Face 2 Face (retrieved from Snappa.com August 4, 2022)

I hope that folks don’t find this thought triggering, but I’m kind of done with 1:1 teaching. I don’t mean that in a blanket kind of way–it’s the way that most of us in the classical world were trained and it’s often served us well–but I don’t see it as the only way to do things anymore. As long as I’ve been teaching and from the moment I started taking formal lessons of any kind (other than my first guitar lessons as a child), the gold standard for teaching music at the elite level was always one-on-one. You spend (usually) an hour a week with a mentor (sometimes thought of as the “master” teacher, already a problematic concept–more on that later), and this is intended to be a time during which you learn the fundamentals of your craft, and hone these skills toward ultimate mastery yourself.

There are several problems with this construct as I’ve experienced it. First, the whole master-disciple principle is flawed. It implies that one person in the equation has all the knowledge and the other is a follower. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth; the reality is that a healthy and productive student-teacher relationship is the one where the knowledge transfer goes both ways. Second, the potential for unhealthy dependency is created–the student believes (or is led to believe) that the teacher has all the information, the “secret sauce”, and the student needs to keep going back to get this knowledge. In the worst case, this relationship can even become co-dependent, as the teacher feeds into and encourages the student’s dependency by insisting on validation of their own importance (irreplaceable!) in the student’s life. Third, there is often no talk of creating a practice regimen for the student, that is, the work that is done OUTSIDE of lesson time. The student is often left to their own devices between lessons, and then we as teachers wonder “what the heck did they do this whole week and why haven’t they gotten any better??” Those of us who successfully build a career in performing music have learned somehow, some way, to develop a consistent practice and have become lifelong learners. But most of us had to learn this on our own. And finally, the biggest problem with this set-up is that it puts tremendous pressure on both student and teacher to really “make something” of this all-important lesson time. There must be a breakthrough! There must be audible, tangible progress every time! It becomes incredibly focused on product and the emphasis on process, on practice, is lost.

The reason for today’s mini-rant is that I discovered through recent teaching experiences that when I teach in a small group, my teaching becomes so much more dynamic. There’s much more exchange of energy, and I can involve several people in the learning at once. Rather than repeat myself over and over in individual lessons, I can share something with a group once, we can have dialogue about it, and we can exchange ideas and practices with one another. The students don’t only learn from me, they learn from one another (and obviously, I learn from them). They share their learnings and insights, and can inspire one another. They also don’t feel so alone, and are empowered when they see others grow and progress. They notice that growth isn’t linear, and can become more forgiving of themselves.

I’m not saying there’s no place for intensive learning situations where one-on-one experiences can deepen the learning or really target a specific goal. But too often, the individual lesson’s “pride of place” in a learning hierarchy just puts pressure on everyone. It’s draining and tiring (or it can be). The group experience, by contrast, can be incredibly energizing (is it just me?), and it’s a more economical use of resources. I’ve proven over the last ten years or so that learning voice in a group can be highly effective. I am planning to do more of it. Stay tuned.