What is the role of a musical instrument teacher?
When I asked this question of various people all sorts of lovely answers came back with words such as:
enable, encourage, inspire, teach (!), make possible, set the direction, expert, thoughtful, playful, tactful, purposeful, engaging, patient, fun, caring, flexible, knowledgeable, supportive, positive, approachable, available, challenge, motivate, forgiving, compassionate, enthuse, reciprocal...
Few would disagree that these words describe what we hope for in a teacher. I certainly strive to be most of these things and a couple of people kindly said their words describe me.
So why do hear so many (especially adult) pupils say, "sorry" so much? "Sorry I got that wrong", "Sorry I haven't had much chance to practise", "Aaaagh sorry - that sounded ghastly!" "Sorry, you must get so tired of hearing me play this piece", and so it goes on!
And Why do I find myself apologising to my own piano teacher?!
Part of this is just Britishness - we do apologise a lot here; I think it's just part of our make-up. But it occurs to me that we cast the instrumental teacher in the role of Judge. And even though it is (hopefully) not the teacher's intention to judge, it is part of our work to help our students not to cast us in this role.
Sure, judgements have to be made from time to time, but can we be careful not to be Judges?
What are we then...? A coach? A motivational friend? An assistant? A companion on a journey? I think I like to see my teacher as a companion on a journey - someone sharing some of the same experiences but from his perspective. His perspective is different to mine and so he can offer insights that I can't see without his help. This works both ways - my hands are a great deal smaller than my teacher's and so our experience of a piano keyboard is quite different. One of my adult pupils suggested the word 'coach' to describe my role - I quite like that.
Just for the record, I genuinely don't get tired of hearing 'that piece' again and again (unless you are bored of it). I really don't mind if you haven't been able to practise as much as you would have liked. My aim is to enjoy the experience of making music with you, and to enable you to enjoy playing music. I take each student as they are when they arrive and hope that they leave having had a positive and motivating experience and that they feel empowered to make more music at home that week.
As a two way relationship, it is important that both teacher and student take care to avoid casting the teacher as Judge.