Rethinking the Student & Teacher in Each of Us

I’m a huge fan of Victor Wooten (,, bass player for Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and solo artist. I had the great fortune to see him perform at the GroundUP music festival this past year and to attend one of his workshops. The most impressive thing about the workshop was that he only spent a few minutes actually playing – the rest of the time was devoted to discussing education, authenticity and our roles as students & teachers.

His book, “The Music Lesson” (, is a wonderful exploration of this topic. This isn’t meant to be a book review but rather to dig into some of the beliefs we have as students, the challenges & opportunities those beliefs present to us, and how we all have a role to play as teachers.

Many of you may recall your first experiences with music lessons at a young age. In the majority of cases, they were not completely enjoyable. This isn’t a slight against music teachers at all. It speaks to the expectations & beliefs we have when we enter into these situations. There are many exceptions, but often we reluctantly practice for limited time periods, meet with our teacher perhaps once a week, are fearful of mistakes we may make during the lesson, and aren’t always receptive to the feedback which we perceive as judgement. We then tend to focus on the mistakes. And the process repeats.

I think this behaviour can also find its way into other disciplines beyond music. Fast-forward to a later period in your life and you may find that some of these limiting beliefs have become part of your daily routine. I know they certainly have in my case. In the story Victor relates in his book, he talks about a completely different experience he had with a teacher who found him. Through a series of unexpected lessons, he was challenged to change his own beliefs about his relationship to music.

His teacher, Michael, encouraged him to recognize music as just another language. When seen in that light, Victor realized that while he was fluent enough with English by the age of 5, he felt he wasn’t “good” at music after 20 years of playing. It wasn’t that he practiced English as a child, he just spoke it a lot. And, he spoke with people we would consider “masters” in the language – his family and community. In the vernacular of music, he was able to “jam” everyday with masters of English to become fluent. Michael then continued to show Victor the opportunities to take the same approach with his music, and how to unlearn some existing beliefs about his abilities.

After several readings of this book, I’ve started to think more about my own beliefs as a student, and how I can change my role as both a student and teacher. As a student, I’ve started to challenge existing beliefs about how I learn and the barriers I sometimes put up that impede my progress. I’ve also asked myself more honestly: what can I do to become more fluent in what I care about, and who are the masters around me that I can learn from?

There is a tremendous opportunity to learn from my peers and community, including you who are reading this right now. The flip-side of this is that we are all teachers as well. As a teacher, I’ve asked myself: what more can I do to welcome opportunities to share and encourage someone who wants to learn from me?We all have that opportunity with our respective areas of interest & expertise. As I mentioned in another post, collaboration is a great way to encourage prosperity. We all have opportunities as students & to become teachers for each other. I look forward to future jam sessions with you.

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