What are we working on today?

After teaching 9 lessons in a row on Wednesday afternoons, my brain has officially turned to jelly. I can’t remember who’s doing what and who needs a reed and whose bassoon isn’t working and all of that. I teach 3 different instruments across 6 different grade levels. It all bleeds together – I usually sit there after my last kid leaves, staring at the wall, put on a little music on my iPhone, and pack up slowly, trying to parse everything.

If I didn’t write it down, it’s not going to be remembered. That could be a reed, a copy of music, or anything. By 7pm on Wednesday, I can barely remember my own name and the way home.

It’s an hour drive home, so that’s a good thing to remember.

I love teaching private lessons, even if I complain about having to drive out there. There’s something about one-on-one teaching that seems like the purest form of education – it’s not the song and dance number that teaching a larger class always seems to turn into. Plus, I’ve been told that I’m more manageable solo… and in small doses… with limited exposure.

Basically, I’m like radiation, but with more lingering side effects.

Trying to get a week’s worth of musical education into 30 minutes is a task I’m still not good at yet. I’m chatty – surprised? I know I am. I like to hear myself talk. I’m the perfect kind of teacher if you’re an insolent 13-year-old; I’m easily derailable. Get me off on a tangent, and you’ve sucked up 30 minutes of class time. The first year I taught, someone used a sentence that was so grammatically awful that I took 15 minutes to diagram it for my beginning saxophone class.

Given only 30 minutes to teach a week’s worth of bassoon (or whatever), I should be efficient with my time. I should be a musical zen master, speaking only in short, clear phrases, and not saying anything unless it is a vital insight. Unfortunately, I’m a chatty bitch, and it doesn’t always turn out like that.

Here, in a graphically pleasing form:

Gotta work on that.

Almost everyone that I know at school teaches lessons in one form or another. Some run their studios like the Cobra Kai Dojo, complete with “Sweep the leg!” instructions at contests. Some run theirs as a Montessori-like love fest, complete with “do what you feel like” lessons. Some have websites complete with Paypal accounts so that parents don’t have to write checks like it’s the 1950s, and some only take cash, because the IRS probably won’t find out about it.

Where am I? Like I usually am, somewhere in the middle. I’m not programmed to be very intense or very lackadaisical – I just sort of ride that middle line until something makes me believe I should be doing otherwise.

The one weakness I have in teaching lessons is the one weakness I have in my musicianship in general – I don’t have enough reeds. Bassoon reeds, and my obsession with them, will be the topic of another post, but in this context, I never seem to have enough to sell to my students. I have a few good ones, but like Gollum, I get all “My precioussssssssssssssssssssssss….”

“It’s the good reedsss…. no other bassoons gets the good reeeeedssssss…”

In the end, I get up every Wednesday at 5:30, drive an hour away to teach my first lesson at 7:30, and then end up driving home at 7pm. While there’s a break in there, it’s still wall to wall lessons for a good chunk of the day. I make some money, sure, but as tired as I am at the end of the day, it’s the chance to get to work with all sorts of great musicians with great talents that makes it worthwhile. I know that sounds stupid and sappy, but it’s true. I complain, I bitch, I whine about not wanting to drive on a certain day, but in the end, I love doing private lessons.

Now, I just need to make a few more reeds…

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4 Responses to What are we working on today?

  1. lisabrueck says:

    My lessons with Donita fit your chart. I learned many other life lessons to though. Maybe it’s a bassoon thing.

  2. SN_Cong says:

    It’s not just a bassoon thing. Two trumpet teachers: one was more of the classic ‘play for me and I’ll ask you why you didn’t practice this week’. He had a great pedigree, even made his own line of mouthpieces, but it just didn’t work for me as a middle schooler and I didn’t get much out of it.

    My teacher in high school was great…imagine if JBart had gone to music school at University of Southern Maine and you’ll have an idea. Taught me the beginnings of how to play high, fast and loud and showed me how to have fun with the instrument. Our session was probably 20% BS’ing; 30% improv; 15% trumpet/life advice and the rest technique. I think you’re hitting closer to the mark than you might realize here.

    Also, can’t you industrialize and open up a damn reed factory yet? THAT should be what you do with your summer – open up Edmonson Reed Supply(TM) somewhere in Central America.

  3. SN_Cong says:

    It’s not just a bassoon thing. Two trumpet teachers: one was more of the classic ‘play for me and I’ll ask you why you didn’t practice this week’. He had a great pedigree, even made his own line of mouthpieces, but it just didn’t work for me as a middle schooler and I didn’t get much out of it.

    My teacher in high school was great…imagine if JBart had gone to music school at University of Southern Maine and you’ll have an idea. Taught me the beginnings of how to play high, fast and loud and showed me how to have fun with the instrument. Our session was probably 20% BS’ing; 30% improv; 15% trumpet/life advice and the rest technique. I think you’re hitting closer to the mark than you might realize here.

    Also, can’t you industrialize and open up a damn reed factory yet? THAT should be what you do with your summer – open up Widget Reed Supply(TM) somewhere in Central America.

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