I could be the world’s stupidest musician. Heck, my very own childhood piano teacher would regularly slap my hands with a ruler and finally dropped me as a student because I had a tendency to change the arrangement as I went along, which she said made me an incompetent student. And honestly, it didn’t get much better when I started to go through a lineup of voice teachers. I always felt like an idiot. They regularly seemed disappointed that I wasn’t producing the results they were asking me for. Most of the time I didn’t go back. Sometimes I stuck it out until my ego could take no more.
My mom was a classical voice instructor and I eventually begin teaching a variation of that method too. But when I found myself doing the exact same thing to my students that had been done to me I decided maybe I was just as bad as a teacher as I had been as a student. So I quit.
But then something amazing happened. After years of seeking answers to some of my nagging vocal problems I started finding answers that really worked. The results were amazing and made such a huge difference in my voice that people kept asking me to teach them, and before I knew it, I was a teacher again. But this time with one major change: I now knew why I had felt stupid all along.
Now I’m not the brightest bulb but even so, I realized that it was all my teachers’ fault. Not because they were uninformed or nasty people, but because they simply were frustrated by not having the answers for me. I was always a front row, middle seat, hand always up kind of girl. But the reality was that when what they had either been taught or personally experienced to be true did not produce the right results in me, well, it made them frustrated. And since it worked for them, the obvious choice was to blame me.
YOUR TEACHERS REAL JOB
The first part of your teacher’s job is to understand a method that has a proven track record. A lot of teachers know a little about a lot. I used to be one of them. Others know a lot about methods that are really more smoke and mirrors than proven science. Sometimes they’re trying to teach you to hit a bullseye by turning around three times, flipping a lucky coin and throwing six darts in six seconds. Might work. But if it doesn’t, prepare for the disapproving glare. Teaching that way does work for some people some of the time (ah, the golden ones whom favor has rested upon), but understanding how speed, force and angle play into it would be effective for all people all of the time; making your teacher feel brilliant and, by extension, making you feel like the brightest student EVER!
The second and most overlooked part of your teacher’s job is to find a way to deliver the information they know in a way that you can relate to it and be benefited by it. No matter how much a teacher knows or even how good they are at doing what they’re asking you to do, if they can’t help you do it too it’s not a good situation…for either of you.
Yes, your job is to show up, bright-eyed and ready to soak in your teacher’s world of knowledge. But an even bigger part of YOUR job is to ask questions. Will it make you look stupid? Well, think of it this way: if you knew the answers to the questions that pop into your head about the topic your taking lessons on….would you even NEED lessons? OK. So let’s assume you’re there because you don’t know, so asking might just help!
The more questions you ask, the more great ideas you give your teachers on how to deliver the information they have in a way you can best absorb it. Which is…their job. If you have a teacher who frowns upon your questions you either have a teacher who doesn’t know the answers and/or one who doesn’t want to take the time to find a way to get the information to you in a way you can best access it. Either way, that means you’re with the wrong teacher.
BUT I LIKE MY TEACHER
So what do you do if you have a teacher you like but after reading this you’re wondering if they’ve got what you need? You find out for sure. Start asking questions during your lessons. A good teacher will not make you feel stupid or like you’re bothering them for asking questions. Work with your instructor to get a realistic timeline of when you should start seeing results. With the technique we teach, we try to get students hearing and feeling something different in the first lesson. Big breakthroughs come at their own pace, but results are what you’re there for.
While you’re in that introspective mood, ask yourself if you understand more than you did before you started your lessons; not if you’ve been given new information, but if you really understand anything new in a way that you can use it and will make a valuable difference for you. Sometimes it does take a bit of time for new concepts to sink in and you won’t fully grasp everything your teacher gives you, usually because it takes time both for them to learn how you learn and for your brain to change old patterns of thinking. But if you don’t feel wiser now than when you started, that’s a red flag.
IF YOU DON’T GET IT, IT’S THEIR FAULT
As a teacher I can tell you that being able to help someone else discover something wonderful that you’ve learned is an incredible experience. It’s WAY better than just trying to get through a lesson hoping what you tell them will work and never really knowing for sure. I’ve been both places and if I had to stay in the latter, well, you wouldn’t be reading anything on this blog right now.
If you feel stupid when you finish a lesson or afraid to ask a question, it’s not your fault; it’s your teacher’s. And it’s time to do something about it. If you’re looking for a solid teacher check out our online lessons.
We just happen to think that both the student and teacher are best served when they know they’re a good fit. And we think you deserve to know that up front. For the rest of you: you are your best advocate. Asking, asking, asking + good teaching = great learning!