The other day I was teaching a flute lesson to a beginner student who is struggling with the basics of playing. She is a great kid but lacks self-confidence. We took a break from working on playing the first five notes out of the book and played one of my favorite music games on the iPad, Rhythm Cat. (The app teaches rhythm in a game where players tap along to the rhythm on the screen while listening to a song. I fully admit to playing it for fun by myself.) To work on music and confidence, I would play a level to demonstrate, and then she would replay the same level. One would think that a music teacher would be able to pass a level of quarter notes and half notes, but while doing this with my student, I failed one of the levels. I failed! My student was as shocked as I was.
So what? I failed at a kids’ music game. It turned out to be a teachable moment for both of us. My student saw me fail at something that she thought I should easily pass. She watched my reaction carefully. She saw that I wasn’t horribly embarrassed, nor did I make a big deal of it. I just looked at her, said something like, “Huh, that one was kinda hard. I guess I’ll have to try it again,” and tried the level again. And, yes, I passed it on the second try. My student got a quick lesson on dealing with failure.
I think I got a greater lesson in the process. Do we let our students see us fail and deal with failure? I’m not saying big life issues or even little things that only matter to us. Have you ever taken an artistic risk in front of your music students and failed? Do you model how to deal with failure as part of the artistic process? Failure is part of the process! We learn from our mistakes, and we become better through them. Better musicians and better people.
Do our students know how to fail? Are they afraid of taking risks for this reason? Maybe they need a little lesson from you. Failure is an option!