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Chris Smith: Words & Music

Essay: Getting the most out of a workshop

(Chris Smith)
I'm often asked to give private lessons at workshops, as are many of my colleagues. In most cases, a fee is offered even if not asked. I think a private lesson is a good adjunct to a workshop experience, if it is specifically intended to elicit the teacher's feedback on an individual's playing.

If someone seeks a private lesson simply in order to learn more tunes, I don't think that's a great use of my time. Better if the person says "I'd like to play a half-dozen tunes for you and get your detailed feedback on my particular playing issues." That provides an opportunity for teacher feedback not feasible in a class of 4-6 or more.

I don't think it's wise for a student to presume that outside-the-class help should be offered by the teacher without recompense. That's extra time and extra attention beyond what the teacher has contracted for; I think the student should recognize and recompense same.

WRT comments made above about one teacher being more "prepared" than another, I think same often stem from a fundamental (and usually fundamentally erroneous), often American attitude about teaching/student relationship. Many of my fellow Americans come up in an educational system in which lessons are essentially a mercantile object--e.g., "I paid my money and I want my money's worth!"

Many Americans are accustomed to a teaching method that is very linear, verbal, expository, easily-digested, and caters to the student. Some of the best lessons I've had from musicians in various traditions, in contrast, were situations where I had to sift through unclear language, disjoint presentation, booze, bad attitude, or skepticism about my own skills or commitment. Some of the best teachers I've had began most student-teacher relationships with an attitude toward the student of "go away, you'll never learn anything!"

In learning traditional art forms, westernized students often have to suspend their presumptions about how much the teaching method will or should cater to their particular preferences.