67. Where “Nasty” Teachers Come From
In order to learn a new language, one must use it often. But even this isn’t enough. A teacher should be nearby to point out and fix mistakes and give correct guides for memorization. This teacher is the natural carrier of “interactivity.” It’s great if he is kind and patient. But such teachers, unfortunately, are few and far between. For his mistakes and slips, the student gets more than enough punishment!
Learning to play musical instruments has always been particularly dramatic. History has preserved terrifying tales of how young Beethoven was thrashed by his father, and how little Paganini was beaten and locked in the cellar. It would appear that there was something malicious flowing in the veins of these music educators. Not too long ago, an elegant, though very unhealthy switch was an ever-present attribute of piano lessons; it was reserved for beating the hands in the event of a mistake. The impression sets in that only hot-tempered people enter the profession of teaching, impatient with others’ mistakes. Actually, the cause of this aggression is quite different. It’s not the people, it’s the methods!
Traditional methods of education are especially, no – extremely cruel to above all, teachers. Using the traditional approaches with beginners, the teacher, himself unsuspecting of it, conscientiously works through the entire lesson… as a punching bag. So long as the beginner’s focus isn’t in the condition to follow more than 20 note “paths,” most teachers spend the first years working as a “live supplement to the decree”; they mechanically and vacantly help the student to shift his eyes from one note to the other. For a large portion of the lesson, this teacher is useful for only one thing – to point out the mistakes of the student, and, at times, the same mistakes, over and over! This kind of “professional work” leads him to howling or chastisement, and at other times his hands itch to move this “stupid talentless hack” with something heavy!!!
Until the invention of the computer program Soft Way to Mozart (Soft Mozart), I felt like my career was in a constant state of crisis. It turned out that I simply wasn’t in the condition to continue lessons for hours each day. They wore me out to the point of frailty. From day to day, I had to sit for hours with a pointer next to a book and wave at every note so that my beginners could manage with their hands. The words “play with both hands together” evoked a headache; the simplest skill – to hold a chord with the left hand while playing the melody with the right – took several months to master!
Fatigue accumulated from constant disappointment. As much as I could, I incited the most benevolent manner within myself, but I continued to experience something close to physical pain at every false note. When a kid starts working on a new piece and you know every corner of it, it takes the patience of a saint to listen while he “passes by” the right notes over and over again! But the most distressing of all was the way that “home practice” went. Sending the student home, I knew deep inside with morbid confidence that there, he wouldn’t learn anything at all. His parents were just as helpless, there wasn’t anyone to check his work and tell him if he was playing correctly, and how it’s all supposed to sound.
The vertical presentation of the music staff helped the younger children to quickly understand the principle of music notation and greatly lightened my work with beginners. But the ability to play with both hands from the very start only progressed at the rate of my exertions; at home, the students were completely helpless. Only once a week when they met with me could they check how they “actually needed to play it.” Because of their inability to work independently they didn’t only keep from moving forward, but at times even forgot what they learned – each time we had to start from the beginning.
Occasionally, those that were more diligent soundly memorized the song.. incorrectly! Then, it had to be relearned over the next few lessons. Inside of this nightmare, I saw myself as a living Sisyphus – some angry gods had also cursed me, and day to day I had to heave a giant rock to the summit of a mountain, from which it would invariably roll back down.
No matter how bad it is for the “stuck” student, this methodological “productivity” doesn’t leave any chances for the teacher to remain a kind and patient person! But I got lucky. It seems that my despair was so great that I was forced to discern a solution.