My Most Important Teacher

It may be hard to imagine anything about learning to play a musical instrument being controversial, but when it comes to my book, one issue has been: to work with a teacher or not. I have had many excellent cello teachers and I would never suggest that a good cello teacher is superfluous. But I wrote this book to provide an option for those who can not, or choose not to have a teacher — as well as to be a valuable adjunct resource for those who do.

Jim McGarvey of Mid-Life Cello has captured the issue well on his blog.

The first question I’m usually asked when I tell a friend I’m learning the cello is “Are you taking lessons?” No, I’m not taking lessons at this point – meaning I don’t meet in person with a teacher. Some friends are troubled by that answer. It may be the fear that I’ll learn bad habits that will be difficult to un-learn later, and will limit my progress as a cellist.  I can think of a few reasons I have put off lessons so far… 1) It’s logistically difficult, given my location and schedule. 2) I’m afraid it would be difficult for a teacher to deal with my independence, constant questions and strange ideas. 3) Maybe I really want to reach a certain level of skill and be able to say “I did it my way!”

Jim goes on to talk about his friend Sam, who has made great progress working with a cello teacher, and about some of the many learning resources available online for the aspiring cellist. But then he says:

But my most important teacher is Cello Playing for Music Lovers, by Vera Mattlin Jiji. “Music Lovers” is a euphemism for “older beginners” and this is definitely the method book for someone starting in over fifty, like me. Jiji’s book assumes no musical background, and unlike a lot of books that make that claim it actually delivers on the details, with excellent explanations of the basics of tuning, holding, and playing the cello. Jiji has chosen a fine selection of songs that are playable for the beginner yet still interesting. “Twinkle, Twinkle” isn’t in this book.

He also talks about the principle of playing with “Alert Relaxation” that I cover in the book:

For a few days, I even wore a back brace when I practiced and that helped, but it was not the right answer. Alert Relaxation is the right answer and following Jiji’s advice, I slowly learned to relax while playing and the back problems are gone. When I try to make no mistakes, I sound terrible. If I throw caution to the wind and play as though I was good at it, I sometimes sound great!

That’s great, Jim!