How do I select the best private music teacher?

Everyone tells the same story.  We’ve all heard of (or heaven forbid, had) a private music teacher who left students with everything from a mediocre or unsuccessful learning experience to any of a number of undesirable outcomes.  And the music store/phonebook/Craigslist/friends offer so many options.  Conversely, often only one local teacher is available for your instrument.  How does a parent choose the best private music teacher?

At the bottom, I’ll answer these questions about my teaching style.
To learn more about world-class private music study and my tremendous handmade bassoon and oboe reeds, visit the Lessons and Reeds pages.

I put together this short video to demonstrate my reeds and teaching:


 

Once you’ve gathered a list of potential teachers and begun to contact them, this list will provide some clarity in your decision process:

  1. Seek personal recommendations from other music teachers and students you know.
  2. Prepare a list of questions to ask the teacher(s) you have chosen, eg. What is his/her teaching/performing experience, how does he/she handle varying student learning speeds?
  3. What approach(es) does he/she use in instruction?
  4. How much will it cost?
  5. Is there any possibility of a concessional rate?
  6. What are the options for payment?
  7. How available is he/she?
  8. What form do the lessons take?
  9. Where are lessons held?
  10. How long are the lessons?
  11. What are the rules about cancelling a lesson?
  12. Is there any facility for contact between lessons?
  13. What are the arrangements for holidays?
  14. Will you be involved in the decision-making process?
  15. Trust your instincts – if you feel comfortable with the teacher, your child probably will, too, and vice-versa.
  16. Is your teacher able to handle the day-to-day changes that adolescence brings?  Will he/she be willing/able to be flexible yet firm?

Additionally, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I feel welcomed by this teacher?
  • Does he/she listen to me?
  • Do I believe that I can disagree with him/her?

These questions and more might help you clearly decide if a teacher will expand your child’s life experience through success in music.  Private music instruction is a challenging profession – we all find our niche.  If one teacher doesn’t work for you, keep looking!


My answers:

2. What is his/her teaching/performing experience, how does he/she handle varying student learning speeds?

I’ve been performing professionally since 8th grade, approximately 20 years. I began teaching privately a few years later, maintaining a student here-or-there throughout high school and college. After graduating from CCM, I began teaching full-time, 45 students weekly studying oboe, bassoon, and flute in the Dallas area. I now reside back in east Tennessee and my studio is a smaller subset of my three-part business; I teach all three instruments to students from 7-18 years of age, make excellent handmade oboe and bassoon reeds for customers here and abroad (6 countries so far), and perform professionally.

I work with each student’s individual profile and learning style.  Several All-State qualifiers and smiling, happy students and parents at all levels of achievements later, I must be doing something right!

3. What approach(es) does he/she use in instruction?

I operate by the methods I experienced in my Montessori upbringing. While keeping the basic fundamentals in mind (efficient breathing and mouth usage, relaxed/free disposition), I try to provide the student with as free and instinctive a learning environment as possible, and I praise their self-trust and hard work. We laugh together as often as we can, high-fives are common, and mutual respect is paramount. When making a decision, the reasoning behind it is clearly laid out and reinforced, and self-awareness is introduced with care. In other words, I work with students on their level, enhancing their instincts and building up their playing while having a lot of fun.

4. How much will it cost?

My rates are very reasonable for the focus and attention you will receive both during the lesson and throughout the week. In addition to your lesson time slot, I am available anytime during the week for questions and advice via text, email, or phone.

5. Is there any possibility of a concessional rate?

I am available between lessons to answer questions and fix problems, I often transcribe new music for your enjoyment, and I develop myself constantly to provide you with the best learning experience. Music lessons aren’t “cheap” — they’re tremendous value.

6. What are the options for payment?

I accept payment via check, cash, or PayPal.

7. How available is he/she?

We will work together to design a schedule that benefits everyone.

8. What form do the lessons take?

We will spend a period of time together once or more each week. During this time, you will play a lot of music. We will work through the previously assigned material, clarifying practice tips, developing trust, and reinforcing your enjoyment of music. If that sounds a bit nebulous, I agree! I trust my instincts, and I draw on the myriad subtle changes in any moment of the lesson to offer the single best explanation that the student needs to hear; my students’ success and love of music proves that this is the right way.

9. Where are lessons held?

I prefer to teach either at the student’s school during band class or after school or at a single location convenient to both of us.

10. How long are the lessons?

I offer lessons in 30, 45, and 60 minute lengths. I advise 45 minute lessons strongly at first — a 30-minute lesson features only about 20-25 minutes of usable instruction time, but a 45-minute lesson features 35-40, nearly double for only 1.5x the fee. 60 minute students of mine are by far the most successful students, and many started at that length from day 1. Double reed students are smart enough and focused enough for any length of lesson time.

11. What are the rules about cancelling a lesson?

Please notify me at least 24 hours in advance. Lesson time slots are non-reusable by me; absences without notice result in forfeiting your lesson fee. However, notice >24 hours results in a credit forward.

12. Is there any facility for contact between lessons?

I am available for text and email at any time, and telephone periodically.

13. What are the arrangements for holidays?

We will work out the best schedule for both of us. I always ask if students want lessons during one-day holidays or long breaks, and many do.

14. Will you be involved in the decision-making process?

This learning process involves the person at the center of your life, your child. I will keep you informed at all times if changes need to happen.

16. Is your teacher able to handle the day-to-day changes that adolescence brings? Will he/she be willing/able to be flexible yet firm?

I have been teaching young students for many years; I’ve helped them maintain their focus even as they struggle with their identities and emotions, and with excellent communication we have managed to maintain thriving, trusting, positive relationships.

**Do I believe that I can disagree with him/her?

Without discussion, especially when tense and nervous,  we can’t both work together for your child’s success.  I have only had two major disagreements with sets of parents in the past, both of which raised everyone’s hackles — and only one of those resulted in the child leaving lessons.  The other student developed into one of the closest, most trusting relationships I’ve ever had with parents.  Please tell me that you disagree — we’ll end up much happier.


For more information on private study, visit the Private Lessons page.

To purchase tremendous handmade oboe and bassoon reeds, visit the Bassoon and Oboe Reeds page (or click the reeds below).

American scrape oboe reed windows   Tiger Reeds handmade bassoon reed

 

Why shouldn’t I practice perfection?

A frustrated and depressed man holds his head in his hand

“Practice makes perfect!”
“Perfect practice makes perfect!”
“Don’t mess up.”
“Focus.”
“Try harder.”
“I missed that note.”
“I could play this yesterday, I promise!”
“I worked so hard — why’d I miss that?!”

“Practice perfection” doesn’t often bring us our version of perfect.

Feel the hackles rising?  It’s okay; I do, too.  All those, including the first two, have been repeated since time immemorial, ad nausaeum (sometimes literally).  We’re all taught to be self-abusers, to distrust our ability to learn, and to pressure ourselves into perfect performance.  Wouldn’t we like to hear that there’s a better way?

THERE IS.


Check out the Reeds page — and read the Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


 

This might take some time, or it might happen instantly.

I want to encourage you to change your model of success from a judgment-based system to trust.  What do you see in the faces of your favorite performers?  Is it tension?  Is it concern?
They truly belong here — it’s printed on their faces.

What ease could you feel by learning to trust that you know what you’re doing?  How many times have you played those notes? (Answer: anywhere from a hundred to many tens of thousands.)

We repeat in performance what we practice.  If our focus when we’re playing alone is on paying attention to every single detail and monitoring, thinking, planning, being on our mental peak, and remaining in “total control”, why can’t we recall all that “work” during a performance?  Because your body and mind don’t work that way.

Under higher stress, the mind can’t focus with the same ease as when under lower stress, and our thinking suffers.  However, our instincts are magnified.  By avoiding practice by instinctive trust, we’re ignoring those motions that the body wants to take.  Practicing by ‘thinking’, therefore, is sweeping ‘mistakes’ under the rug, and they show up right when you don’t want them to.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to look like those amazing performers that release themselves more than tense up?  You can bet they practice the same way.

First of all, a few qualifiers.  “Practicing” is different than “playing” which is different than “making a sound on your instrument”.  “Playing” should be the same feeling as a child on the playground – boundless, unending creativity, continuous motion, looking at the situation upside-down, doing something first and then figuring out what it means, holding pieces from the jumble and allowing your systems to assemble them for you.  “Practicing” is the process by which you allow these processes to work.  Practicing should not be easy for others to listen to.  It should be free, allowing time that is full of trial, exploration, experimentation, freedom, and devoid of any judgment whatsoever.  Right and Wrong place pressure on you to either perform it again that exact same way (often not knowing what did caused the success) or to not do that again (often not knowing what did caused the failure).  Let’s avoid that whole hateful cycle.

A child learns thusly:
When eating from a spoon for the first time, this child focuses very hard, but it’s often no good.  The hand jerks the spoon in all directions, flinging its contents.  However, shortly the brain gains control over this limb, and eventually it’s automatic.  Try this yourself: make the spoon-to-mouth motion.  It’s easy, right?  Of course.  However, now you’ve been told that you are NOT TO MISS YOUR MOUTH, yelled at, scorned, and threatened with a ruler if you should spill one drop.  Do the motion again — I’ll wait.
Do you feel your forearm tightening?  I did, too, when I tried.  Just by imagining.

Now imagine as if you know everything about this piece of music in front of you.  Play it as if you have all the pieces, they just aren’t assembled yet.  Focus on the long, sweeping motions the piece asks rather than on each tiny black speck — step back from the piece, so to speak.  Play fast enough that you can’t think!  Try it — actually go too fast.

As you play, focus on the relaxation, focus on your trust, focus on your knowledge, and let the music play itself.  When you stop fighting the mistakes, you find music behind the notes on the page.

When you purposefully play and enjoy this free flow of thought, before you know it you’ve played for 15 minutes without a single controlling thought.  Now go play that piece for someone — it’s instantly excellent and easy.

Try this with a video game, with reading (you can speedread much better than you expect), with any activity that you want to master.

Let go, try, trust, trust, trust, allow, allow, allow.


Have you seen the Tiger Reeds Reeds page yet?  I hand-make every one!  They’re they’re not ‘cheap’; they’re excellent value and they last a long time.  Don’t take my word for it; read the Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


(image by Blechhhy (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Know When to Use Tight and Loose Tolerances

“Measure carefully.  Know when to use tight and loose tolerances.”

Scene: Maker Faire 2014.  Adam Savage from “Mythbusters”.

Adam Savage presented his annual MakerFaire speech from high atop a rickety cherry-picker adorned with hand-painted railing.  This year he presented his Ten Commandments of Making.

Anyone who makes — builds, turns, welds, cuts, stitches, designs, etc. — would be wise to watch this speech.  The link is at the bottom of this post.

However, the best tip of the whole speech is nestled comfortably at #8: “Measure carefully.  Know when to use tight and loose tolerances.”


Check out the Reeds page — and read the Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


A ‘tolerance’ is a gap, either physical or metaphorical, between two things.  A very small gap is said to have a tight tolerance, where as a larger gap has a loose tolerance.

Some cooks swear by recipes, while some prefer to wing it.  Both are correct and neither is correct in all circumstances.  Accuracy takes time.  An unevenly sawed porch railing has “character”.  A one-thousandth of an inch gap is enough to foul an engine.  Sealants and caulking cover unevenness, and sandpaper smooths grain.  .1mm too thick at the tip and the bassoon reed or oboe reed won’t play.  Wood can be squeezed together, but metal won’t budge.  We must decide which level of tolerance our project or goal demands.  I’ve messed up many projects because I tried to impose tighter tolerances than necessary, wasting time and frustrating myself.

We have a finite amount of willpower each day.  Could we decide to live with some looser tolerances to leave time for tightening other tolerances?

Scales are a perfect example.  By working all the finger patterns of neighboring notes beforehand, our subsequent practice requires less thought.  But do we need to practice every single note all the time?  Of course not.  Practice the general shape first, then gradually fill in the details.

The same goes for learning a piece of music, and for performing it.  How perfect does it really need to be?  Does the audience really need to hear every single note, or can you  aim for gestures and allow the rest to fix itself?  Each piece is different, so use your best judgment.


Have you seen the Tiger Reeds Reeds page yet?  I hand-make every one!  They’re they’re not ‘cheap’; they’re excellent value and they last a long time.  Don’t take my word for it; read the Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


Adam Savage’s speech is available at Adam Savage’s 10 Maker Commandments.

How can “working memory” hold me back?

Computer internal RAM cards

Computer internal RAM cards

What is working memory?  It’s like RAM in a computer!
Why is this important to musicians?  We live and die by our working memory. However, cognitive horsepower can sap energy, waste time, and slow us down.

This is the second of several entries on Life Skills, inspired by the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by Sian Beilock.  It’s an excellent book.


And while you’re here, check out the Reeds page — and read the glowing Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the oboe and bassoon reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


As mentioned in the first entry in this series, Is overthinking possible?, “working memory” comes from our prefrontal cortex, and is responsible for our executive functions (juggling information retrieved from different cortexes in order to arrive at a balanced conclusion).  In fact, a common definition for “intelligence” is “the ability to process two or more conflicting thoughts simultaneously”.  However, “working memory” can hold us back.

“Mental horsepower” — your prefrontal cortex gives you the ability to churn information retrieved from your storage, like computer Random Access Memory.  Those with well-exercised or genetically-strong RAM can think through problems much more thoroughly than others, but they might miss the simplest solution — they can’t see the forest for the trees.

An example: children develop their working memory by their mid-to-late teen years.  In the book Choke, two children, 5 and 12 years old, are presented with this riddle.

Two strings hang from the ceiling but are too far apart to allow a person to hold one and walk to the other.  On a table under the strings are a book of matches, a screwdriver, and a few pieces of cotton.  How can you tie the strings together?

Each person came up with a different answer.  The older decided to use the screwdriver as a pendulum, tying the string to it and swinging it towards the other, catching it, and tying them together.  Many older individuals would only view the screwdriver as a device for rotating screws, missing the pendulum connection.  However, the younger child chose simply to stand on the table.

High-powered minds usually choose the most complex route to a solution when a simpler answer is right in front of their nose.  They expend a lot of energy in the process.  They also don’t learn as effectively as those who have less cognitive horsepower, either by predisposition or by having the skills to turn it down.

Take for instance language learning.  Young children learn second languages astonishingly quickly.  Adults often think of words as whole units based on letters, interrelated phrases, idioms, etc. but children only have the horsepower to consider generalities – inflections and the more obvious auditory components of a language.  It’s the equivalent of squinting when looking at a picture — the specifics disappear and the generalities become more noticeable.  You can use this to your advantage when learning music — the audience only has time to perceive the generalities in most circumstances, for example.  Adults and later teens learn best when the new skill is digested in small chunks of words rather than whole sentences.  So, how can we natural-born thinkers learn to free our minds from these boundaries?

Of course, strong working memory often associates with strong academic achievement.  If one’s job requires computing many differing pieces of information, success will come easier.  Learning to turn off — or distract — this process can unlock enormous mental potential.  You’ve actually noticed this many times; sudden clarity in the midst of a flurry of activity, or frustration when trying to study alone in a quiet room.  Some might consider it ADHD, but without pathologizing your unique mental setup, you can easily find your own center.

Adults find success in learning a language when they distract themselves from thinking too hard.  In one study in Choke, students learning American sign language were asked to count auditory beeps while learning new hand signs and compared with those who learned the signs alone.  You can guess the results — the distracted students not only could reproduce the signs faster and more accurately but were able to use them in new combinations with less difficulty.  Golfers who sing to themselves when trying to sink a difficult putt will more consistently hit the hole.  Cellists who suddenly think of their grocery list can slide up to a high note very accurately.  Runners can achieve much longer distances when counting cat’s eye reflectors or chanting a mantra.

So, how will you learn to harness your childlike creative brain?


Have you seen the Reeds page yet?  I hand-make every one!  They’re they’re not ‘cheap’; they’re excellent value and they last a long time.  Don’t take my word for it; read the Reviews!  Avoid machine-made, mass produced 2×4, buzzy monstrosities — check out the reed options and try one!  Visit the Reeds page to purchase.


For the latest news from Tiger Reeds and the bassoon and oboe world:

LIKE Tiger Reeds on Facebook – Tiger Reeds
FOLLOW Tiger Reeds on Twitter – @TigerReeds
SIGN UP for the Tiger Reeder weekly newsletter – Tiger Reeder


Image of Corsair computer memory is by Victorrocha (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Is overthinking possible?

"The Thinker" sculpture with cloudly background


"The Thinker" sculpture with cloudly background

Overthinking!

Is it possible?
What are the consequences?

This is the first of several entries on Life Skills, inspired by the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by Sian Beilock.  It’s an excellent book.


It’s harder to learn a skill as we age.  We’ve all experienced this dropoff, regardless of our age.

From Psychological Bulletin #133, in an article by Hernandez and Li, “Age of acquisition: Its neural and computational mechanisms”, the authors demonstrate that early learning is less dependent upon the brain’s prefrontal cortex (working memory, executive functions), instead relying on sensory and motor inputs.  In other words, we think less and feel more as children.  We remember skills better and learn language (including accents) more concretely.

Our prefrontal cortex finishes development by mid-early adulthood.  Until then we rely on our other senses to form the basis of our memories and skills.

As we age, our working memory and executive functions guide our learning.  We think more in tips-n-tricks, mnemonic devices, and procedures than basally in muscle memory and sensations.

In the Proceedings of the ISSP 11th World Congress of Sport Psychology in Sydney, Australia, authors Masters, Eves, and Maxwell write of the “Reinvestment scale”, a scale that measures skill breakdown under pressure.


Take this quiz.  It’s short and you’ll learn something really important about yourself.

Number a piece of paper from 1-10, leaving enough space for one number.
Using the scale of 1 (Strongly disagree), 2 (Disagree), 3 (Agree), and 4 (Strongly agree), answer the following questions:

1. I rarely forget the times when my movements have failed me, however slight the failure.
2. I’m always trying to figure out why my actions failed.
3. I reflect about my movement a lot.
4. I am always trying to think about my movements when I carry them out.
5. I’m self-conscious about the way I look when I am moving.
6. I sometimes have the feeling that I’m watching myself move.
7. I’m aware of the way my mind and body works when I am carrying out a movement.
8. I’m concerned about my style of moving.
9. If I see my reflection in a shop window, I will examine my movements.
10. I am concerned about what people think about me when I am moving.

Done?

Count up the number of questions you answered 1 or 2, and the number you answered 3 or 4.

According to Masters et al., university coaches whose players they rated “likely to ‘choke under pressure'” tended to answer 3 or 4, but those rated as “go-to” players tended to disagree.

On an interesting side-note, Masters, et al. have also found a relationship between Parkinson’s disease and agreeing with the above questions.  This is likely due to the patient’s need to constantly monitor motion as the disease progresses.


What can we take away from this?

Aside from the obvious — trust your instincts more and ‘think’ less — we need to train for diverting these patterns of self-reflection.

Of course, we need to reflect on our motions to improve a skill.  However, we must be able to find respite from this cycle to avoid “paralysis by analysis”.  Dedicate time to turning off this process: take breaks to be kind to yourself.  Breaking the cycle for even a moment will help you find relief, and even if for a short period of time at first, you will gradually learn how to lengthen your time off.

Start slowly.  Practice your new skill at a beginner’s level.  Allow the skill time to absorb.

Above all, as you practice, rely mainly on how you feel.  Allow your muscles to learn.  We each have our own threshhold for unhealthy levels of self-analysis.  Find your own balance and be true to yourself.


For the latest news from Tiger Reeds and the bassoon and oboe world:
LIKE Tiger Reeds on Facebook – Tiger Reeds
FOLLOW Tiger Reeds on Twitter – @TigerReeds
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