I am loving our archery lessons. Target shooting completely appeals to my improvement-oriented nature, and since I am not running much at all it’s a treat to get off my reed desk and use my physical body. Steve and I bought bows for each other this holiday season, and this week was the first time that we went out to the lanes to practice together, without our instructors present.
As I was shooting I found myself discovering insight after insight. Every one was something I’d already been told – but then I’d been told lots of things. When a teacher is present, he can’t help but teach. In our lessons I’ve been told over and over to bring my front shoulder down. Bring my hips back. No, not that far back. Close one eye. Raise my front hand one inch. No, less than that.
This is all great advice, but having someone correct every shot didn’t give me room to feel it for myself. In one hour of diagnosing and fixing my own problems, I made a lot of progress. I ended the session with one of the tightest groups I’d produced yet, and I think I know how to find it again next time.
I needed the instruction, of course, needed to start with a good grasp of fundamentals so I didn’t go off self-teaching all crazy. But then I truly needed to take some time and figure out how to interpret those good instructions in my own body. It’s easy to hit the target when every move is dictated to me. Duplicating that success on my own was the challenge. I loved the challenge.
I understand what the job of a private teacher is. In the 45 minutes per week that I see an oboe student, I need to make them sound better, and give them the tools, physical and mental, to reproduce that success at home. I can’t keep my mouth shut in an oboe lessons, but I pride myself on the fact that people leave my studio sounding better than they did when they arrived.
But if they don’t then go home and practice, they don’t actually stay better. They come in the following week with the same problems, and I strive to find different words to express the exact same issue – because I don’t want to be boring or predictable or repetitive, and because I always assume that the reason they have not improved is that I didn’t teach well enough the week before. It’s probably my fault, right?
But that’s not it, or not primarily it. The magic is not in the teaching, it’s in the work. The alone time, in which no one tells you what you’ve just done wrong and you have to figure it out for yourself. No matter how many times I say that you have to roll in to play high B in tune, it won’t become a reliable part of your playing until YOU hear it, experiment for the solution, and fix it yourself. I can get you to play with a big, beautiful sound in my room, but that big sound won’t be second nature until you identify how it feels in your body to play that way.
Keeping that in mind, I’ve been conscious this week of allowing students to play more on their own. I worked on the exposition of the Saint-Saëns Sonata with a student, and micromanaged her path through each and every lick, until every bar had been played to my satisfaction. Then, instead of moving on into the next section as I would normally have done, I sent her back to play all the way through that opening. And of course every single detail wasn’t in place to the level we’d worked on, but I heard the ideas, and I heard her trying for the changes we’d made. And even then, I kept her in that section, and had her analyze what was working for her and what she still needed to study. And we talked about solutions she could still experiment with at home.
That attention to the takeaway, and my attention to sharing HOW to implement all suggestions – those came straight from my solo archery practice session. Everything is about the oboe for me.