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Are You Your Own Best Teacher or Your Worst Teacher Ever?

expert self-taught teacher Nov 11, 2019

I am at heart a do-it-yourself-er. Give me a project and I dive right in, sometimes getting in water that’s a little too deep. In fact, a number of my attempted projects have shown clearly that some things are better left to the experts. 

There was my bathroom wallpaper that looked great but never really did stick to the wall. And the sweater I knit that came down to my knees. Over time, I have learned more about the things I can manage on my own and when I should ask for help.

It may not surprise you to know that I think for most people, learning the harp is a process that goes more smoothly when you have help. While I applaud the courage and determination of self-taught harpists, I know that the path is faster and less bumpy when you have an expert to show you the way.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages in teaching yourself. First among those is the convenience factor. When you are teaching yourself, either using online courses or books, your teacher is right there when you are ready. No scheduling conflicts or driving to lessons, if you’re lucky enough to have a harp teacher close to where you live. 

You also know your own learning style and your goals. You can pace your studies to fit your own schedule and you can practice what you want and play the music you want.  And if you are the do-it-yourself type like me, you will enjoy doing your own research into technique books and harp websites and creating your personal course of study. 

There is one more important advantage not to be overlooked. Whether you have a teacher (besides yourself) or not, you must be your own teacher every day in your practice.

Music practice requires us to listen with the “teacher’s ear,” to listen analytically, to be alert to errors and inconsistencies from wrong notes to uneven fingers to inaccurate rhythms. We need to watch with a “teacher’s eye” to catch technique flaws or weaknesses. In between lessons, we have to provide our own feedback to make progress from one practice session to the next. 

This is actually where many harpists fail. Either they don’t know what to listen and watch for, or they aren’t able to be objective enough to discern what adjustments they need to make.

This was exactly why the sweater that I knitted was twice too long. I didn’t know how to gauge my stitches to be certain that they were of an even and correct size. If I had had a more experienced knitter beside me, she would have caught that and helped me correct it long before I finished the sweater. I wouldn’t have had to buy that extra yarn either. 

In the same way, an experienced harp teacher can save you from some of the pitfalls and obstacles that will slow your progress. No more wasted time trying to figure out the solution to a problem that you possibly could have avoided in the first place. No more re-learning something because you didn’t know that important detail that isn’t written down anywhere. 

Even more importantly, a teacher will help guide your path. When you’re on your own, it’s easy to lose your way or just not know what to do next. Creating a path to your destination is difficult if you’ve never been there before and you don’t have a map. Plus, trying to figure this one out for yourself can be costly in terms of lost momentum as you try to devise your own plan.

But what to do if you don’t have a teacher or you just need to work on your own for a while?  There are three critical elements that every teacher includes in their curriculum for their students, and you can include them in yours too. They are:

  1. Maintain a regular practice schedule. Consistency is the number one key to progress.
  2. Establish a learning cycle that includes study of technique, musicianship and repertoire. 
  3. Set goals and benchmarks so you can monitor your progress as you learn.

With these pieces in place, you might be possibly become your own best teacher!

SPECIAL NOTE: We at Harp Mastery have created a new free video workshop series “Motivation is Not Enough: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Make Progress.”  Whether you have a teacher or not, you will discover the surprising secrets to creating and sustaining momentum and progress in your harp playing. Join us for this free series by clicking the link below:

JOIN THE VIDEO WORKSHOP

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