Have you ever wondered whether a great harmonica player would also be a perfect harmonica teacher? Do you think you should study with someone who’s simply proficient in what you want to do, or would it be better to rely on someone who’s made teaching their profession and has experience in that activity? The truth, in my opinion, lies somewhere in the middle. Welcome to my harmonica learning blog, and this is the topic of today’s article.
I’ve studied with many different teachers and followed many different musicians in my life. I was inspired by these musicians to be motivated – they helped me to understand what I wanted to do with harmonica and where I wanted to go. However, I soon discovered that a good musician doesn’t always make a good teacher. The qualities required to be able to effectively transmit knowledge are quite different and have little to do with the precise act of simply playing the instrument. If you do a Google or YouTube search, you’ll find that some are very good performers and some are good teachers, and that these aren’t always the same person. In fact, the majority of the time, they differ.
Why is a good performer not always a good teacher and viceversa? The answer is related to the fact that we become good at what we practice and repeat, gaining experience in some very specific and precise tasks. Let’s look at what a performer does and what a teacher does, normally for years.
A performer learns to memorize things and to manage stressful or high-pressure situations such as playing on stage and playing live, sometimes also having to improvise. In addition to this, they will continually practice their instrument and constantly work to maintain their acquired techniques. From a certain point of view, a performer might have to get used to working on themselves in synergy with a band, but this doesn’t require any significant experience in communicating to others how to play their instrument. The more a performer works, the better they get at what they do, which is playing. Every concert or performance they do brings more experience in instrumentation, playing certain pieces of music, and managing general on-stage performance.
On the other hand, a teacher must learn to organize, to create interesting and functional lessons, and above all must know how to communicate. Although the teacher must have acquired good technique, this doesn’t need to be extraordinary – their main strengths need to reside, as I said, in communication. The more the teacher works, the better they become at doing those things I’ve just listed. Each student brings the teacher further experience, as each leads the teacher to face new problems and find new solutions for that individual. A teacher works in pretty much the same way as someone in customer care – students expose issues for which a solution needs to be provided, and the larger the teacher’s ‘troubleshooting database’, the more experienced they’ll become.
But if these two roles are so different, can you learn from a good musician even if that’s not their job? Sure! As I stated at the beginning of this article, a musician we like or respect can be a great source of inspiration and represent a solid goal. So, my advice is this: get inspired by someone you like because you like the way they play, and find the right teacher to learn from. Most likely, at the beginning of your musical journey, you’ll need to rely on a professional teacher to gain the necessary technical skills. Then, when you’re ready to go on stage or you want to learn some particular things, you can borrow from your favorite musicians, each time adding something new to your skill set or knowledge base.