Sorry, I won’t browbeat you!

I’m not a yeller. I’m not a drill sergeant-type of teacher.

It’s one of those aspects of my teaching that is both a strength and a weakness.  I’m not going to intimidate, harass, browbeat and otherwise manipulate a student into practicing a certain amount or a certain way.  People don’t leave my studio in tears, or needing a shot of Scotch (as I’ve been told was not infrequently the case with the late Harvey Shapiro, who taught for decades at Juilliard;  he’s supply the Scotch himself, the story goes, which was kind of him).

Some people need a drill sergeant in their lives, cello or otherwise.  Sometimes I think I could have benefited from one along the way.  I love to explore, to encourage, to empower, to help someone achieve her or his goals; I just am not going to do it by yelling at or otherwise eviscerating a student.  Teaching by fear is just not in me.

A colleague and I were talking at dinner. She’s a magnificent artist; she, too, doesn’t yell at her students.  An accompanist/coach who works with a lot of her students says that the kids might do more if they were yelled at from time to time.  Like me, she just can’t bring herself to do it.

I’ve never quite understood students who want to be browbeaten and develop a slavish devotion to their browbeating teachers. Luckily, there are plenty of young cellists out there who like having a friendly teacher, and do well with one.



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3 responses to “Sorry, I won’t browbeat you!

  1. Greg Austin

    Thanks for the post. I’ve never understood this, either. My teacher was never a yeller, but he was firm when he needed to be. A “rival” teacher was more of a yeller, and his studio always seemed to be full of the more “super-achievers”, though his studio was also filled with more out-of-country students. Whenever I have attempted the browbeat and yell technique with my orchestra classrooms I have always felt horrible and ineffective afterwards, because I don’t believe it got anybody anywhere except scared and resentful.

  2. fireandair

    SOME kids might need a whap on the nose now and then. Others will fold in terror and never touch a cello again. It depends on who you consider the baby and who is the bathwater, and whether you want to treat ANY of your students as mere bathwater to be thrown away.

    A truly great teacher will adjust their style for the student, but that requires realizing that not all students are the same.

    • Right on, fireandair. Most teachers adjust their style for each student; the great challenge is finding the right approach for the particular individual. And I certainly don’t want to treat any of my students as bathwater.

      No matter how you individualize your approach, you’re still you. I can do an occasional whap on the nose, but only occasionally. Other teachers are great at whapping, but can be affirming and complimentary only on occasion. Some teachers can only teach their own fingerings. I can give fingerings, but my strength is helping students develop their own.

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