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Dear Little Bobby,
I’ve been taking guitar lessons for a few months from a friend and I’m not sure if our friendship is getting in the way of our student/teacher relationship, or vice versa. Whichever it is, sometimes I feel like he isn’t the best teacher for me. I think he treats me differently than his other students. He goofs off too much, yet also pushes me too hard. Maybe we are too friendly. Is it dumb for me to feel that way? I think I’m stuck as a player and I’m starting to resent him for it.
—Guitar Hero Or Zero?
Dear Guitar Hero Or Zero,
It is NOT dumb for you to feel that way. You should feel free to feel any way that you want to feel. Teaching is a skill unto itself. Either communicate directly with your friend about this, or start looking for a new teacher.
My first official musical lessons were in my 7th grade band class. My first instrument ever was the trumpet, but only because the saxophone section was “already full”—the first red flag for a messed-up arts program!
Expectations are premeditated resentments.
In the middle of the school year, as we were rehearsing for our holiday concert the next night, the band director (some god-awful woman who hated her job) came up to the horn section after a particular song and said “Now just the trumpets play this section.” We played the section she had indicated. She was trying to figure out who was playing it “wrong.” Then she said “Now just Bobby play this section.” I played it. Then she walked over to me, leaned in a little and said, “When we get to this section of the song tomorrow night, just move your fingers but don’t blow into the horn. Don’t actually play.”
That was really hard for me to hear as a 13-year-old. The following night, when we got to that section of the song, I played it extra hard, because fuck her. I was only 13! What did she expect from me? Had she ever considered that I was not a great trumpet player because she was a terrible teacher?
Years later I picked up the guitar and I finally began playing the piano when I was almost 30. If I had a decent music teacher at 13, things might have been different. But what can we truly expect from public schools?
Our expectations are often our enemy. I have always liked quoting one of my best friends who says, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I completely agree with that. When we expect something from anyone, especially a very good friend, lover or family member, we are often setting ourselves up for resenting them. Given enough time, everyone will invariably fail to live up to our expectations…and when they do, we feel like they have let us down.
Do not be too hard on your friend. Do not resent him for his teaching style. Nor should you resent yourself for anything else like your newness to this instrument or any other experience. Being new at something means you are exploring, and that is to be celebrated! But if you feel stuck as a student, of course you should pay attention to that feeling.
Taking lessons from a good friend can be a wonderful thing or it can be frustrating. It all depends on the specific teacher and student. Does this person know how to TEACH? Or do they only know how to play the guitar? If we all knew how to teach, I think we as a society would not be getting dumber—but that is a topic for another column. You need to have very direct communications with your friend about this…or you need to look for another teacher. And even if you look for another teacher, you should still speak with you friend about this. It does not have to be a blame session, but if you actually are good friends with this person, a direct conversation will benefit you both. Do not let this damage a good friendship.
And do not let this experience keep you from having fun playing music. Life is short. Music should be fun…even the sad songs.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“He taught you how to pause and reset | But that’s about as far as you get.” —Amanda Palmer “Guitar Hero” 2008