let’s define terms. I have been all over the internet trying to find the difference between self-delusion and self-deception. While psychiatrists make some distinctions, psychologists make others, and yet many others say it’s the same thing. So, somewhat perplexed, I decided to go straight to an excellent source, a friend who happens to be a well known psychiatrist* (doesn’t everyone in this profession need a psychiatrist friend?), who concurred that they’re pretty much the same thing. Therefore, for the purposes of clarity, let’s say that self-delusion and self-deception are the same and I will use them interchangeably as do some articles I have read. And for the sake of brevity, let’s just say that self-delusion or self-deception is allowing yourself to believe something that isn’t true Continue reading

30 September 2019

Disobedient Or Just Unaware? What to Do When Students Won’t…

Published Post author

Have you ever asked yourself why you can’t get certain students to, say, learn vibrato? No amount of imploring, explanations or threats, seems to have any effect at all. They try then and there, but the next lesson comes around and nothing has really changed.

Well, I have asked myself why, and I have discovered a Very Important Universal Truth:

You can’t make students do or learn something they really don’t want to.

So forget the imploring, threats and explanations if you have tried them all and gotten no results. The trick is to make them want to do it. But before you can do that, there is something important you might want to address.

Remember the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  The corollary is: “You cain’t fix something ya don’t know is broke.” Therefore, the first problem is that you, the teacher, know something is “broke,” – certain students really not wanting to do what you want them to – but those students don’t know this, and thus the impasse.

So to make them aware that they really don’t want to do whatever it is that you’re asking, you have to get it out into the open where they can see what the cause of the problem is and examine it. I give them several possibilities to consider:

  1. They don’t think they’re capable of it.
  2. They don’t like it (some kids don’t like vibrato, for example. Really).
  3. They don’t see the need for it. Some students like things just as they are – it can be hard to get them to move from making noise to making music or to making better music. Once one of my students, when asked why she wouldn’t vibrate, told an astonished me that she didn’t need to because it wasn’t necessary – she played well anyway. (I had forgotten who it was but then a painful suppressed memory bubbled up to the surface and I now remember that it was my older daughter. Yes, 35 years later, she is still breathing and has a beautiful vibrato. Anyway.)
  4. They’re just plain lazy and don’t want to make the effort.
  5. None of the above apply, but they just plumb don’t wanna do it.

Once you get them to pick one and say it out loud, you have some hope of remedying the situation. Why? Because acknowledging their lack of desire to you and to themselves is a big step toward “recovery.” Students can’t fix problems they don’t know or don’t want to know exist. Take vibrato again, for example: you can play a passage for a student with and then without vibrato. Which does he prefer? The vibrated one, of course. (If not, then you have a discussion about how the baroque period ended several hundred years ago and, if this fails, how vibrato can help cover a slight wobble in intonation, an argument most students find appealing.) “So,” you ask, “what are we going to do about this?” And you discuss solutions with your student. You may both come to the conclusion that vibrato just isn’t for him at that particular moment and you let it go for another time in the future when he will be more amenable to the idea. To everything there is a season…

Or you could try the sneakier approach Continue reading

29 August 2019

Terry G and Me, or Terry Gilliam on Where (or What) Practicing the Piano Will Get You…

Published Post author

I have always liked Terry Gilliam’s films. Who among us has not seen at least one of them? “The Life of Brian,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “The Fisher King,” “Brazil,” “The Time Bandits,” “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” among others, as well as his most recent, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”  So I decided to read his autobiography, his “pre posthumous autobiography,” to be exact,* in which he makes two maddeningly** brief references to his musical education. That’s right, our hero studied the piano (he still plays), the French horn and sang in the church choir. He even mentioned that he went without Christmas presents for two years as a youth to help pay for his piano – rather notable in itself.

However, I was particularly struck in his story by the amount he had of what seemed like luck, but was undoubtedly caused, if you read carefully, in no small amount by his amazing drive and the self-discipline which fuels it, both developed at an early age.

So, yet again, my devious and ever present violin teacher mind, perennially searching for more ammunition to motivate our students and their parents to practice, got the better of me and I couldn’t help but wonder what effect his music education had on his career and success as a filmmaker.

So I decided to ask him…

Even though he is almost 78, there is no other way to describe him other than bubbly. He has an infectious giggle, makes jokes continuously and has irrepressible energy – exactly what you would expect from the public persona of an ex-Python. You could almost forget who he is and the enormity of his accomplishments until you ask him a serious question and then everything changes. I think his answers to my questions here below are interesting enough to share with all you music teachers, parents and students who may read this. Continue reading

14 July 2019