Instructors, responsibilities and matching

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Mutherplucker, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. I'm new to music in general and have been taking lessons for around a year, but I'm feeling like I'm not only not progressing, but that I'm more lost than ever. My very enthusiastic (25 years my junior) instructor plays well, but often uses terms that I've explained I don't understand, then spends much of the time showing me by extended examples (on my bass) that I don't understand what I'm supposed to be seeing.

    My lessons are only twice/month, and I know I'm not practicing as much as I should, but in all honesty, I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to be practicing half the time. This is having the unfortunate effect of causing me to view my bass with dread! My enthusiasm is just withering away and the only thing that I can be sure of is that I feel like I'm throwing money in the wind every other Thursday.

    He tells me he thinks I'm improving, but I have a constant feeling of not getting it, and just repeating the same old things... That dread causes me to not want to practice, and the cycle continues...

    Should I just suck it up and practice more? Spend more time really asking questions and push even harder that I'm not understanding?

    I'd like to hear some seasoned opinions. Should an instructor find a way to get through to a student? Should the student be pushing to learn more on his own regardless of the teacher? This is simply supposed to be an enjoyable hobby for me, and it's seeming less so every week.

    Thoughts? And thank you! mp:help:
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Don't be afraid to change instructors if you feel that you're not getting what you want or if what they're teaching is vague. You're the paying customer here so you shouldn't feel obligated to stick with them. By all means, you can go about it tactfully.

    Not every instructor is the "right" one. Sometimes it takes a few tries with different teachers to find the one that jibes with you. You're in Philly, it should be easy to find alternatives.

    IMO, when it comes to teachers, I lean more toward the aspect that "you get what you pay for". Better teachers cost more per lesson and will prob demand more out of you as a student but you progress faster. They will have more experience in dealing with students that have varied needs and can prob tailor better to them.

    Sides, there's nothing that says you can't try out a different teacher without telling this guy. Once you've tried the greener grass, you can decide whether or not to continue with the current guy.
  3. Adam Furay

    Adam Furay

    Aug 16, 2011
    Columbus, Ohio
    are your goals as a student clear to your instructor?
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Well, first of all, good players are not necessarily good teachers. Secondly, what led you to this particular teacher? Thirdly, what exactly are you working on? Being "new to music", are you at the very beginning of getting a physical approach to the instrument, of developing a musical conception? What type of music are you working on, do you want to play?

    When you say "uses terms that you don't understand", do you stop and say "I don't understand that word you just used. What does it mean?" If so, what is your teacher's response? If you DON'T say that, why not? If your teacher plays you an example that you "don't understand what {I',m} supposed to be seeing", stop and say "I don't know what I'm supposed to be seeing here." or "What am I watching?"

    I disagree with Adam a bit, I don't think a teacher should rely on the student to define direction. The teacher is there to give the student
    1. a firm foundation in understanding the principles of music
    2. a relaxed and tension free physical approach to the instrument
    3. the wherewithal to hear with clarity
    How is a student, who generally has a limited understanding of the above, going to be able to clearly articulate or even formulate 'goals' that will further their musical development?
  5. I don't consider myself a seasoned teacher, though I have a few students of various ages and experience levels. A couple of thoughts, which are obvious perhaps:

    I always try to send my students on their way with assigned etudes/orch repertoire/solo pieces, with clearly defined technical and musical goals outlined for each. "This exercise will help you develop smooth slurred string crossings, which are accomplished like this..." is much better than "Work on this for next time."

    I always notice the students who improve the most rapidly are the ones who are not playing "in a vacuum," in other words, who are part of an ensemble of some kind. School orchestra, church orchestra, even music-minus-one type recordings (such as Aebersold). They will feel lost at first, but its putting what they're learning to practical use. I don't know anyone who stepped fully formed as a player into their first group. Its a process.

    Remember, a year is a pretty short time to be studying an instrument like the bass. If it were up to me, my students would probably still be playing open strings and figuring out how to hold the bass by the end of their first year! I have students come to me who have been playing for several years who still looks as if they're scared of dropping the thing.
  6. Staccato

    Staccato Low End Advocate

    Aug 14, 2009
    You and your instructor have different experience levels. That teacher/mentor should be able to assess where 'you' are, and (as stated above) establish/explain clearly defined goals. If they do not explain something clearly, or in detail (in words that you understand) you can tell them-at that time (if they are interested), and hope that they understand the question, and explain it in a way that is meaningful to you.

    Some instructors are poor listeners, and some teach every student the same lesson-the same way, without further allowing for the differences in each student. A lesson should be tailored to the individual, not repeated the same way from student to student.

    Each song, or technique (goal) is reached through breaking down the stumbling blocks that you exhibit on the way to learning the technique, or song. (Each student demonstrates talents, and abilities during lessons if given the chance.)
  7. In general, his enthusiasm and energy level are very high and when I say I don't understand a term he just used, he'll say it isn't important or that he doesn't expect me to understand it at this point. And THAT doesn't help with the lost feeling.

    He'll be showing me how he can pull a walking bass line from a certain chord progression, but it's at a pace where I can't visually (or aurally for that matter) keep up with what he's doing. I'll say "that's great, but I don't understand where all those notes came from", and he'll toss off an aside and play some more, like THIS time I'll pick it up...

    Just seems like he can't slow down to my level...
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It doesn't sound like he's got a very good pedagogical approach, no good methodology for communicating information in a way that builds from point A to B to C etc. If you're a beginning bass student with no background in playing the instrument (new to music in general) I'm not sure that starting with "pulling a walking bass line from a certain chord progression" should come before scale work, position shifts, arpeggio work etc. But again the question, what brought you to this particular teacher?
  9. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Yup. Reminds me of a guitar teacher I once had. A good player but didn't really bother to examine what level I was at. Zero pedagogical approach like Ed describes. No handouts, no detailed explanations, etc. Just taught things that were over my head and didn't bother to stop to see if anything was sinking in or understood. I cancelled lessons with him after the first one and he was pissed and didn't understand why. At that point, I simply wasn't good at telling him that his approached sucked and got all indignant that he was more than the teacher that I deserved or something. In reality he was wasting my time and money. I just told him it wasn't a good fit.

    OTOH: One of the best teachers I had:
    1) Explained in detail what I was doing while I was walking a bassline. Explained the reason why and what the goal was from the getgo.
    2) Explained what things I needed to learn (walking, scales, soloing, arco, etc).
    3) Gave me a few handouts copied from the Simandl book. Starts me on arco.
    4) Gave me a handout on walking arpeggiating a bass line. Walked me through the written exercise and explained how to make my own.
    5) Had me use the same chord tones, Made me a CD with a simple blues vamp and had me start soloing over it using just chord tones.
    This was all in my very first lesson. Goals? check. Written examples? Check. Questions answered? Check. Homework? You bet.

    No BS. He had all his stuff down square and just give it to me and made sure I understood what I had to learn and work on.
  10. Thanks for all the replies/sage advice.

    I'm moving on and trying to evaluate instructors, while noting that in my area, they charge between $40 & $75/hr.

    That's a big gap.
    That's almost two lessons for the price of one, but if the $75/hr lesson is twice as valuable, it makes good sense. I think...

    Seems like it's a Cinderella shoe thing, and I won't know what works until I try it out...

    There's also the whole convenience aspect, in whether the instructor comes to my home, or I haul my way out of town with my instrument in tow. Is there a common practice for this in regards to private lessons?
  11. Throckmorten


    Aug 3, 2006
    Central NY
    I hope you were able to part on friendly terms with your last instructor. I have changed instructors over the years (lucky enouh to have a choice). I some cases I just took a break (though I let them know to take me off their schedules) but always did so on polite terms. I will see these guys around and may go back again.

    Besides, having a chance to compare made me appreciate their individual strengths. That is something I can take advantage of as a student. After all, I have to learn to work with instructor as much as he does with me.
  12. Never burn a bridge, maple or not.
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Regarding price/convenience: Like I said, you get what you pay for, generally. I go for the quality and expertise. TBH, I see it as a money saver in the long run. If the teacher is good, I learn faster which means less need for so many lessons.

    Convenience is not even a consideration, so long as it's not prohibitive. I have never had a teacher come over to my house in my entire life - it seems a little bit ridiculous in a way. You should be going to his place so that all his resources and materials are on hand to give to you as needed.
  14. Chazinroch


    Feb 2, 2003
    Ontario N.Y.
    If you are not connecting with your instructor you can:
    1) continue to pay for lessons that you don't understand
    2) talk to your instructor and tell him/her that you need things explained in a different way
    3) if # 2 doesn't work get a new instructor

    I would suggest taking a break from this instructor and try a couple of different ones. There are different ways to transfer skill and knowledge, so find a teacher that you can connect with. Nothing personal with your current instructor. Communication styles and learning styles need to mesh. You also have the responsibility to say "stop", explain it to me in a different way. Good luck.