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Teaching Others: A Matter of Trust and Self-Evaluation

Lately I've been running into people who are extremely knowledgable and whose technique is excellent but yet- they don't trust themselves teaching what they know to others. This makes me totally beside myself and disappointed. Now I know that many of you reading this might be thinking at this juncture that not everyone is a good teacher; but I'd argue against that theory and here's just a few reasons why.

First off, when it comes to making music (and that's what I'm talking about here because it's always what I'm talking about, lol) you should at least have a vague idea of how to teach someone some of the basics of what you do, simply because as a musician you've surely had at least a gazillion lessons in your lifetime (okay, minus those of you who were automatically gifted by some freak of nature- I say congratulations to you and also, you better not rub that in when confronted with the rest of us who had to work hard to get where we are). So, theoretically, you can, at the very least, give someone a basic idea of how to begin doing what you do (a.k.a. singing, composing, playing an instrument...you get the picture).

Secondly, even if you've been performing for the past decade at such a crazily high level we can't even begin to fathom it (which, again, congratulations and thanks for doing what you're doing for music and culture) you still can at least help those students who are on the cusp of joining you in the crazily-high-level world of performing. (Relax, they're not there to steal your job- they're only just starting out- you've got clout and experience- that counts for a lot- but it also means that you need to pay it forward and give someone new a helping hand just as someone gave you once.)

Thirdly, no matter how expert you are in your music-making, I guarantee you that teaching others, regardless of their achievement level, will give you greater insight and clarity into your own artistic process and help you to deepen your artistry in ways that you could never imagine. When we spend time thinking about how and why we do the things we do, it forces us to examine whether or not what we're doing is still serving us. We might realize that we are still executing some facets of our technique habitually and with less awareness than we'd like. Or we may notice that we could be more subtle regarding our emotional connection to a piece. Or we may finally be able to pinpoint why we are successful at what we do and thereby streamline our rehearsal techniques for greater efficiency. Whatever it is we notice, we definitely will notice something, and oftentimes several somethings upon which we can improve.

Fourthly, I know that many of us have had less-than-stellar experiences during our training with teachers who were emotional vampires, over-critical, manipulative or just plain mean. We may worry that we'd unintentionally psychologically scar a student by saying something inappropriate or worst of all, somehow morph into that hated teacher (just as many of us may also fear becoming like our parents in one way or another) simply because we were exposed to their bad behavior. However, our past bad experiences allow us now to easily identify that which we want to avoid and that which we'd like to actively encourage. That way our students can flourish instead of flounder, and we can break the chain of dysfunctional and damaging teaching. Because of this, as our students grow older they will have a more healthy, positive outlook on music making and over decades this will positively influence the future of music in our culture and society. There is no better way to heal a scarred soul than to be kind and helpful to others who need it.

So, not only am I asking those of you who've never taught to consider sharing the technical and spiritual understanding of your gifts with developing musicians who will be grateful for your guidance, but I'm also challenging you to try teaching because it allows you to bravely self-evaluate. Perhaps that's the true reason why not everyone teaches, because after the gazillion lessons and coachings we've had, we're tired of opening ourselves up to learning new perspectives and/or hearing constructive criticism. But if that's the case, then we need to reevaluate- because having a healthy curiousity about our actions and beliefs is what later on imbues our performances with a certain "je ne sais quoi" that separates the good musicians from the great ones. As musicians, our dilligent committment to fully serve the music requires that type of curiousity from us- not just when we are on stage, but in every moment of our lives- since that is the fabric from which we weave our interpretations. The richer our fabric is in intention and understanding, the better it can be absorbed and appreciated by our audiences.

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