Learning and Frustration

One of my students has been struggling with left hand tension on the violin and some pain since we started working together a couple of years ago. She has improved tremendously as we have peeled back layers of trying too hard, pre-growth spurt playing habits that don’t fit her lanky frame, etc.

In the last weeks some connections and some key underlying difficulties have started to reveal themselves as superficial tension has diminished, and I was pretty excited to see these issues with more clarity. I had a suspicion that we reached something key that would make a real difference if she could work around these very strong patterns.

The difficulty, I sometimes forget, in spite of my own experience is that when you hit upon these strongest opposers of function, it is really frustrating to go head to head with them. While I was excited, she was quite irritated to be face to face with something that deeply eluded her so much. I kept trying hard to be upbeat and encouraging, excited by my own sense of the importance of these discoveries, and perhaps, my own sense of personal importance in this process.

Then she became the teacher…she decided to stick with it (in spite of my annoying enthusiasm) and said, “If we are going to go there, you are allowed to be happy about it, as long as I’m allowed to be frustrated.” I was so amazed and proud and silenced for a moment. Of course this is what she needed, and we agreed…we studied what was possible and what was still elusive, and she left feeling puzzled in a new way by something in herself that didn’t make sense. This girl went at it this week and she came back a different player–loose, free vibrato, ease in shifting, faster playing that was much more in tune. She let herself feel the frustration; she went there, she sat with the elusiveness until something amazing emerged.

It’s a valuable part of learning that my student helped me remember not only for my teaching, but for myself in encountering day to day frustrations in my own learning. It’s worth bringing a student to this place, when they are ready, not giving the answers (as we rarely have the full picture that they do), respecting the confusion and frustration and hanging with them there, but letting them do the learning for themselves.

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