Two things kind of stink about teaching music: The first is that when a student fails, it's all my fault, but when a student succeeds, it's because of talent. Bummer.
The second thing that stinks about teaching music is the topic of this post: Spending time helping other people develop their musicianship means I'm not spending my time developing my own. What is the relationship between these two activities?
There are six-year-olds playing way harder stuff on their YouTube channels.
It takes time and focus to get good at something
Gladwell, in Outliers, talks about how research suggests that a person needs ten thousand hours of practice at a skill in order to get good at it. I can tell you that I've easily put 10,000 hours and then some into teaching music lessons. I've probably amassed another 10,000 hours or so on music in general, but since I spent that time listening, singing, songwriting, recording, and playing a few different instruments, I do not have any serious musical chops. Yeah, I can play, but I'm no Jimi Hendrix (or Keith Jarrett, or Bob Dylan, or Paul McCartney, or George Martin for that matter).
The past few years have been particularly painful in this regard, because I'm spending most of my time being the administrator of a school. But to use that as an excuse for not going anywhere as a musician would just be rationalization, so I'm working on a couple goals: playing more music and refining and sharing my teaching methods.
Doing two things is not focus, in case you were wondering
Ugh! Why can't I just have one goal instead of two? That is how you become successful, right? Well, I really do feel like I have to have both in my life. My teaching is at its best when I'm actively pursuing my musicianship (playing in a band, writing songs, performing, etc.) and my playing...well, without the teaching, my playing would really suffer because I'd have to sell my guitar to pay my mortgage. Teaching has always been the foundation of how I make my living; however accidentally I may have landed in this profession, it seems to be what I'm good at.
So if I've been spending a disproportionate amount of time teaching and not playing, at least I've really learned how to do it well. Meanwhile, those of my peers who spent the past decade in grad school and then practicing six hours a day? They are excellent players, and they are not automatically good teachers as a result. In fact, some of the best instrumentalists I've known are also the worst teachers I've known. This is not a coincidence, the same way that it is not a coincidence that I cannot play Fantaisie-Impromptu: There is only so much time in the day. Corollary: We focus on what we're already pretty good at.
Those who can't teach, do
So that old saw, "Those who can't do, teach," has some validity. But! I take issue with its implication that a) teaching is easy; or that b) I have to be able to play like Glenn Gould in order to be qualified to guide a student through their first several years of study on the piano.
I had lunch with Katie Baughman today, and we talked about how our colleague, Jennifer Christie, is such a gifted piano teacher precisely because piano is not her first instrument! This unique perspective gives Jennifer an insight into the mind of the beginner (and people stay beginners for a long time, so this is very important). Also, Jennifer has made the choice to invest in learning how to teach well, since she can't rely on dazzling her prospective students with virtuosic abililties on the piano.
It's funny: every so often, a parent wants the teacher to audition. I absolutely believe that regardless of the specific repertoire a teacher has mastered, he or she should have excellent technique and artistry. But in listening to your teacher play, you might miss the point, which is that being able to play Fantaisie-Impromptu does not mean you have the tools to teach someone else how to do it. Really, they are separate professions.
George Martin was a rock star, too
The performer gets the glory - his work is breathtaking, memorable, inspiring. And great teaching exhibits the same level of elegance, grace, and ease that great playing does. It's less flashy, but just as vital. That student who gets props for his talent? I'll let him take the credit. But I'll also take the warm fuzzy feeling.
What do you think? Is teaching the ugly stepsister of music? Do I sound defensive?