Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning From My Students: A Flute Teacher Takes Her Own Advice

It's always so amazing to me how much I learn in every flute lesson I teach. By prompting my students to let go of limiting beliefs, break every complex task into user friendly baby steps, and make connections in every way possible, I remind myself to do the same. In fact, it's funny how much I like to give my students advice about the very things I need to work on myself!  

Some great examples of this are the lessons I am learning as I finish preparing my book for publication. The Aspiring Flutist's Practice Companion has been in the works for two years now. This project has gone from ideas written on a poster in my office (and flute exercises I wrote during hours of what I affectionately call "productive procrastination") to a real rough draft, to an edited rough draft, to a completely different rough draft, and now a third completely different rough draft currently in the editing and formatting stages. I've wanted it to be done for so long that I sometimes lose sight of the real meaning of the project and find myself wanting to hurry up and finish. 

During one lesson this week, I listened to a student who was busy convincing themselves that they could only handle a certain tempo of double tonguing. I knowingly smiled and reminded the student that it's not just about muscle memory, it's about attitude. Later, I realized the irony when I sat down at my computer and felt like it was just too hard to finish my book goal for today. It's not just about getting it done, it's about attitude, I reminded myself.

A few days ago, I taught a student that seemed paralyzed by the perceived difficulty in a new piece she was learning.  I looked her in the eyes and said firmly, "I'm not letting you bail. You can handle this!" I stubbornly insisted that she break the most challenging passage down into the smallest baby pieces, repeating each until they felt easy, then coached her while she put the pieces back together.  

I teased her, saying, "See? I knew you could handle this!" The next day, I found myself really frustrated as I tried to figure out some formatting elements for one of my exercises, not having much luck. I found myself staring at the computer screen, yet again, feeling more and more sorry for myself. I'm not letting you bail. You can handle this! I remembered telling my student.  Humbly, I took a deep breath and kept experimenting until I found my solution.

Just now, when it was time to write this blog post, I found myself thinking, I don't have to write this today.  I'm in charge of when I post and when I don't, why don't I just skip it for now? But I also remembered a personal goal I've set to post something every Monday unless I've taken a specific break or vacation.  I don't like the feeling of letting myself down, so I searched for a topic I could get excited to write about.  

I thought back to a lesson earlier in the week when I told a student of mine, "You are such a great conversationalist.  Bring the energy, personality, and tools you use for that skill to the challenge you're facing right now!" Remembering this lesson helped me stick with my personal challenge of writing this post. I looked at my computer, took a deep breath, and told myself, Bring the energy, personality, and tools you use when teaching to this challenge right now!

And so, I did :-).

Happy practicing this week... students AND teachers!

Terri Sánchez

P.S. Click these links if you'd like to read more about motivation to get started or what to do when you're feeling insecure about facing challenges.