Monthly Archives: March 2016


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Famous cellist Janos Starker said once that a musician should bring all the energy possible to his instrument but use as little of it as possible. In his opinion, too much energy given to a performance takes its toll on the performer and perhaps even on the music if the performer’s musicianship is not deep enough. I believe this brilliant thought should be applied to teaching – or to anything else where transmission is involved.

Instrument teachers are normally performers first and therefore have lots of the energy needed to put across the music to the public but must learn how to ration it. We all know and have probably seen the result of a teacher not putting enough energy into her work, but what happens however when you, the teacher, put too much energy into your teaching? Teacher Burnout:

  1. You get tired.
  2. You get emotionally drained.
  3. You can become ill as a result.
  4. Your efficacy comes into question.
  5. You start to hate your job – or what it does to you.
  6. You confuse your students.

So how can we learn to ration our energy so that we give just the right amount to our work? I suggest that it all depends on our attitude towards teaching and the reasons why we do it:

  • You need the money. Nothing wrong with this at all.
  • You like working with people. Great.
  • You like sharing what you know with others. Wonderful.
  • You want to give something back to the music community. Admirable.
  • You want to show how good you are. This is good or bad, depending on how you use it. We all know that a little show–off-iness is useful to a musician – something has to get us up on that stage, after all. But once we start performing or teaching, showing off is either done at the expense of the music (sheer virtuosity with no feeling) or of our students (ditto). When performing we must think of the music instead of ourselves and when teaching we must think about the student instead of seeing him as a way to show how great we are.
  • You want to prove to the world and yourself how good you are. This can be a problem. It’s one thing to show off, but if you are trying to prove yourself you certainly aren’t thinking about your student. How can you be when you are personally invested in the outcome? Your student’s success isn’t his – its YOURS. This is when teachers will do lots of free overtime, make up lessons they shouldn’t make up, get emotionally and physically exhausted and suffer some or all of the unpleasant consequences listed above.

Unfortunately, this last one is a mistake young teachers often (and understandably) make – trying to prove their worth to themselves and to the world via their students, which does little good to the student or the teacher in the long run. So how can we protect ourselves and our students? Continue reading

22 March 2016

What I Learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tales I Tell My Students

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I am not a particular fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, however one day I happened to turn on CNN and see him being interviewed by Piers Morgan. I was intrigued by what I heard.

We all know who Mr. Schwarzenegger is and something of his incredible career path (world champion body builder for many years running, famous actor, filmmaker, politician, businessman and now actor once again) but most of us don’t know much about how he got there. How does someone coming from what he describes as extremely humble beginnings make such a success of himself? During the interview he made the following points:

He had a talent for having a vision that was so real to him that he felt he could turn it into reality. (OK, lots of people can do that.)

He realized it was going to take a lot of work and he was willing to do it. (We all know that it takes lots of work to achieve success.)

He was full of determination. (So what else is new?)

Well here’s what was new for me. He wasn’t full of the “grim determination” that we hear of so often – he was full of HAPPY determination. While his colleagues in the gym went to train with sour faces, “huffing and puffing,” he, however, couldn’t wait to get to the gym, do more 400 pound squats, the next 40 chin-ups, the next 500 sit-ups. During his training he actually had a smile on his face. Why? Because, he said, every little bit of this training would bring him one step closer to realizing his vision.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

That having a vision of what you want to achieve is essential to success is obvious. But the attitude you have toward what you are doing in every moment to achieve it is even more important. Mr. Schwarzenegger lived well while he was training – he didn’t suffer as most people assume one has to do to achieve great success. He was genuinely happy. How many of us can say the same thing? How many of us faced our technical exercises, theory classes, tests, and auditions with a happy attitude? I mean ALL THE TIME?

We can learn a lot from Arnold Schwarzenegger and so his story is one of many that I tell my students. I could limit myself to talking about Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz or other violinists whose stories might not mean much to them, but they all know who THE TERMINATOR is. They can also imagine how much work he had to do to develop his muscles. It’s visually obvious that it’s not just a question of talent or luck – a phrase we use to dismiss the success of many hard-working people – but that he had to do a lot of grinding, grueling, mind-numbing exercises to get to the level of an international body builder which led to his acting and political careers. Continue reading

7 March 2016