A thin line

I spend a lot of time these days gauging the efforts of my students. When I conceive a page of exercise, I think of them as stones my people can walk on to cross a river. If I put the stones too close together, they are making no progress and it becomes boring, and if I put the stones too far apart, they’re impossible to get to. I have to keep a sometimes strenuous discipline to make sure I don’t lose my pupil one way or the other, and, many times, I have re-written a specific page because it was too confusing or too difficult.

My business, the business of teaching, is to give a challenge, but with the form of a brain teaser, not a headache. I want people to have fun learning about the paradiddle in drums, the Schmitt in piano. It’s important to keep their interest because I don’t think that as a teacher I’m here to fill up a vase, no, I’m here to light up a fire, and keep it going for as long as possible.

My success is based on accumulation. I keep my students for a long time. That gives me a full schedule.  Giving too much too quickly, not calculating the progression, getting the student lost in too many concepts pulling in to many different directions is a pitfall I try to avoid. I want to be careful and pay attention to the details of my teaching. These days, I write a lot of pages, but all too often I find myself closing my eyes and thinking about where I am going with this next page of technical exercise or how to explain this other concept of improvisation. I take my time to understand how the material can be interpreted by someone who doesn’t know anything on the subject. I need to stay sharp, focused. It is exhilarating how hard it is to re-work on all my lessons. I am discovering again the beauty of what I’ve been teaching for 30 years. Music is truly wonderful, it teaches even the teachers.