In a recent lesson my teacher mentioned the tactic a concertmaster used to correct rhythmic errors in his playing. Someone identified an incorrectly executed passage that no amount of his own practice or rehearsal after would fix. The concertmaster perceived what was inaccurate as accurate, and therefore was not making any progress.
Frustrated, he decided to work against his understanding of correct by playing what felt wrong. Against the better sense of his ears and his bones, he rushed ahead in the direction his colleagues coached him. After executing the passage perfectly (as deemed by his fellow players) the concertmaster deemed the work successful and now coaches the method.
However, after reading Dr. Duke’s essay on “Precision in Language and Thought,” I label this tactic a patch, not a solution. The concertmaster modified a surface level action in order to solve a problem he does not yet understand. He is slapping a bandaid over a challenge that he does not know exists in a way a teacher might coach a student to play a note flat so it will actually sound in tune. The student is entirely dependent on the teacher’s accurate sense of intonation in order to play notes in tune as the concertmaster is now dependent on his colleagues to play in tempo.
If learning is “a tangible change in the functional capacity of the learner,” then neither are learning. They are no more capable of playing than they were before, now indebted to instruction to gauge accuracy. Awareness of an issue therefore precedes taking action on an issue. And awareness of issues in my teaching versus quick patches and rules is necessary to hone my skill as a teacher. I look forward to not just being coached to successful teaching but actually understanding it.
This post is one in a series of concise reflections on Dr. Robert Duke’s Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction. Find the others here.