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During dinner with a good friend on Monday evening, the conversation turned to effective methods of personal interaction between the person in charge and those she is supervising.
My dinner companion works as a facilitator in various group homes for developmentally disabled adults. Like most people, these residents like to test their limits.
She has found that the residents respond much better to positive feedback and helpful direction than to “No!” When they hear “You can’t do that,” they actually hear what the no-no is, but not “you can’t.” And then, you guessed it… they go ahead and do exactly that.
If you are the supervisor, what do you do next? Say “no” again? That could spiral downward all day long!
Later that evening
After I arrived home, I found myself returning to our conversation. Since my experience is in the field of music, not social services, I began running “yes” and “no” scenarios in my head.
Throughout my life as a student, from age 6 through graduate school, I had several different piano teachers, each with her/his own interpersonal skills or lack of same.
Speaking for myself, positive feedback and direction were so much more effective in my own lessons as a student. That is also the approach I hope my students experience when I am their teacher.
I know several excellent musicians who were criticized severely in every lesson as students. Yet they now have busy careers.
In addition, I have experienced students being yelled at by their teachers when I played for their lessons.
My conclusion, based on at least this much experience, is that sometimes untempered criticism can work.
Possible reasons for its success
- Maybe the student has a thick skin.
- From time to time, the teacher is so extraordinarily talented that the student is all ears regardless, giving the teacher a “pass” for his/her approach.
One teacher whose students I played for a few times would swear in every lesson. This began with the very first mistake the student made, no matter how minor. (If the student used a different fingering from the one the teacher thought to be optimal, that was considered a mistake.) In this case, the teacher was so brilliant (in his late 80’s, knew the entire repertoire for the instrument, memorized, fingerings included) that I can understand why students put up with the bad mood.
In a different studio, the teacher would yell at her students. She had a system for singing which involved assigning a number to the size of one’s mouth cavity. The space increases as the singer goes up in range. During lessons, the teacher would be seated behind the piano bench. She would scream “HOW can you be at a 2 when you SHOULD be at a 7?” Her piercing sound had no relation to where the singer was regarding the phrasing. I jumped every time the teacher started in. I see no use for that approach at all, ever. How can a singer progress when the teacher is screaming? Singers need to be relaxed!
Possible causes of unpleasant moods in a teacher
- Sometimes, teachers are so talented that they never had to figure out how to make things work. Even when asked to explain something, they can’t.
- Another possibility is that the teacher has been in the business so long that they have forgotten what it was like when they first started.
- Maybe the teacher has an ego problem. Believe me, this happens a lot.
- Or maybe the teacher has a headache. Hopefully the next lesson will be more pleasant.
How have you experienced criticism? How do you offer criticism to your students?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
“Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” gives every musician a fresh perspective!
This is the perfect opportunity to jump-start your practice, just in time for Fall!