The Zen of guitar

It is often said that there is no such thing as a bad pupil, only a bad teacher.

Is this right? I say that, as some students just never seem to progress. They frequently spend more time on activities other than learning.  This is particularly true for younger guitar students, as there are physical obstacles that have to be overcome before they can start to play anything.  Once the challenges arise, junior guitarists can become distracted and lose heart.

It is clearly the teacher’s responsibility to provide the student with the proper level of motivation to learn, both through example, encouragement and constructive criticism.  It is only through having a burning desire that a student will find sufficient commitment to stay the course.  The greater the desire, the greater the achievement.  Therefore the old saying is right, to a degree, but more on that later.

In Victorian English schools, motivation would often come in the form of physical punishment!   These days teachers are discouraged from beating on their pupils, even if at times provocation can merit such a response…

That said, I am still surprised to see some of the old fashioned methods being used today in a  modern teaching environment.  In Spanish schools for example, it is more common to hand out Castigado (detention) for not completing homework, than it is for rewarding work well done.  Why is this?  Do students feel good after being punished?  Do they really want to go on and produce their best work after being kept in all lunch break?

By comparison, how do you feel when someone tells you that they really liked your playing the other night, or that painting you did was just fantastic?  Clearly the latter method is more likely to make you want to try even harder.

I had a slight paradigm shift in this regard during a Karate class.   I saw a student being told off for failing to remember a technique that was expected for their level of belt.  The student had the belt taken away, and was told that if he could not remember the technique, then he did not have the right to wear the belt.  The belt was returned at the end of the class with the lesson apparently learned.

I asked Sensei (the instructor) why the belt was taken, an action which had obviously upset the student.  The explanation surprised me.  Karate is a traditional sport and uses traditional methods dating back nearly 2000 years.  It is important to preserve the ancient masters’ original teaching, handed down through centuries.   A student that does not learn correctly, will put himself and others at risk. He will also become the teacher of tomorrow.  It is therefore important that these skills are handed down accurately.

I later learned that the temporary taking away of a belt was something that happened from time to time, and was accepted teaching practice within the Dojo (Karate classroom).  Karate is a about self improvement, a tough sport, so you need to be able to take some knocks and bounce back a stronger person.

Classical guitar, on the other hand, is also an instrument that is taught using traditional methods.   Developed over a hundred years, it is a formal discipline, with a clear set of rules.  Follow the rules and the student will end up being able to play classical guitar.  Obviously, what you are learning dictates the teaching method.

So, to return to the opening remark.  There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.  This is perhaps a little too simplistic.   The teacher needs to provide the motivation, but the student should be capable of seeing criticism for what it is, constructive or otherwise.  This is known as having an internal locus of control, as opposed to an external locus of control.  If we rely on other people’s opinions of us in order to be happy, we are going to spend a great deal of time wrestling with complicated emotions and feeling miserable.

To perform well at the highest level in any activity, the student has to remove all self limiting beliefs and replace them with new positive ones that are not based on the opinions of others, even if that opinion comes from your teacher!

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