I suck, I'm not your favorite Student!

I suck, I’m sure I’m not your favorite student. . .” muttered my young dejected friend recently. I was taken aback for a moment, but then had to laugh. Not at him--but at the concept. I suppose I can understand his perception that my “favorite student” is going to be the person who:

  • plays the best
  • has the most talent
  • worked the hardest that week/practiced the most

In all honesty, he couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I see students that run the gambit from beginners through adults, advanced college students, and professionals. I truly do love working with each and every one of my students (although some of them do make me want to pull my hair out on occasion) -- I don’t think I could have a “favorite” student, but if I did, it’s certainly not based on talent or ability.

What gets me excited, engaged, and switched on, is a student that loves to play, and works his or her hardest to get better. Sometimes they have prepared their material, at other times, not--but they have an infectious joy of learning and truly WANT to be better. Attitude, energy, and a desire to learn is what makes a relationship really take off between a teacher and student--when there is a breakdown in communication, or if one of us is feeling overwhelmed by schedule/life/family/deadlines/etc. it can create a truly challenging environment for both teacher and student.

Something that definitely can lead to student anxiety is a lack of preparation.

(OK- My students, don’t read this part--we’ve ALL DONE IT. Face it, stuff happens. We’ve all had a week or two from hell, gotten lazy, didn’t prioritize, etc. If I could go back in time, I really wish I could kick myself in the head, then practice more as a youngster. I guess we all figure it out eventually-- I did make up for lost time, but as you age, life becomes increasingly complex, forcing you to fight for every spare moment- DON’T waste this time guys- life it going to get complex quickly.)

Tom Ervin, former professor of trombone at Arizona State University has some great thoughts on practicing, and some particularly insightful ideas on the relationship between a teacher and student that I found very enlightening. In a nutshell, the professor is responsible for sharing everything he can to help you become a stronger player and person (even when you may not have the current perspective to realize its benefit). Mr. Ervin asserts that it is approximately 50% of the student responsibility is to prepare the material, “so neither of us dreads your next lesson.”

I find this particularly poignant as I reflect on challenges with students, and my own lessons where I felt things really fell apart (or felt attacked) -- I now have the distance, maturity, and perspective to realize that when I was defensive in a lesson, or it went poorly, it was almost always due to:

  1. my own defensiveness (My Playing = ME as a person) - and any feedback was interpreted as a personal attack, criticism, etc. rather than, “hey, this needs work”
  2. I just wasn’t prepared. (No matter how much I might have convinced myself at the time that I was.)

It’s been an interesting week, as we enter into the Thanksgiving holiday, students (and we teachers) are entering a truly frantic time of year. Students are realizing that finals are coming up, deadlines are approaching, final projects become due--blood pressure rises and patience runs thin.

As a teacher, and performer, this is the busy time of year for us all- student and studio deadlines occur simultaneously with one of the busiest upcoming seasons with Nut-cracking, holiday parties, casuals, and touring acts doing holiday shows. I realized last week, as I forgot to pack my slide, that I might be a bit overwhelmed myself.


As I think now upon all the things I am thankful for-- my family, my talent, my friends, and those I am fortunate to work with--I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to speak with you here. Thank you, for reading this, and for the influence and impact you have had on my life.

For those of you that are currently struggling, feel overloaded, and are feeling a bit lost- I have a quick bit of advice that I hope will help:

  1. DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR STANDARDS. Set incredibly high goals. Work your butt off- practice hard, get in the time you need, and don’t ignore what you dislike in your playing--work on it!
  2. Be a little gentle with yourself. If you truly are giving your best, or even if you have MOMENTARILY slipped up, realize, that was then-- let’s move forward. Have rigid long term standards for yourself, but be FORGIVING and KIND in the short term. Something might sound awful today (since you’re trying something new) but, it might make EVERYTHING easier in the long run.

Realize, you are playing a LONG game, (lifelong), and that as you get better, you will raise your new standards, and you’ll keep working on this your entire life.

I suck.

You suck.

________ sucks.

Your job is not to be as good as __________, just be better than you were yesterday. Even if it doesn’t sound better today, what have you learned? What did you try that was new? What have you discovered about your playing that may help in the future, or will help someone else?

See you at the top.

Dr. J