Where Creativity Finds Direction: the Teacher-Student Partnership

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Sometimes tension is a good thing.Young Boy Skips Stones  A young boy skips throws a stone into the lake, skipping it across the water and creating ripples. Early evening light.

Tension happens at the place where two opposite forces or desires meet. At that place or in that moment, the forces are equal. The tension is resolved either when one of the forces prevails over the other, or the forces work together.

Picture the surface of a pool of water, calm and undisturbed. A leaf floats down to the water and the surface tension of the water supports the leaf and it floats. But a swimmer dives into the water, breaks the tension and plunges into the depths. Or a young boy skips a stone across the water, the surface of the water helping to project the stone on its journey.

The music lesson can be that moment as well, that place where the interests of the student and the expertise of the teacher meet with the dual aims of expressing and directing the student’s musical creativity.  And that is why the integrity of the partnership is so critical to the student’s success. What are the two opposing forces in the teacher-student relationship?

First is the student’s desire for creative musical expression. Does that sound a little too high-brow to you? Let me suggest that no one, young or old, starts music lessons because they want to practice for hours. We start music lessons because we have an inner desire to play, to make music and give voice to something inside us in that way , through the medium of our chosen instrument.  And we go to a teacher in order to learn how to master the instrument to the degree of competency we feel is necessary to do that.

The teacher, on the other hand, has expertise that will not only lead the student toward his goal, but also has the experience to know the necessary steps and the skills that must be developed along the way.

So here’s the tension: the student’s desire for the end result, and the teacher’s understanding of the process. And there are several possible outcomes.

First, the student directs her own progress, playing more of what she wants to play but with a shaky technical and musical foundation. This may prevent her from feeling confident in her playing.

Or maybe the teacher imposes her system on the student, so that the student has a strong foundation but may not be playing the music she would like as soon as she would like.  This can frustrate even the most patient student.

Ideally, the teacher and student will partner so that both needs are met; the student learns the foundational skills and can play the music that is important to her. And what a partnership like this requires is honest and ongoing communication about goals and desires.

For the stone to skip across the water, the stone must be willing to meet the water, and the  water must be willing to support the stone and let it fly.

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  • Lorna Ota

    Dear Anne, This was an enlightening article and very promising to read. I just wish I had something like this to read, or engaged in such an experience so very many years ago. Of course, the situation was a little different then. I was already a mother of three and an adult….juggling a heavy-duty schedule. Nevertheless, this mental “feed” would have overcome a lot of frustration. Reading this article gives me continued hope that I can be a better musician than I think I am or will ever be. It’s never too late! Many thanks for the refreshing perspective.


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