I was watching a terrific movie the other day “Whiplash”. If you haven’t seen it its a great film about an ambitious jazz drummer and his intense abusive music teacher, Terence Fletcher, pushing him (uncomfortably) to the edge to be better. At one point he even throws a chair at his head when he misplays! At one point, Terence says “there are no two words more harmful in the English Language than ‘good job’. His point being that hearing this word stops you driving to improve.
Let me say straight away that I’m not advocating the idea of abuse or throwing blunt objects, but it did get me thinking about the concept of motivation and practice.
After lessons, I am more driven when Stefan (my teacher at S&C), has found some glitches in my repertoire, or an area of my chord knowledge that needs work. The lessons I enjoy the most are ones where I work hard and find issues- even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time! On the contrary, if a teacher were to say “OK, good, keep going and practice, ” this would imply that 1) I have no errors and 2) my previous practice was perfect. Not a great foundation for excellence!
Interestingly, during my first lessons, I would think “I need to put in my utmost best performance today”, but why was I thinking this? To prove what- that I have practised well? I have been diligent and done my homework? Part of this pressure is that we want to feel we have done well and let the teacher know we have done the work. But a good teacher knows when you have put the work in (or indeed when you haven’t) and we don’t need to add this pressure onto ourselves.
Which means you should think about your lessons in a different way- not as a performance but as an opportunity for growth. If you consider a top musician or athlete, the point of their coaching sessions is not to demonstrate how good they are, but where they can get better. That’s what you should be looking for too. “Show me how I can improve”. What did you do well, but what needs more work? As Stefan said to me the other day “I am teaching adults, they are here because they want to learn”. A great teacher will drive motivate you to do better and help you to improve.
Of course, you should always do your best, but doing your best is very different to achieving your best possible performance! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect; just enjoy the feedback. Oh, and good job!