To Learn, Teach!

Posted by Bradley Laird

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I have a little joke I like to tell my private students. Every one of them suffer through it at least once. Twice if I forget and tell it again. I say this:

If I play something really crappy or someone hears me hit a clam on my instrument I say to 'em

"Sorry 'bout that bro! I had a real idiot for a teacher!

(slight pause and then)

'Cuz I'm self-taught! (rim shot)

After the groaning subsides I like to go into this idea with them. I'll say it to you like I might tell it to my student...

You wanna know something, Grasshopper? I learn as much from you as you learn from me. You're learning about picking a mandolin or a banjo, but YOU are teaching me about TEACHING. You help me learn what works, how to present ideas, what order to work on things, etc. Heck, maybe I should be paying YOU for these lessons... nah!

Hey, kid, I've got an idea for you. Listen. Every week you come here for your lesson and hand me a twenty. I'll tell you how to get your lessons for free. Here's what you do. Get yourself a student of your own. Get your uncle, your little brother, some guy at work... find somebody else who wants to play the banjo. Tell them that you are taking lessons from this guy Brad Laird and offer to repeat the lesson with him the next day... and you'll only charge him twenty bucks! See, kid, that way you get your money back and GET FREE LESSONS! All you have to do is stay one step ahead of your sucker... I mean your student. And if you ever get tired of fooling with him just send him to me and I'll be glad to take his dough. Got it, kid? Awright, back to that G scale... A little faster...

I know, I know! Corny right? Well, there is a bit of golden truth in that story. You are smart enough to see it right away, but for the benefit of the minority, I'll "splain" it.

Point One

You get better results from your lessons when you remember that you need to teach your teacher what you want to learn and communicate your needs and problems. You don't just have to sit there and go through page after page in some book, playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, if you want to learn how to improvise or something.

Let the teacher know where you want to go with your playing. Help your teacher understand what you want to learn to do. DO realize that (I hope) your teacher knows a lot more about the total process and might still insist on you doing things that you (at present) don't see the value of. Don't put up too much resistance, but don't sit there silently all the time either. Trust but communicate. If you get to a point where you don't trust the teacher, look for another teacher. There are good ones and bad ones and everything in between. Give 'em a fair chance, but if you think you need to, find someone you like better.

I once had a banjo student who sat through 4 weeks of Scruggs style lessons before finally communicating that they would rather play Clawhammer. They didn't know enough terminology to just come out and say it and it eventually surfaced when I was fooling with a clawhammer tune as they arrived for the lesson. She exclaimed "That! WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?" And that's how we made the switch.

Point Two

The idea of getting yourself a student is not as farfetched as it sounds. Maybe, like most folks, you think you are not ready to teach. But, have you ever shown a little kid how to make a chord on your mandolin? Have you ever tried to get your wife to put on your picks and try the Thumb-Pinch? It really is true that you just need to stay ahead of the other person.

I am not saying to show someone what you learned. I am saying teach them to do it! It's not the same thing at all.

I am also not saying that you'll be a great teacher immediately. That path is as long as becoming a great player. Maybe longer. But, you can learn a lot by doing some simple teaching of what you are presently learning! So, find a broke student who really wants to learn and teach them a few chords or something.

Sometimes, to get this point across to my students, I will surprise them when they arrive at a lesson by saying "Hey, Ian, pretend I have never played the banjo before. Now, you be the teacher. Teach me! It's a lot of fun for me because I get to act like a real moron by doing everything wrong--like putting the picks on upside down-- and I don't do it right until they explain it to me and show me.

The act of taking on the role of teacher will really help you sort out the exact steps, the techniques, the ideas, in your own mind.

You see, teaching and learning are mutually beneficial activities. It is made even more powerful to both parties to switch roles from time to time. Try it!

If you like the way I think about music scrounge around my websites and see what other goodies you unearth. Then share them with your friends!

Bradley Laird

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