Eric the dictator, Eric the facilitator

Didactic vs. facilitaive teaching is the subject of today’s musing.

Arthur Hull, the father of the facilitated drum-circle movement, is one of the most articulate speakers I know when it comes to the distinction between teaching (by which I think he means what others would call direct instruction) and facilitation, in which one creates an relationship with another individual or a group and assist he, she, or them in doing what they are already capable of.  In a community drum circle, for example, the leader facilitates the group connecting with each other, feeling a common beat, feeling a sense of celebration and aliveness, etc.  In an African drumming class, on the other hand, a teacher would show how to hold the drum, how to do certain strokes, introduce complex rhythms that take a lot of practice to master, etc.  They are very different modes of relating, and Arthur warns of the dangers of teaching when you need to be a facilitator.

When it comes to cello improvisation, say, or working with a student to develop his or her own interpretation, there is a lot more facilitation required than didactic instruction.  I once had an argument with Harold Best in which I said you can’t teach improvisation, you can only facilitate students discovering, exploring, and developing their own abilities.  Harold said yes you can teach it, and described people teaching improvisation in ways which I considered facilitation, my vocabulary having been very influenced by Arthur in particular. (Also by discussions in the Music for People community.) That conversation was years ago, and I’ve decided finally that we can make a distinction between different modes of teaching, facilitation being one.

Years before my conversation with Harold, I had a mild argument with Camilla Wicks, the great violinist with whom my then-fiance was studying at the time.  I felt a teacher’s job is to help a student discover and develop his or her own musical voice and personality.  Camilla, on the other hand, was convinced that her job was to teach her students to play like her.  To learn her interpretations.  Camilla, of course, was a truly great concert artist, who briefly had a genuinely major career.  We really were at odds.  On the other hand, it’s widely reported that the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich rarely if ever demonstrated in lessons or master classes–he didn’t want people imitating him.  I get the sense that Rostropovich was in many ways facilitative rather than didactic.

Now I realize that there’s a time for everything.  “Imitate, assimilate, innovate,” said Clark Terry (he’s who the quote is frequently attributed to, anyway).  There are times when it is very valuable to imitate someone else’s playing.  There are times when it is important as a teacher to be didactic and tell someone how to play.  Eventually though, a young artist has to stop imitating and find her own voice, and as a teacher (unless your mission is to create out copies of yourself) one has to switch from instructing to facilitating.

Rostropovich, who rarely demonstrated, wasn’t teaching beginning and intermediate-level students;  to get in to his class I’m sure you had to be a virtuoso cellist to begin with.

There’s much more to be said about this, of course.  And links to add to this post.  Right now it’s time for dinner–and I have today’s post done well before bedtime for once!


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