Tuning in

Dear Ones,

In order to mentor well, I believe it is vitally important to have a good, fast, accurate, fun, and respectful method of "tuning into" the student, in such a way that informs both about how the student is at the present time.

In a culture, where groups of students are expected to be obedient ( as opposed to follow their heart or spirit of guidance) where socially adaptive behavior is the norm, where being polite (instead of honest) is expected and praised,  where competition, false emotional performance and media distraction is the norm (versus deep internal awareness), a real mentoring method of tuning right in, becomes increasingly important in order to nurture a real artist that is awake.

Personally, I believe that within the art form of private music teaching, it helps immensely to have an understanding of how my student is, for real, each time he/she arrives to a lesson. It's very important to me to customize each lesson to best meet my student and take him/her deeper into his/her relationship with music on an authentic level.

Since emotional and energetic aspects of human nature change like the sky and sea, I remind myself not to presume how the student is or for that matter, appears to be. Therefor, I ask!!

What I do now,  in addition to using intuition, is to ask the student at the start of the lesson while he/she is putting together their oboe and getting their reed into water to soak, ....

"On a level of 1 - 100, what is your energy level?" ( Feel free to elaborate .... and it tends to invoke abrief yet vital conversation.)
" " ................................., mood? ("")

If you had to limit your present state, to being expressed into just one color, which color best represents how you are right now? (This helps the student to turn a mental corner and get into a more artistic mental framework. It also helps me choose which scales, sight reading pieces, and/or general direction of the lesson.)

I make it a customary routine.  I open up a book which is my teaching log, write down the students' name, date, time and say, OK, let's get your vital signs, MOOD, ENERGY and COLOR. I do this also, if we have a SKYPE rather than in person lesson. I've found this habit helpful to keep vital continuity and connection even with the greater disconnect of not being in person.

While I'm busy scribbling in my book, I closely observe them from the corner of my eye. I silently, without comment, observe how the student will tune into him/herself which is revealing. Always, the body language changes, the tone of voice changes. All of these things are interesting and informative.

I find it's helps the student get out of his/her head or the currents of the external day, and tune into how he/she is internally, in addition to communicating to me how he/she is doing. I feel this is a crucial skill for anyone to develop, especially a musician. It creates the habit for the student to practice the art of "know thyself".

I love how "safe" using the method of "on a scale of 1 - 100" system of questioning is. It's respectful and prevents prying. The student is free to stay introverted or private and not share any personal details with a number. A number without elaboration combined with intuition is generally enough and honors the student's emotional need.  It is helpful, I've found, to use it as an immediate tool of assessment for much more, as well.

For example, after sight reading a piece, or playing through a work, I'll may ask my student - "OK, so what do you think? On a scale of 1 - 100 how much do you like this movement ?" ... or composer, or work.... Or perhaps, "1 - 100, how important is this audition, performance ...(etc.) to you?" Personally, I think these things are helpful to know as it cultivates significantly more awareness to the internal reality of the student.

Of course, every student is different but I've found this is great fun for most student if it isn't overdone. It's just a tool, and there are times, it may be best to not ask at all if you allow intuition to rule. When I'm comfortable asking and using this system, the student tends to be as well. But, this tool, isn't for everyone. This can become more useful however, with repeated use as it creates a point of reference. It can also reveal patterns and create improved discernment. For example, a student can recognize when outside of lesson time, he/she has better energy patterns for practicing.

Furthermore, I've found that this number system tool of assessment can help the student create the habit of tuning into his/her own internal awareness by putting the "critical editor" of their own mind, to use numbers as a way to interrupt possible negative thinking into working for increased internal emotional awareness. 

The number response may open doors to deeper conversations or questions. It can help make decisions.

Sometimes after a student plays through a movement or piece, I might ask, "So, 1 - 100, how much would you like to perform this work?" .... Now THAT is when it gets even more interesting in the journey of teaching. Let's say the student answers only 20% ! Then I might ask - "So what is it about this piece that supports the 20%? .... and/or "So what is repelling to you about the 80%?" and from there, we have a place to move forward honestly, respectfully, artfully and in a more likely to be rewarding way.

Best wishes for fulfilling musical experiences,
Kathryn Potter
(c) Kathryn J. Potter 2016