I’m wondering whether the problem isn’t teachers in general but just limiting oneself to one teacher — having one single point of view rather than trying a variety of things. One of the nice things I’ve noticed from watching video art tutorials is that there are three people I watch habitually and not just one: Lisa Clough/Lachri, Hajra Meeks, and Sadie Saves the Day. Each is very good at explaining things — not at telling me how to do things, but at telling me how they do things, and since there are three of them, I get a bit of parallax, and can judge which approach might work, as well as seeing that if one approach doesn’t work for me, there is a variety of others that can be tried. There just isn’t that kind of parallax, that kind of pedagogical variety, on the harp yet.
But when one is wedded to one teacher, one sees only that one point of view and gets only one kind of advice. Even if that teacher is good and gifted, it’s still only one way to look at things, and for me at least, it felt as if, should something not work for me there was no other option but to keep hammering at it even if it was obvious that it wasn’t going to work. It also felt as if, should something not work, I Guess I Just Can’t Do That. 😦 The absence of parallax was crippling.
And even having a kind, gifted, enthusiastic teacher (as I did) didn’t matter, unfortunately. Again, this may be a personality thing; there’s a strong chance that it was just very hard for me personally to have only one teacher rather than a variety of viewpoints that I could use to actively assemble a pedagogy for myself.
Most classical music pedagogy also, even with a kind, gifted teacher, really does assume the student is too stupid to not to stick their own thumb in their eye. The whole culture really looks down on the student. It’s just part of the culture. This means that even the idea of actively assembling a pedagogy would cause most classical teachers to cringe in horror.
In the end, I’m confident that after years of learning some of the most intellectually demanding subjects to cum laude/Phi Beta Kappa level, learning several languages pretty much on my own, and mastering many other things, I am more than capable of learning how to pluck a string and not burn the building down in the process. The fact that I’m playing more demanding music with greater ease and relaxation, along with finally bringing my fourth finger online, maybe two weeks after finally coming to terms with striking out on my own, has shored up this impression.
I think there is just a style of learning where you either stick with one teacher (which probably did me damage on the piano as well, now that I think about it), and another where you listen to people explain not how you should do things but how they themselves do things, and then assemble a pedagogy for yourself out of whatever’s on display on the banquet table.
If you happen to hit the jackpot and randomly find a teacher whose style and hands mesh well with your own, then maybe that’s fine, but really — what are the odds of that? And it still won’t teach you to winnow and assemble, to take an active part in your own learning, which every student ultimately needs to be able to do. In the end, you still will only be doing what you’re told and unaware that other options exist. Even if that one teacher’s pedagogy fits you well, knowing the other options will at least let you figure out why it works for you.
I’m not sure whether one teacher could help but become a sort of Procrustes in the end, even if they set out not to be. In the end, you need the freedom to sample more than one bed and to make up your own mind which one fits you best and in which circumstances.
It will be interesting to see whether or not this new way of looking at personal pedagogy will also translate to improved relaxation at the piano. I never thought of that before. It might. And significantly tension/tiredness has limited my piano playing since I was a kid. Maybe I can start trying Hanon this way or something, approaching it like I did the Salzedo exercises, just doing them and paying mind to my own hand while I do it. I don’t know. If I can pull myself away from the harp long enough to do it.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a lot of teachers will tell you that the most important thing you can do is find a teacher. They’re teachers saying this! What self-employed businessperson is going to think and tell you that their services aren’t vital?