Learning SM as a Student
This is an edited outline of an email posted on the Forum by one of our teachers. She was a relatively new student herself at the time she began her Teacher Training. Her experience, as outlined below, is not uncommon. I have also included responses from two of our Senior Teachers.
Kerry V., Australia
Lately I have been thinking of a situation I am in, and thought that someone might be able to put some light on it.
I have learned to play the piano through Simply Music and have had no other music learning experience. At first I was having lessons however, with then teaching (as well as other commitments), time would not support lessons and the practice that goes along with that.
I was hoping that with the materials that Neil supports us with, I could get ahead of my students. I am ahead but ….. lately I have noticed other Simply Music students (not mine), who started after me, have begun to pass me with many pieces they are now playing. I feel a little envious because I have not been able to be as good as them, nor continue at their rate of progress.
I am ahead of my students, but I was wondering what you guys/gals have done in my situation where you are just learning yourselves, but also teaching. It is great to be able to play and to teach, but I feel I am missing something and cannot quite put my finger on it. Did you have lessons and continue with them? If you didn’t continue with lessons, why did you stop and how is that working out for you? Do you feel confident with the level you are at even though you may only be just in front of your students?
If you have ANY ideas or support or experiences that you would like to share with me, then I look forward to hearing from you.
Sarah L., Western Australia
I feel I have been in a similar position to you. I had never learned before, and had only 6 months of piano lessons before my teacher, Kerry H., went to America. I haven’t continued with lessons because I am able to teach myself, although I must admit I have made very slow progress. This has been sad and frustrating for me, but at the end of the day will only be fixed by the choices I make.
I have reduced my student numbers and have decided that I and my relationship to the piano must come first. I feel that I went from devoting my life and time to learning how to play, to soon thereafter, devoting my time to teaching everyone else how to play. And I did suffer a bit. I have recently come to terms with students who are catching up to me, and although I haven’t taught anyone a song I have not learned myself, that may soon be happening. As long as I can point them in the right direction and guide them through songs, then I’m happy. I am really good at finding patterns, and reading is becoming much easier for me. Also, when students can read, they do the reading, the work, so to speak. I am there to guide them in discovering how to ‘work out’ the song. If I ever feel that I am out of my depth, I am at the stage where I can comfortably admit it.
I once heard a quote, “Poor is the teacher whose student does not surpass him.” Or something like that!
Kevin M., California
I was a total beginner and had only five or six months of lessons myself when I then started teaching. Previously I had tried to learn on my own (for a year or so, and by reading some books etc.). I was pretty hopeless and couldn’t really get two hands together. So really, the programs Neil has been involved in are what gave me the ability to play and read.
When I started teaching, the Training Program was very different than it is now (no videos whatsoever, and everything was learned in a Workshop Intensive!). At that time I only knew about fifteen songs, so I was limited to taking on total beginners. For me, that was the motivation to stay ahead of my students. I can relate to what you are saying and feeling. I think one positive thing is that it makes you a better teacher because being a beginner yourself, it’s easier to have patience and compassion for your students because you were where they were, and you know how it feels to be in that learning phrase.
The best and most powerful way to learn something is to teach it. Having said that, it is hard and can be scary to have to be disciplined enough to practice and put in the time necessary to keep yourself a safe distance ahead of your students. I am not taking lessons now, but I have found in the past that if I was struggling, or felt I might be falling behind, I have always put myself back in to lessons to make sure I moved ahead. Sometimes I feel that being in lessons is my way of being responsible to someone else. It’s easy sometimes to make excuses or get lazy. And often, as teachers, we get so caught up in everything that we forget to take the time for ourselves, and just sit and play for FUN. These days I always make sure to do this and I think it has helped me more than I realize.
I must also say I often teach songs I cannot play myself. Sometimes they are songs beyond my level (I have students who are far better players than I will ever be), sometimes the songs are within my level and ability, but I just don’t have the time or desire to learn them. I have learned a way to teach all those songs, and I’ve noticed something amazing about this. When I first teach a song that I don’t know myself, it is hard and quite uncomfortable/scary, because I have no idea what to do. But the more of this I do, the better I get at figuring songs out. Amazingly, after I have taught one of these songs several times, I find I have it memorized and can now play it!
In answering some of your direct questions. Yes, I did have lessons and I stopped. I have a lot of good reasons and excuses, but mostly, I don’t NEED to have lessons to teach at my current level, so I am lazy and don’t put in the time. I am never confident or happy with my playing. It’s funny, because a lot of my students think I’m a great player, but I feel I am a low-level, moderate. They see it from the perspective of being beginners. And looking back at when I was a beginner, but imagining listening to me play as I do now, I would have thought I was good too! My personality is that I always want to be better, and am never really happy with where I am at. I’m still learning new songs on my own all the time though. That’s what keeps me moving ahead.