Author: Faubel, Carolyn

Teaching for Food

These days I’m playing for food.

Or rather, teaching for food.

My mom wants a continuing education on the fiddle. I used to teach fiddle and beginning violin to kidlets, and occasionally the adult or two. It seemed like the perfect partnership.

In order for us to both take the lessons seriously – scheduling a time, sticking to the schedule, practicing – there needed to be some sort of incentive. Taking money just seemed….well…not kosher when it’s your MOM. So, when she offered something better than gold – casseroles – I was all in.

Here’s the deal: Every 2-3 weeks I give her lesson and in return, I get a delicious casserole that feeds me for approximately a week. As I’m single and generally eat cold cereal and trail mix as standard fare, food equals motivation.

Of course, there’s another motivation that comes with teaching. I’ve been thoroughly unmotivated to practice. Now I look at my lonely fiddle in the corner and a new thought comes to the surface – “if I don’t practice, Mom will get better than me, which means I can’t teach any more, which means I stop getting casseroles!!!!”.

I was worried before our first lesson. Mom has had more formal learning than I have. What if I can’t find anything wrong or anything that she needs to improve on? What if I can spot the problem but don’t know how to fix it? I had her warm up while I assembled the books on the music stand to buy me time….

And then something magical happened – I switched into teacher mode.

No longer was I the daughter or the old time jam companion – I was the teacher and instructor.

Immediately, I knew what I would focus on during the lesson as hearing the warmup. The challenge of approaching the problem from different directions until something clicked with Mom, was my overriding focus to the exclusion of anything else.
When I’m playing or listening to a jam, I’m not judging the players, I’m not looking to see where an improvement in technique could be applied – I’m listening and enjoying the “soul” of the music. Having never taught my mom, or even had her seriously ask me for help, I’ve never analyzed her playing. It was good, the songs recognizable, and the tone tolerable. What more could be expected? I was in jam mode! No one wants to play with someone who is constantly judging or correcting technique, position, or tone. If I listened and played with an ear/eye towards correction, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the music for what it is. I’m in jam mode! However, equally beneficial is to be able to click into the “teacher mode” that allows you to give honest feedback if asked – there aren’t so many local fiddle instructors and even if you don’t consider yourself “teacher material” you may find yourself giving advice or even a lesson to a newcomer.

I used to be intimidated to play in jams with people considered “professional”. What if they were judging me? Or heard that wrong note? After my experience teaching fiddle, I much more likely to relax and enjoy the jam. The “professionals” are most likely in “jam mode” and are just there to enjoy and play some music. They aren’t listening to me and making judgments.

So, during our lessons I’ll turn a critical eye towards mom’s playing and be the hard task master (move that left hand faster! Start the note with confidence!) but when we jam, I’ll slip back into my oblivious enjoyment of the music.

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Posted:  11/18/2010

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