Over the last year I have become a student all over again, this time at the gym. In my late teens through to my late twenties, I suffered from playing-related injuries, and as a result was very weak in my upper body. After becoming a mother and having to lug around a baby (who now weighs 14kgs) plus various heavy bags, I was becoming fatigued and sore, and needed to develop my strength and weight lifting capacity. I had no idea about how to put together a gym routine, let alone how to work any of those machines, so I sought out a trainer to help me safely increase my fitness. Apart from the fact that I would never push myself as hard as he makes me (or to be honest, even go to the gym), I’ve been surprised by how many times he’s had to correct me for the same issues.
At the piano, I have learned to always keep my hand and forearm aligned, and my wrist is never low now. But you wouldn’t believe how many times he’s noticed that my left wrist is low when lifting weights, which is potentially injurious, just like at the piano. Despite me paying attention, concentrating, copying him as best I can, not to mention my expertise being rehabilitating pianists and correcting low wrists for my day job, again and again he has had to correct me. If I do this a few times incorrectly, my left hand also doesn’t feel as perfect at the piano either.
Just last week, he instructed me for the 100th time on how to hold the bar for deadlifts. While he explained, I confess to being a little impatient. Of course I knew, hadn’t he told me so many times already? Does he think I’m stupid? Then, thirty seconds later, I felt that once again, I had messed up the grip, and I had to laugh, and eat a slice of humble pie. The process of learning in a completely unfamiliar area has been such a reminder of just how many times we teachers have to demonstrate, explain, remind, patiently correct, and patiently correct again. A student can be intelligent, studious, pay attention, and do their level best, but it’s easy for details to slip when simultaneously processing multiple instructions and sensations in their bodies.
Another lesson recently has been how sometimes as teachers, we have to state the obvious. I worked with a colleague’s Skype student recently, and asked her to record the lesson. At several points along the way, I prompted her to review a particular moment after the lesson and analyse the previous attempt, or compare her movement to mine. My colleague later emphasised that each lesson she had asked the student to press record, and couldn’t understand why the student told me she never watches her Skype lessons. It turns out that the student had diligently recorded all of her previous lessons, but didn’t think she needed to watch them.
Further, although I had made a point of telling her to review certain visual moments, she had only recorded the audio of my lesson. To me it’s clear that if you record the lesson, you should watch it back, and that you need video, not audio, to make subtle visual comparisons. But again, it was a great reminder that we cannot take anything for granted when we teach. Something that is transparently familiar to us may be completely foreign to the student who is new to this area. As my father used to say, “Assume nothing!”