Strive To Become An Excellent Student
by Cindy Anne Broz
Being an excellent student is as important as having an excellent teacher.
An excellent student can learn from any qualified teacher. A problem student will have difficulty learning from even the best of teachers. Many students consider being prepared for their lessons equivalent to being an excellent student.
Being prepared for lessons represents only a small (albeit essential) characteristic of the excellent student. Becoming an excellent student takes commitment and work, but the results are well worth the effort.
Suggestions for becoming an excellent student:
Be a good listener. Listening does not merely involve hearing and nodding. Listening means striving to understand what is being communicated to you and then applying it. This process takes time, as communications can be abstract in nature and require thoughtful consideration before a full understanding can occur. You must then apply your theoretical understanding to physical and practical functions.
Do what is asked of you. Your teacher knows your strengths and challenges and assigns material to assist you in maximizing your strengths and overcoming your challenges. This material may not be what the you want to play, but it is what you need to play in order to improve. This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with suggestion #3 Trust your teacher.
Trust your teacher. Few people hear you play as much as your teacher. When your teacher makes an assessment and recommendation, it is based on knowledge, understanding, and years of experience. Trust your teacher’s assessment, even if you think that you know more than he/she does (by the way, you don’t). If you do not trust your teacher, you are better off studying with someone else because you cannot learn from someone that you do not trust. This is not to say that your teacher does not have something to offer you; but without basic trust, you become un-teachable.
Be respectful of your teacher. Being respectful is more than just behaving properly in the lesson setting. Being respectful is acting as a representative of your teacher and your studio whenever you are engaged in flute-related activities: competitions and festivals, rehearsals, performances, etc.
Listen to other flute students and flute players as often as you possibly can. This is vitally important! Students who only hear themselves are at a great disadvantage, not only because they have a limited view of their own playing, but also because they do not learn to appreciate and value the playing of others. Many students avoid hearing other fine student players because they feel threatened. Instead, they should be seeking out this opportunity as an avenue to expand their own growth and development. Remember that being a good flute player involves more than just “playing the flute well ”. The development of positive character traits is essential to the making of a successful musician. The plethora of outstanding players allows many choices for musical directors, flute professors, contractors, concert organizers, etc.
The players who will ultimately be the most successful will have learned to be gracious, socially appropriate, respectful, and humble. A teacher with integrity will teach these qualities to his/her students just as he/she will teach Taffanel et Gaubert, Andersen Etudes, solo and orchestral literature, etc. Intelligent students will recognize the importance of these lessons.
Be more concerned about learning than impressing others. An obsession with impressing others quickly becomes one of the greatest barriers to learning. For these students, playing becomes very ego-based because of underlying insecurity. The student views constructive assessment as negative criticism, and having challenges is viewed as failure. Yet, it is the teacher’s job to assess both a student’s strengths and challenges, and to offer advice and opportunity for the student to improve. Unfortunately, this type of student often becomes distrustful of the teacher when the teacher attempts to challenge the student’s perceived reality. This breakdown in trust begins a vicious cycle. “Forum Shopping” (see #8) can be part of this cycle.
Avoid “Forum Shopping”. “Forum Shopping” is different from auditioning teachers in that it involves jumping from teacher to teacher searching for someone who will tell the the student what he/she wants to hear, rather than what he/she needs to hear about his/her playing. Students can waste a great deal of valuable time and money with this process, but more importantly they can develop a false reality regarding their abilities, a significant barrier to learning. Student who are “forum shoppers” are generally not good listeners.
Allow yourself to be humble and vulnerable. The greatest learning occurs in the presence of humility and vulnerability. When a student recognizes that he/she has a great deal to learn and places his/her trust and vulnerability in the hands of a good teacher, there is no end to the amount of learning which can occur. Being a good listener (suggestion #1) is a function of humility and vulnerability.
Don’t burn bridges. Always remember that the flute community is a small one (and getting smaller everyday because of the internet). Flute teachers, accompanists, and other players communicate on a regular basis. Changing teachers is a normal process, but you should make every effort to leave on good terms and maintain a positive relationship with your former teachers. Be gracious and professional. You can assume that anything you say about a former teacher, accompanist, or another player will be heard by him/her at some point. What you say about another person defines you more than it does the other person. An ungracious or difficult student will get a reputation within the teaching community which can follow them for years to come. This can lead to doors and minds being closed to that student regardless of his/her playing ability (ironically, the student may not even be aware of the missed opportunities). Conversely, an excellent student will get a positive reputation which can lead to an abundance of opportunities. Teachers will champion these students and work hard on their behalf to involve them in a multitude of enrichment activities. Never underestimate the power of positive connections. Always be a student of the instrument. As long as you are a willing student, you will continue to grow as a player. This applies to every age and level of player. If you think that you have nothing left to learn, then you are correct.
Excellent students are not just born, they develop; just as people develop into quality human beings. This process does not occur without willingness and assistance from the parents. Excellent students usually have excellent parents who understand the importance of the above characteristics, instill these ideals in their children, and support the teacher’s attempts to foster the student’s development in this regard.
If you want to become a better flute player, strive to become an excellent student. You will become a better flute player, and perhaps more importantly, you will become a better person!
Cindy Anne Broz is a freelance flutist and flute teacher residing in Southern California. She is past President of The San Diego Flute Guild.