What Am I Doing Here

I am a teacher, one of those annoying people who is happy, if not compelled, to share anything I have learned – even 10 minutes ago. Thank heavens I found an outlet for this in teaching the violin. I fell into it by accident when we went to live in a remote foreign country where I wound up doing something few sane musicians would ever do –  teaching my own children.

That little girl you see in the picture here was my second student.  She is now dianatheviolinist.com so evidently I didn’t do such a bad job, but it was scary. I lived in the middle of the desert, had no idea what I was doing and had no one to talk to about it. I went to the UK to take courses in a teaching method which helped a lot from the technical and practical standpoint but didn’t really tell me how to teach: the art of transmission.

They say that teachers are born and not made. I would agree that you can have the natural desire and ability to transmit something to another person. But a natural born teacher is like a musical prodigy who even with great facility needs many years of excellent training plus thousands of hours of practice to become a professional. The difference is that we teachers get our many thousand hours of practice from actually teaching our students instead of hiding in a practice room where no one can hear us.

Contrary to what many may think, knowing how to do something does not mean knowing how to teach it; you know how to walk but can you explain how you do it? Having the technical expertise to perform does not mean you have the expertise to teach. As teachers, being conscious of our transmission techniques, being aware of what and how we do what we do can help us use our power  better. More importantly, it can help us not abuse it.

Yes, power. Teachers have enormous power.  Any musician can demonstrate how to play an instrument, but it takes a teacher to transmit the necessary skills to play it. With power comes responsibility. We can either help our students  or hurt them. There is no such thing as neutral teaching.

Many ideas in music teaching, practicing and performing are implicit, therefore not always understood or applied effectively. In this blog I hope to bring some of them out into the open and examine them.

I have learned a lot over the years, you see, which true to my nature, I will be more than happy to share with you here in future posts.

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4 thoughts on “What Am I Doing Here

  1. MCN

    Congratulation on your blog. Maybe you should add in the picture of 1 teach, 2 learns another learner…the PARENT…

  2. Susan

    Dear Eloise,
    Thank you for your blog. I really liked your post on (not) being patient with our students.

    Could you give me some advice or refer me to a relevant blog post? I recently inherited a student who does not practice much. She is a beginner and when I ask her to get out her violin, she procrastinates. She is only 7 but fully capable. I don’t think I should take it out for her and I hesitate to ask her to remove it from the case before I arrive at their home because there are young children and dogs running around. She likes lessons and wants to learn to play. Do you have ideas on how to kindly communicate the expectation of promptly beginning the lesson?

    1. Eloise Hellyer

      Dear Susan, Thanks for your comment, Sorry it has taken so long to answer. I would take the violin out for her. She is too young to have the necessary discipline and while she likes to play, she is not always up to the rigor required to do it. So don’t waste your time and energy on something you can take care of with little effort yourself. You need that energy to give the lessons and convince her to practice. Don’t give her a responsibility that she clearly isn’t ready to handle yet. She will with time. Does one of her parents participate in the lesson? I find parents are invaluable in helping their children. Most children will not practice much, if at all, if a parent does not insist. Also, I believe that it’s a better idea for the student to make the pilgrimage to the teacher when possible. I assume it’s not possible in this case, but remember this for the future. When parents have to make the effort to load children and instruments in the car and drive to the lesson, they are more likely to appreciate it and to get involved in practice. I hope this is helpful. I wish you luck and would love to know how you are doing. Thanks again for your kind comment.


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