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Learning By Doing

We have been traveling to eastern Tennessee regularly ever since Steve and I started dating - about 16 years ago, now.  It's a gorgeous part of the world, but I've never paid more than a passenger's superficial attention to it.  Steve drives, I read a magazine or play with my phone, and every now and then he draws my attention to a particularly stunning vista.  End of story.

This time around, though, we had to split up a few times.  Zoe needed a nap and a snack, Steve wanted to stay with his father, so I was in charge of driving little girl back to our home base at Nana's house.  And I couldn't get over how beautiful that 20-minute commute was!  Rolling hills, winding roads, mountains off in the distance, fall colors, cows and goats in pastures right beside me.  When I had to do it alone, and engage myself in driving and navigating, I couldn't believe how much more I saw.

Also, I suddenly sort of understand the route between Steve's dad's house and his mom's.  Rural East Tennessee does not operate on a grid system like the cities I am comfortable getting around in, and any road I turn onto could go anywhere as for as I can tell.  But now that I've done it twice by myself I could do it again easily.  One solo trip was more effective than 15 years of riding shotgun in terms of my personal orientation.

The same thing applies to other skills that I have learned.  Spackling a wall.  Creating hyperlinks in my website.  Making a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin.  All easy things, but when I first read the instructions or watched the how-to videos I was bewildered.  I had to dig in and get my hands dirty, and then the process became obvious, easy, second-nature.  I learn best by doing, and by making my own mistakes.

All of which makes me think that I talk WAY WAY TOO MUCH when I teach.  I only have a half-hour or forty-five minutes per week with many of my students, and while  I often feel great about the work we do, I am sometimes guilty of talking through a practice technique without letting the student try it sufficiently.  Or of singing through an interpretation without having the student work through it herself.  Or of lecturing on the importance of warmups and demonstrating them on my instrument.  Sometimes five or ten minutes can go by without the student actually playing the oboe, and if my experiences are any guide that is not the most effective way to learn. 

So this is my official reminder to spend more time in lessons asking questions rather than giving answers, and encouraging experimentation rather than teaching the "correct" way to produce the results. 


  1. My oboe teacher of 7 years (and my toughest instructor) played the oboe very rarely in lessons. In those 7 years, I think he got out his oboe twice. He would very occasionally demonstrate a phrase or two on mine. I was a great mimic, but working things out for myself (with verbal instruction & critique) was a far more difficult, but effective discipline (though results came much later!).

    Love your blog!

  2. Thanks, Elise!

    I think the proportion of playing to talking to listening to the student play is different for every student, and every lesson too. But when I swing too far in any one direction I try to catch myself and swing on back...


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