The Coachable Musician (and Music Teacher)

What does it mean to be coachable? To me it means being able to take feedback about yourself, your playing, your teaching, etc., without getting defensive, and then doing what the feedback giver suggests. It takes tremendous trust and vulnerability to be truly coachable.  You’re trying something new and all you have is your coach’s word for it that it will work. Whew, scary…

It’s very interesting how many people (and music students) think they are coachable, but when it comes right down to it they are not.  They hear the suggestions or the instructions, and then decide to do it the way they want to do it.

Often one’s thoughts go something like this: “Oh, yes, I’m completely coachable!  Unless you’re asking me to change X or Y or Z.”  Funny, that sounds a lot like the definition of NOT coachable, doesn’t it?

Being coachable is hard.  It means letting go of any shame you have about not doing it perfectly the first time—really hard for perfectionists.  It means hearing feedback as a reflection on what you do, not on who you are—really hard if you’re deeply emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It means trusting that your coach will ask you to do only things that are in your best interests.

Being coachable is also incredibly rewarding when you have a good coach. It means you get to learn from others’ life lessons. It means you can sometimes achieve things you never thought possible in such a short time. It means that when you do your best, you can feel confident that your best is good enough.

I had this experience recently as I was preparing for a singing audition. I was working with a new accompanist and he (and his voice-teacher wife) were kind enough to spend some time coaching me on the two Bach arias I was singing. In one hour, I achieved a level of freedom, agility and comfort that I had never experienced before! When we were done, I was so emotionally and physically exhausted I could barely stand up. And then I proceeded to knock their socks off at the audition, and got the gig.

Are you coachable as a teacher? As a musician?  Who are your most trusted coaches? Are your students coachable?  What do you do when they are not?  I’d love to hear your comments.

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