How To Determine Which Teacher Is Right For Your Individual Needs
Posted by: Tony Grey / November 20, 2017
It’s the week of Thanks-Giving here in the U.S. and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to focus on giving back in appreciation for everything I’ve been gifted in my life! What better way than to help other musicians get a little closer to their dreams. I love to teach, and over the years it’s become my life’s passion. Music is a beautiful and healthy way to express your soul, and even as a hobby it can be extremely fulfilling and fun.
When I was starting out I was full of fears as a musician. My journey through music was full of self-doubt and frustration, and many times I felt intimidated by the idea of putting myself out there because everyone I listened to seemed to be better than I was.
In writing this blog, I’d like it to achieve two things. The 1st is to help you identify a teacher that meets your individual needs, after all you’re entrusting someone to bring you closer to your dream, so you need to feel comfortable, not intimidated. The 2nd is to help you develop ideas if you decide you want to start teaching, which I really recommend. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to be a great teacher. In fact, many of my greatest teachers weren’t even bass players.
Let’s start out by talking about what an authority actually is. We have all been conditioned over our lifetime to accept people in a position of authority as bearers of the truth. For example, when we go to the doctor we don’t question the legitimacy of the advice they give us; when we look at a police officer, fireman, accountant, dentist and even the media, we feel we’re being guided to the truth or that we’re in good hands. Is it the uniform or the location that make us just believe that when we seek out these professionals we’re coming across a responsible, selfless human that is fundamentally serving us and the community with complete integrity?
We are all human beings, each with the same emotional desires and needs. While we are very much capable of acting with integrity, we are also capable of serving our own selfish or personal needs and agendas. Our character is defined based on how we attempt to meet those needs.
When growing up, my teacher’s authority was never questioned. I spent my entire childhood and early young adult life in school and college where I was at the mercy of my teacher’s guidance. Some I liked, some I didn’t like, and some I never thought twice about.
Today, anyone can claim to be a teacher by simply placing an ad online, in a magazine, newspaper or even on a noticeboard somewhere in a coffee shop. You can also study at a University and spend thousands of dollars to become a qualified teacher. In my opinion, none of these things matter unless your heart and intentions as a “teacher” are in the best interest of the student. It’s our job to understand the student as an individual, because everyone responds in different ways and has different needs. We need to understand primarily what the end goal of the student is and to guide them down a path to be able to reach it, using our life experience and expertise.
What is a teacher?
Being a teacher/mentor places us in a role that carries with it great responsibility. A teacher is someone who passes down knowledge to a student on a particular subject matter. When I think back to my childhood and I think about how I viewed my teachers, I remember a few things that affected how I processed the information they were delivering.
Here are some of the traits that made me either like or dislike a teacher:
- How did they treat me and other students?
- Did they look like they loved their job? Was there passion or was it just a paycheck?
- What was their appearance like? How did they look, smell and carry themselves?
- Were they funny and did they make people laugh?
- Did they single out students who were “bad”?
- Were they patient?
- How did they encourage teamwork?
- Did they help develop natural leaders to help others who struggled?
- Did they make me feel important and did I feel cared for?
- Did they encourage free thinking?
- Did they give me reasons to respect their authority?
- Did they make me feel inferior or inept for not understanding things?
- Did I trust them and could I be vulnerable with them?
It’s tough because all of these things impact us and some seem less important than others, but never the less they all impact how open we are to receiving and whether or not we trust our teachers to have our best interest at heart.
When we’re in school growing up we really don’t have a choice as to who our teachers are, and we probably never thought any deeper about it other than, “yeah, they are cool or not cool”. I don’t think it’s a secret that we definitely excel in the classes where we feel most comfortable.
A great teacher knows that it’s their duty to understand each and every student, what their needs are and how to help guide them to become more aware and knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Sometimes a student needs an arm around them (preferably not a smelly one) and some students need a kick in the ass, made to face consequences that don’t feel so great in the moment, but in the grand scheme of things it will have a more rewarding benefit.
Successful athletes will quite often single out one or more mentors/coaches that really believe in them, who help them to get that extra 10% out of their performance.
When you seek private instruction, or coaching on a subject, you need to remember that you have the responsibility and power to determine what you need and want in a teacher in order to live up to your fullest potential. Not every teacher will be right for you. Your decision will be dependent on many things, including location, cost and often how you perceive their skill level, reputation and credentials. I was always drawn to teachers who had played and performed with famous and great musicians, though I can honestly say that none of my best teachers were in fact bass players, and some of them I’d never even heard play an instrument. The ones I did hear I didn’t always particularly care for their playing on all levels. As I grew and matured I realized that music is a language that we can learn to interpret in any way we desire and with some work and care it can really reflect our personality and point of view. I was very lucky in the sense that my greatest teachers came to me by chance, but only because I was open to learn from people I felt connected to.
Finding a great teacher has a lot to do with the list above, but great teachers don’t have to be perfect in all of these ways; however, you should always keep in mind that the good should outweigh the bad, and the bottom line is… do you trust their intention?
Being a great teacher doesn’t mean you have to be a great performer and player. Again, it’s all about the intention of the instructor and the willingness for the student to become vulnerable and open, and to trust the teacher. I honestly believe you have to be vulnerable in order to truly grow and improve. You should always feel you can question a teacher and their motives and methods and seek to understand why you’re learning anything.
Unfortunately, many music teachers, probably more than not, are teaching for reasons other than the ones that really serve you as the student. Many of my teachers were great musicians who had a hard time supporting themselves purely on gigs alone and had to teach to make extra money. Then there were musicians who decided to teach based on their fame and the potential to make a lot of money. Some great musicians have a need to show off and be the center of attention and their lessons are extremely self-serving and the only objective is to show you and the world how great they are...
Since I’ve started the www.tonygreybassacademy.com I have had many instructors come to me asking if I will help them set up a platform to teach and make money. I often hear the fear of the instructor, especially the more established and famous ones, stating that they didn’t want to give away their “secrets”, which is silly because I think every time we play we never actually hold back and it’s all there for us to hear and analyze. THERE ARE NO SECRETS and nobody will ever be you or gain the ability to access your imagination. There are only 12 notes to choose from and it’s the teachers job to show the student the tools and how to connect with them. It’s deeply personal for each of us.
Just remember it’s ok to be motivated by money, as we all have to survive, just understand your position of authority and how you are influencing and affecting your students. There is a big difference between these two scenarios.
I’m broke I need to teach to make some money.
— VS —
I want to help students to eliminate their fears and I love teaching and I need to make money.
It’s the initial mindset that creates the impact your teaching will have on students. Money will come with any job you perform. Don’t help others because your only goal is money. You will subconsciously take advantage of the situation and probably find yourself not caring as much as the student needs you to.
How does teaching develop my own playing?
Since I started teaching my playing has improved a lot. I’m now having to remain accountable for everything I teach; I have to question myself and really find practical uses for my own understanding with music. At first, I was really nervous when teaching and truly struggled to help and guide students on a particular path.
The moment that changed everything for me was when I realized I had to understand why I practice specific things. Practicing had become a habit for me, it was like a chore in many ways and I would literally just go through the motions of doing it and getting it done.
“Why do I practice?” is such a simple question but if you question things you can dive deeper into finding a direct path to achieving your goals. I found that my goals could be broken down in to smaller goals and with that I started to be able to monitor my progress, which in turn would motivate me to continue.
Teaching with only a desire to help is rewarding on many levels. Letting go of the fear that’s often present can and will open up your own creativity. Just remember what it was like for you starting out as a musician and not knowing where to start. You find your way and it’s incredibly rewarding… and often times frustrating, but we all work through those moments and find ourselves closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel every time. Progress.
Here are some things to think about when considering teaching: