Self-Deception, Self-Delusion, Avoidance, Your Student and You (you’re outnumbered): Part 2

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Self-delusion: the act of deluding oneself or the state of being deluded by oneself especially concerning one’s true nature, abilities, feelings, etc. “They know what they are doing is wrong. And it’s our job to remind them of it. Because when we don’t continually remind them, people devolve into self-delusion.” ¹

Doesn’t that sound like a perfect description of a violin teacher’s job?

As discussed in Part 1 of this post, self delusion is common to the whole human race. Some of us are more aware, or less self-deluded, than others. For example, there are people who sit on mediation cushions eight hours a day to see through the illusion that is life in general. Although a worthy occupation, most of us don’t, thank heavens, or very little would get done.

In fact, most of us can go through life very nicely without ever confronting our self-deluding optimism (see the previous post). But the study of the violin means we have to come face to face with and conquer this tendency if we want to learn to play well.

In the course of the study of the violin (or any musical instrument) there many concrete common misconceptions that lead to self delusion. And these are problems that we teachers can actively do something about without sending our students into the black hole of despair.

Here are a few of them:


No it isn’t. Even physicists will tell you that time can be slowed down and sped up, if you’re going at the speed of light or close to it. But for our purposes, we’re talking about the clock ticking time we’re all used to. Even then time is a perception, not a reality – unless you’re looking at said clock. For example, when you’re having fun, time flies. When you’re not, any little thing seems to take forever. That’s proof enough. Same thing for when a student is playing – he may be convinced that he is not rushing when in fact he is. That is why teachers inflict metronomes on their students. It isn’t that students can’t count or don’t have a good sense of rhythm. It’s because they are doing something so complicated that involves total mental and body involvement, their perception of time is altered. (See Mount Rush-no-more…And How to Get There) So a student may think, or want to think, he is playing perfectly in time when in fact, he is constantly rushing. Self-delusion.


Have you ever recorded yourself talking and then listened to the recording? Quite a shock, isn’t it? We hear our own voices when we talk from inside our heads but it’s quite a surprise to realize that others don’t hear what we hear. This is an understandable self-delusion that music students suffer from. That’s why we need teachers – and sometimes recording devices. The problem with playing the violin, or any instrument, is that we have to listen to what we want to do while actually listening to what we are actually doing. That means you’re doing two things at once, you might say. No, you’re doing one thing at a time but very quickly. We just have to realize that:.

  1. You have to know what you want to hear – most students don’t and we have to help them with this and
  2. You have to listen to hear if you are actually accomplishing it. This means training the brain to work even faster than usual – again they need our help.

In my opinion, the most difficult thing to teach students (I’m talking about beginners but lots of advanced students need help with this, too), is to listen to themselves. They can’t correct what they can’t or don’t want to hear. This is the biggest cause of self-delusion as far as I’m concerned. They don’t know how to listen to themselves, and/or they don’t care to. In the first case, the teacher bears some measure of responsibility. In the second, it’s much easier to think you’re doing fine instead of bothering to listen and correct.

I have a theory about prodigious children. The difference between them and others is not a good ear (intonation), sense of rhythm, or intelligence – or even facility. Someone is bound to disagree with me, but I have taught my fair share of them and this is what I have noticed: Continue reading

21 October 2019

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

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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…

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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