Sometimes these lessons go on forever....

Sometimes these lessons go on forever….

We all have bad days.

Annoying bosses.

Crappy commutes.

Out of control kids.

Whatever.  It happens.

I’m lucky to have the sweet guitar teacher job.  But even a guitar teacher has bad days.  Here’s how I deal with it…

Ok. So most of the time lessons go great.

It’s fun to teach.

It’s rewarding to see my students progress.

But sometimes….

Well…

Sometimes we’re just not feeling it.

It could be that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before (having a 5 year old sometimes does that).

It could be that the student hasn’t been practicing (being a kid tends to do that). 

It could be an overworked student.

It could be an overworked guitar teacher.

It could be a bad day at school.. or work.. or you know… anything.

Here’s what I do:

When it’s my fault…

I try to do the best I can for each student at every lesson.  Whatever baggage I have with me I try to leave at the door.  If I’m having a rough day it’s not fair for me to bring that into my student’s home and have it filter into our lesson.

I think I do a pretty good job of this.

Do I get frustrated with students?  Yes.

Do I take it out on them?  No way (at least I hope not).

But what if I’m having a REALLY bad day?

I’ll be honest, when I first started teaching lessons I struggled with this.  I was never sure what to do.

But now I know.  I know myself better, and if I’m really having a bad day… I treat it as a sick day and  cancel the lesson (no charge to the student of course).

It doesn’t happen often.

I don’t like doing it.

But if I know I’m not going to give 100%, it’s not worth providing a half-hearted and half-assed lesson.

 

But, what about when it’s not my fault…

We’re overworked.

We over commit.

We do it to ourselves.

We do it out of a sense of obligation.

We do it to keep busy, to stay sharp, to have it all.

We work more than we should at our jobs.  We stay late.  We’re attached 24 hours a day.  Phones.  Computers.  Internet.  Whatever.  We’re always available.

Our kids are the same.  Clubs before school.  Work all day at school.  After school activities, sports, homework.  Even the weekends are jam packed.

So it’s no wonder that every so often I’ll roll up to a guitar lesson and see the weariness on the student’s face before we even begin….. It’s going to be a long lesson.

Some people have the foresight to cancel ahead of time.  But sometimes we just have to power through.

I wish each lesson with each student was a fresh-faced-bright-eyed-vigorous-young-go-getter-rockstar attitude.  But that’s not possible.

I wish each lesson was just a bowl of fun and laughs.  They’re not all like that.

When I first started teaching guitar, I took these lessons as one of two things:

  1. A personal affront to me as a human being.
  2. A  sign that I was going to be a terrible teacher.

I’ve learned better since those early days.

I’ve learned that we all have bad days and that even though guitar is supposed to be fun, it can be hard work.

I’ve learned that even if we have bad days, we can still muddle through our lessons and feel good when we’re done.  Here’s what I usually do:

1. Stop forcing it. When we’re not feeling it, there’s no point in trying to force new concepts or theories.  We’ll just end up backtracking anyway.

2.  Review old stuff.  When we’re having a bad day, it’s nice to recall and review some of the stuff we KNOW we’re good at.  It builds confidence and makes us feel better.

3.  Try new and different stuff.  Burnt out on a song?  Yeah… I get that.  Let’s try a new song.  Burnt out on chords?  I get that too.  Let’s try a new song with a simple melody or maybe a a scale.

4.  Struggling with the same passage over and over again?  This is tough.  At best we just get frustrated and at worst we give up on the song altogether.  So what do we do?  Maybe mix it up.  Try playing it in a different time signature.  Or maybe try to play it super fast.  Or reallllllly sloooooooow.  Sometimes approaching a piece from a different angle can bust us out of a funk.

5.  Speaking of funk…. when we’re really not feeling anything, sometimes I’ll switch it up altogether.  Maybe we’ll listen to a little music or watch one of our songs on YouTube.  Maybe we’ll do a little dancing or stretching (well not me… I won’t be doing the dancing).  Maybe we’ll do a little chord quiz or a fun little song-guessing game.

6. Maybe we’ll just talk a bit.  This is my favorite solution.  Kids get talked TO all the time.  All day.  From everyone.  Adults do as well.   We get told what to do.  We get told what we’re doing wrong.  The last thing we need is some guitar teacher to start giving us orders/instructions.  So maybe we’ll just talk for a few minutes.  How was your day?  How was recess?  What was the most fun thing you did in school today?  For adults… How was work this week?  Did you do anything fun this weekend?

And sometimes I’ll reverse the roles entirely… I’ll seek advice from my students from their areas of expertise.

Everyone’s awesome at something.

I’ll have 7 year olds teach me about gymnastics, or 5 year olds about legos.  10 year olds tell me about Minecraft  (which I still don’t get).

I’ll have adults help me with parenting.  Or how to plan my vacation.  Or about this new restaurant they just checked out.

It’s a nice reminder that I can learn from my students.  They feel good about teaching me and I feel good about learning something.  It’s a two way street.

Call it small talk.  Call it empathy.  Call it just being friendly.  It works.  We get this stuff out of the way and then we feel good.

Then we’re ready to learn and to play.

I share even juicier stories and answer questions on my e-mail list…. you can sign up here!

(Jake Posko does in-home and online guitar lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com).