Safety in Learning is the Key

I have had my fair share of authoritarian teachers in the past, which include some pretty forthright classical conductors. However the ones that always stick in my mind for the positive affect they had on me were always nice. I remember my theory class in college because my instructor was a kind and gentle man. The material didn’t mean too much to me at that stage in my playing career, insert 18 year old rock n roller with long hair here. What did mean something to me was his passion for the subject matter. He loved what he taught. He loved playing the trombone. There was one instance in class where we were talking as he sat at the piano. He mentioned that he couldn’t teach if we made noise because it distracted his train of thought. I looked around the room and there wasn’t a single student, me included, who didn’t feel badly for our behavior. I was glad he said it and we all really got into the class after that. I think if the guy had been a jerk then no one would’ve cared much. I wish I could remember this guy’s name. He’s long since retired. I took the class in 1988.

That’s just one example a good teacher and how it affects people. I’ve had two jazz guitar instructors in my life. Both changed my thoughts about guitar. The first, Ron Getz, exposed me to timing and how bad I was at it. Unlike my first guitar instructor, Greg Seaman, Ron was a guiding force. I honestly didn’t understand the importance of the subject. I just wanted to jam. Ron told me that jamming was all about timing. As a jazz player he covered the topic with players I knew, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen. “Every one of those players has great timing,” Ron Said. Then he went on to talk about how Keith Richards had such a great sense of timing that the band could play a little out of tune and still sound great. All the time Ron explained this he never once made me feel like an idiot. He said I should know something I didn’t. All Ron did was lead me in the right direction with excitement and inspiration. The closest he ever came to negativity was when he said that if I didn’t work on my timing then I wouldn’t really ever be able to jam and people wouldn’t want to play with me.

My second jazz instructor was Mike Irish at Michigan Tech. Mike is this great guy and a fantastic guitarist. His love for music and guiding hand is not something I’ll forget. Mike taught me so much over the 2o weeks I took lessons from him that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly repay the favor. He wrote letters of recommendation for me and he was just one of the most positive guys I’ve ever met musically. There wasn’t a single lesson where he didn’t compliment my playing. By the time I met Mike I’d already been playing for 12 years, so I knew a fair amount. I applied what he taught me to rock, blues and funk ideas I worked on at the time. It was great. Mike was great.

Every one of these teachers provided a safe environment for learning. That’s the key. I always felt better after I left their presence than when I arrived. I knew more. I was ready to use the information they showed me. They inspired me to practice and learn. Their methods consoled my fears and their passion was infectious.

A major halmark of a good learning is a safe environment. Everyone who comes into my studio for lessons takes a personal risk. It’s my job to make sure they feel as comfortable as possible being uncomfortable. It’s my job to inspire them and share my passion. It’s my job to do what I can to make them feel safe.


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