Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Care and Feeding of the Bass Teacher, Chapter 1: Identify your Teacher Type

Congratulations, you are the owner of an official authorized bass teacher! This may be your first real bass teacher. You may have owned several teachers before and are just now acquiring a new model. Or perhaps you have owned this teacher for awhile and are simply checking the owner’s manual out for the first time to make sure you’re getting the most from your teacher. Or maybe you’re borrowing someone else’s teacher for a couple of lessons. No matter what, you can be sure that you will have hours of fun and learning with your new teacher - if you follow some key guidelines. In this manual, we’ll be looking at several teacher models and addressing key features that you can access to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your teacher.

In this first chapter, we’ll describe some of the basic teacher models that you will encounter out there so that you can make sure you have accurately identified your teacher type. This is important because trying to access certain features is more challenging on certain models, and can even be dangerous if not attempted carefully!

Before we begin, we should note that there are many hybrid models out there, which combine the features of several of the basic models; you may have to calibrate your methods to account for your particular model’s complexities.

The Dictator: This model was very common years ago, and was actually considered the finest model available at the time; its popularity has declined in recent years, but it can still be found and remains popular among certain groups. The Dictator interprets its teaching mission in a very direct way: It is there to give you knowledge, and you are there to receive it. Period. It often has a standard, preset program that it offers to one and all with little variety. This can often be a solid program - after all, much about playing bass hasn’t changed for decades, if not centuries. The big plus of the Dictator model is that it requires you to trust it in order to get the most out of it. This can feel uncomfortable at first, but getting out of our comfort zone and committing to trying something different is often the first step to real growth. The minuses of the Dictator are also clear: If their program doesn’t work for you, you can waste a lot of time and energy trying to play in a way that can be harmful to our progress. Also, if you learn best when you feel that you can ask lots of questions and explore your own path, the Dictator may put a stop to that without considering whether it’s a good idea. Overall: we recommend initial caution with the Dictator until you are sure it will be effective.

The Buddy: This model was introduced for customers unhappy with the Dictator, and enjoyed a groundswell of popularity soon after. The Buddy wants to be, well, your buddy; they want to hear about your life, hang out with you, meet your friends, and be your partner in learning. This can be great for people who have problems with authority figures, as well as for folks who love to explore their own ideas of how to play. The Buddy can help you test and develop

your own distinctive way of playing. However, if you haven’t developed your core technique very well, the Buddy can be problematic, as many students need more structure in their technical work than the Buddy can provide. However, if you have a lot of your technique together, and you have a well-developed sense of how you want to play, the informal style of the Buddy can help unleash your creative juices and help you grow as a musician! Overall: Lots of fun, but look past the fun to make sure that you are really on track to achieve your musical goals.

The Guru: This model combines elements of the Dictator and the Buddy. Like the Dictator, it insists on a high level of trust and commitment to its playing concepts and program; like the Buddy, it wants to know about your life beyond the lesson studio. It fuses these two concepts into a holistic learning approach that looks at how to improve you playing and musicianship in the context of your whole life. Gurus can be hugely helpful for many students who feel “stuck” and need a change of pace. Often looking at our playing as part of the big picture of who we are is just what we need for a breakthrough. The Guru won’t just order you to obey like the Dictator, but it will ask for a real commitment from you, so be prepared to consider things like taking yoga, going to therapy, changing basic elements of how you play, or just having lots of soul-searching conversations. Like all gurus, the Guru can attract a certain personality type for the wrong reasons; they are being told something they don’t want to hear (but know is true) by their current teacher model and are just looking for one who might tell them something else. Some students seek out a Guru hoping for lots of improvement in their playing when all they really need to do is practice! Overall: Often an outstanding teacher, but don’t use it to escape reality.

The Impresario: This model not only teaches you bass, but offers free bonus career counseling services. The Impresario will train you to be a performer, encouraging you to play lots of competitions and auditions. It’s a great coach, helping you figure out how to put together good performances and present yourself effectively - all important skills. The risk of the Impresario is that it will neglect your long-term development to focus on the short-term gains of performing. Students of Impresarios sometimes work for months on solos that are far beyond their abilities, damaging their technical work in the process. An important skill with Impresarios is learning to say “No” to them and insisting that you do the work you need to develop your playing. Overall: Can be great, but needs careful maintenance.

The Factory: This model was designed for mass production of bass students, and boy does it deliver. The Factory has huge numbers of students, and often has to organize giant group lessons and day-long recitals just to fit ‘em all in. The actual teaching style of the Factory can vary, but this model has one major potential flaw: all those students can mean that not much time or attention is paid to your individual needs and goals. This is not always an issue with this model, and some Factory teachers are among the finest around. But students need to make sure that this model is able to give them the time and attention they need. Overall: Often good teachers, but make sure they know your first name.

The Drudge: This model is the one to avoid if possible. They can teach in a variety of ways, and some of them can even be fairly good at it, but they share one big problem: They don’t seem to have been programmed to like music very much! A teacher who thinks music is a chore (or worse, a job) can’t teach you the most important part of being a musician - to have fun and enjoy yourself! A teacher like that will only produce bitter, unhappy musicians, and we already have enough of those, thanks. Overall: Run away.

Now that you've identified your teacher type, we'll move on in the next chapter to specific methods you can use to train up and instruct your bass teacher. Before you know it, they'll be teaching you twice as much stuff for the same price!

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