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The Transfer Student

Excerpt from The Joy of Music

Every music teacher whether of guitar, piano. violin or any instrument is faced with certain problems with a transfer student from another teacher.

It’s always a challenge to be open-minded and realize that other teachers have their own methods and musical point of view. And to make allowances for different ideas about teaching technique and musicianship.

I expected a new transfer student one evening late in June. She had been rather vague in answering my questions during our phone interview the previous week. All I knew was that she had recently moved to Los Angeles and wanted classical guitar lessons.

A knock on the door.

Donna entered with a brief hello. I extended my hand in welcome.

Donna was an attractive brunette about thirty years old. When she came into my studio I noticed that she moved quickly and talked fast. She was very nervous.

“I really don’t know if I should be taking more classical guitar lessons, Mrs. Michelson. “I’ve recently moved from Minnesota where I took lessons with another teacher.”

“How long have you been studying classical guitar, Donna?”

“Let’s see. I’ve been playing pieces in Noad’s first book Solo Guitar Playing for about three years.”

 “Please get your guitar out Donna. Try to take a deep breath and relax. I’d like to hear you perform one of the easier  pieces.”

Donna began to play one of the beginning pieces in the book. It was very difficult for her. She was nervous and shaky. She kept “clutching” with her right hand at the strings, all the while apologizing for the mistakes she was making.

I tried to put her at ease. “It’s all right, Donna. You have just moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles and have had to make lots of new adjustments. So just try to relax and play the piece again.”

Once more she made terrible mistakes. She was extremely uncomfortable. “I don’t know if I should take any more guitar lessons or not. I’m always making mistakes. I love the music but maybe I’m just not meant to play the guitar.”

I suggested we begin a new piece. A fresh start would be better than trying to fix up performance with an old piece. Unless of course there was an old piece that she liked so much and didn’t want to give it up.

Donna thought a moment. “You know what I really like is a piece called Canarios. Could we work on that one?”

“I tell you what Donna. We can work on Canarios and at the same time I’d like us to begin working on a new piece. I have some ideas about how to approach a new piece that I think you’ll like.”

So we started first to work on Canarios. Both her right and left hands were very stiff and tense. No wonder she could not manage to play the slurs in the piece or any of the notes. Again, she seemed to be clutching at the strings, almost as if she were angry. It would take a great deal of surgery to correct her bad hand positions and lack of confidence.

This was going nowhere.

                                                                 * * *

The balance of the story can be found in The Joy of Music – A Life Time of Teaching.

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