The Ego-Driven Music Teacher: Good or Bad? (I)

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Teaching — more art than science?

I occasionally lurk — read, but do not participate in — the various horn discussion groups. Interesting topics come up that in turn inspire blog topics.

An underlying subtext that appears every now-and-then is ego-driven authority and opinion.

Some teachers or players may quantify their views with statements like “I have been a professional for XX years” or “I have played the Siegfried call XX times” or “XX percent of my students get jobs.”

To a certain degree I can identify with this rationale and at face value see nothing wrong with it. I have had my own wealth of experience which allows me some level of authority to blog about horn-playing.

A healthy amount of ego — even a little quiet narcissism — is necessary to play and teach the horn.

On the other hand, teaching music can be somewhat more of an art than a science. A teacher with too much ego may disturb this delicate balance and actually do more harm than good.

The slippery slope

Teaching is like a fine painting; it is much more than just black and white, it is composed of multiple shades of color.

Saying for example, “I have been a professional for XX years and therefore I am correct” is an ego-maniacal — even ignorant — statement. It does not take into consideration the many variables in human nature outside of the speaker’s own experience.

I did it my way

Ego-driven, authoritative teachers with a one-dimensional approach can be very magnetic and convincing. This is especially true to an impressionable student who is eager to learn and absorb knowledge from an acclaimed master of the instrument.

This is all well and good if the teacher’s “my way or the highway” method is in tune with the student’s learning style. A handful of students will truly succeed and flourish from teachers of this ilk.

For the remaining students that do not fit into this method, it can be a different matter entirely.

A teacher lacking the know-how to realign themselves to a student’s needs may get frustrated. They might even blame the student — explicitly or implicitly — for not comprehending their methodology and give up.

For a student in this scenario the private instruction experience can be fraught with self-doubt, frustration and misery.

Part II

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