The Ideal Student

I enjoy keeping in touch with other teachers, both in my personal relationships and through forums. One topic that often comes up among music teachers is “the ideal student.” I never contribute to these conversations in any expected way, mostly because I feel that all of my students are ideal students!

Of course, I know that the accepted definition of a good student is one who is punctual, learns quickly, practices diligently, is enthusiastic and ambitious and who attends lessons regularly and is prompt with payment. Those are great qualities in a student – they make my job easy and fun and I definitely appreciate them – but I don’t feel that a student has to exhibit any specific qualities from the start of the relationship in order for both of us to enjoy a satisfying experience. I have grown the most as a teacher and a person by working through situations that are challenging or uncomfortable. Can you imagine the thrill I feel when a student who has been through four, five or more teachers is able to break through to a level of playing they have sought for years? It is exhilarating to be able to facilitate that leap for someone who has persisted so diligently in their quest and I am deeply grateful that they didn’t give up on their goals before reaching my studio!

I start with the basic premise that if someone enrolls in lessons, they want to learn to play guitar and that no one intentionally limits his or her ability to do so. My job is to assist my students in reaching their goals and that means helping them to develop effective approaches to learning, successful practice habits, positive responses to the process, concentration, confidence, creativity, coordination, manual strength and dexterity, listening skills, pitch sense, rhythmic sense and more. In other words, I see a teacher as being far more than someone who organizes and disseminates information – I see her also as someone who, by listening and attending to the whole student, is able to assist, support and fully participate in the process of learning.

As for those “ideal qualities,” I find that by resisting the temptation to hold them as expectations or requirements, I am able to enjoy their emergence as a natural part of the process of learning how to learn. The rewards are rich: I have the opportunity to practice patience, commitment and creativity and the student learns to make music! That is a beautiful and gratifying experience that I wouldn’t trade for all the ready-made “ideal students” in the world.


This is the time that many people are enthusiastically launching into fulfilling their New Year’s resolutions. Although I don’t make specific resolutions with the New Year, I do feel the urge to clear out the old and make way for the new (as evidenced in the last post!). Regardless of how we name our goals or when we set them, we all welcome ways to achieve them as painlessly as possible.
Although others tend to view me as being very disciplined, I feel that most of what appears to be discipline in my life is merely habit that has been consciously chosen and placed. Of course, there is discipline involved in establishing the habits I choose, but once they are in place, they carry themselves. Think about it – it doesn’t take discipline to brush your teeth in the morning, because you have established that as a habit! There are countless things that you do in any given day without having to make yourself do them, because those things are habitual. So, when beginning a commitment, it seems that the trick is to move as quickly as possible from discipline to habit.
As I’ve observed many students struggling with discipline over the years, I’ve considered how the process works for me. In doing so, I realized that I employ a few tricks that set me up for success.


Sometimes in our zeal to accomplish a goal we try to force ourselves into starting something new before circumstances are supportive or we are emotionally or mentally prepared. It is possible (and preferable, to my mind) to set your intentions and then wait and watch for the starting time to show itself. This does not mean that you give in to resistance, but that you tune into your thoughts and feelings and “step into the river.” Trust yourself!


Before beginning a new commitment, it’s wise to make sure that your goal is a reasonable one rather than a fantasy. You might want to play guitar several hours a day, but is that really going to work in your current life? You are far more likely to achieve success if you initiate a small change and then let it grow naturally. By starting with a realistic and manageable commitment, you will likely find that with time things shift to allow for expansion.


I’ve found that it is much easier to do something every day than to do it only on specific days of the week. If, for instance, you decide to exercise on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you may always have in the back of your head that if you “need to”, you can put off one of those sessions with the hope of using one of your unscheduled days to “catch up.” As we know, things have a way of unraveling from there. Also, it is likely to feel more like discipline and less like habit if there are constant choices to make. A habit should just be a habit, absent of excessive thinking and planning.


It helps to attach a new activity or task to something that is already in place. Guitar practice might attach to dinner (my favorite guitar time – it’s dessert!), first thing in the morning or immediately before or after school or work.

Do you have any tricks for keeping resolutions? If so, I hope you will share them!