Sunday, October 14, 2007


As a bass student, I've always tried to be like a sponge, absorbing as much of my teacher's knowledge as possible. That's always been my favorite analogy, though I'm sure the goal is not to be all wet and soggy at the end of the lesson. Or to really suck, for that matter.

In any case, being a sponge means a few things to me. It means I'm going to listen to the teacher with an open mind, as much as possible - try to hear what he or she is saying, not what I'm expecting or hoping to hear. And I'll do my best to observe as well as listen - noticing as much as I can from their demonstrations as well as the way they sing, gesture, or discuss. I'll ask questions if I don't understand, or if I feel vague about a concept. And I'll always record lessons and play them back later, since even the best sponge is likely to leak once in a while!

I only mention this because today I co-taught a lesson, along with another bassist who happens not to play German bow. I was brought in as a sort of right-hand consultant for very talented and determined undergraduate bass student. Only as good and willing a sponge as this bass student was, I sort of felt like I was throwing pasta noodles at the wall (to use another damp analogy), hoping they would stick. And I'm afraid I may have overwhelmed this student with too much information, or maybe too scattered and haphazard a presentation.

In many ways it was the perfect opportunity to improve my teaching chops. I had this other bassist, a great musician and experienced teacher, making observations and steering the lesson along. When I would get a little obsessive about some detail, like the motion of the thumb in preparation for the upbow, he would bring me back to the larger topic of legato bow changes. If I started to make vague, general demands ("Play that again, but more consistently!") he would bring up a specific goal to focus on.

I realized that my concept of learning - take in as much as you can! - doesn't necessarily correspond to an effective teaching style. You need to know how to structure a lesson, choose carefully what you want to improve, and be pretty relentlessly on message about those changes. It's a whole lot like practicing - we all want to get things done quickly, and cover a lot of material, but it takes some real patience and focus to change a habit.

I'm sure somewhere along the way I had a teacher explain all of this to me; it just never quite sunk in until I had to teach myself!


Urn said...

Docendo Discimus, "By Teaching We Learn."

5 years, many thousands of dollars, countless hangovers. This is the nugget of wisdom I bring from my collegiate career and present to you now.

It's the motto of CWU. I could have just read the brochure and saved myself some effort. :)

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