When someone outside the profession of string music education learns that I am a violin teacher, there is often a reaction of “oh you must be so patient, to listen to all the mistakes” or something similar. Perhaps there is a tiny measure of truth in that, but it isn’t like you’d think.
I remember back in high school when a band teacher complained that he didn’t like going to concerts because he couldn’t really enjoy them as he heard all the tiny flaws. I also remember thinking, how sad for him, because what a pathetic life one would live as a teacher of music and being so wrapped up in hearing the mistakes that one couldn’t enjoy concerts! I knew at that moment that he was missing something important.
First of all there is no perfect concert. Second of all, everyone has to go through the learning process who wants to become a musician. This involves making some mistakes (and hopefully intentionally learning from them).
As a teacher we do much more than teaching how to make nice sounds, because it isn’t that simple to get good sounds, especially from stringed instruments. There is so much more one has to learn with one’s body to get those sounds and to take care of ourselves while doing this.
Listening, after all, is done with the whole body and not only with the ears.
Many people might be startled to learn that children actually hear more with their bodies than their ears until around seven years old. It’s one of the reasons they love to climb and be on us, to get closer, to feel our sound vibrations. You can feel them too if you allow yourself to and focus on this. It’s pretty amazing how different tones seem to react more strongly in different parts of the body.
The second part of listening is something I believe to be metaphysical yet unique to people: listening with one’s heart or soul. A child’s off key song, for example, might not be worthy of being performed on a stage, but if we are listening with our hearts it surely brings a moment of enjoyment into our lives, unless we’re listening only with the mean “searching for mistakes” kind of listening. It all depends on where we put our focus.
As a teacher we listen for what we can build upon and take it from there. We do have to use the kind of listening which hears the mistakes, it is true, but it doesn’t have to obliterate the enjoyment or intention for top-level instruction and improvement. The critical listening we use as teachers can (and should) be done kindly, respectfully and lovingly. In this sense it is always rewarding because there is as much potential for growth and development as for the intrinsic joy of helping others to learn to create something beautiful.