More and more, I believe in the idea of North Stars. We orient ourselves by them, so we know where we want to head. If we get off track, we can always find them and restore our aim. But: we never arrive at them. Arrival is beside the point. The point is the direction we travel.
In piano lessons, a North Star points you to all sorts of results — benefits of learning to play in general and of learning with Simply Music in particular, even going beyond music learning to help you cultivate a healthful lifestyle. Whether you’re taking your first steps or are far down your path, and whatever speed you travel, there are valuable things everywhere along the way through the journey, the process, the experience.
This leads me to want to share something about how I see my role as a teacher — and how I see my role a little differently from how Simply Music itself sometimes talks about it.
Simply Music talks to its teachers about the notion of Request as distinct from Requirement in terms of how teachers choose to run their studios. There’s a lot to say about this distinction. I’ll give it to you in a nutshell.
A request, by its nature, can be declined. A teacher running a request-based studio asks things of students and coaches, and whether those things happen or not is therefore up to the students and coaches. There are good arguments that this can set everyone up for a frustrating and ineffective experience.
A requirement, on the other hand, cannot be declined. A teacher running a requirement-based studio expects certain things, and compliance is the condition for continuing to work together. There are good arguments that this is an effective foundation for achieving success.
From early on in my experience as a Simply Music Piano Teacher, I saw myself as preferring a third way of thinking.
While a request-based studio may be disempowering for all concerned, I also didn’t want to run a requirement-based studio. Not because I don’t value the potential for success that it offers, and not because there are no limits to what I will withstand in running my studio. Rather, it’s because, even more than success, I value both relationship and the opportunity to pursue success.
The third path I’ve identified with is not based on either requests or requirements. I consider myself to run a results-focused studio. It’s focused on results. Our aim is always kept on, or brought back to, the North Star of results.
This is certainly different from a requirement-based studio, where, if a student/coach was not willing to meet my expectations, I would tell them that it’s okay, but that I can’t continue to work with them, and that I’d welcome them to return at any point they felt they could meet the requirements I set. In so doing, I would be denying them the opportunity to continue to pursue results.
Preserving the opportunity to pursue results might sound like a request-based studio, but it’s not. When I focus on results, I don’t make requests, and in fact there are requirements. They just aren’t mine, and it’s beside the point for me to invent consequences to impose if they’re not met. The music has requirements. Musical results are the North Star, and the requirements are what move you forward in the star’s direction. The only consequences are that you achieve the results and are ready for more forward motion, or you don’t yet achieve the results and can choose to try again.
If you stumble, we pick you up, dust you off, and point you back down the path.
If you get off track, I catch your attention and point your eyes back to the North Star.
If you do what the music requires, we move onto what’s next.
And all of this is, as I said, not only about the opportunity to find success but also very much about relationship.
In my own life, I know that imperfect discipline is often a matter of ability rather than willpower. Many things have been important enough to me to muddle through them imperfectly rather than give up.
In piano lessons, I’ve similarly had students who muddled through for periods. Sometimes long periods. Sometimes years. Through the muddling, there is a net benefit. If there wasn’t, students would choose to stop. Beyond that net benefit, sometimes, after however much muddling, there is a breakthrough that moves a student out of muddling and into the smoother progress they’d always hoped for.
Had I been running a requirement-based studio, I would have stopped working with those students, and there would have been no muddling — but there also would have been no opportunity for the positive results along the way, much less the breakthroughs. By keeping focused on results, on the possibility of results, we keep the opportunity for benefits and even breakthroughs.
We are imperfect beings. All of us. And though perfection is possible at least with certain things in music learning, there are tremendous benefits available even when musical progress is imperfect.
There’s never any use denying where you are on your path. You are never where you’re not. At any given time, the best we can do is recognize where you are and what you need. As long as you want to take the next step on your path, I want to be by your side supporting you in pursuing whatever results are next for you. I do that by valuing, above all else, the opportunity to keep pointing you toward the North Star.
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