Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A moment of empathetic instructor panic

Last night I went to guitar class as usual. I'm recovering from a cold, so I didn't have a ton of energy, but I had requested the song that we would learn this week, and it was the last class of the quarter, so I went anyway. I am so glad I did, because I witnessed how my instructor handled an unexpected situation with grace and managed to turn a near-calamity into a successful teachable moment!

The typical class session in this series starts off with a review of the previous week's music. (We, the twenty students, all practice like aspiring guitar rockstars (folkstars?) all week, of course, unless life happens to get in the way.) We then learn a new song by first listening to a recorded version of it, receiving a handout of the transcription in tablature, then having the instructor demonstrate the tricky parts, measure by measure. We then get a chance to practice together so she can assess our progress and rectify any mistakes we're making.

Last night was anything but typical.

For the first third of the class, we reviewed last week's music, as usual. It took slightly longer than normal since it was arranged as a duet, and some people wanted the chance to play both parts, so we played through it a total of four times. The instructor then put in the CD of this week's song that we were about to learn, and as we listened, she realized she did not have the printouts of the arrangement. "I must have left them at Kinko's down the street!" she exclaimed. While we continued listening to the recording, she dashed to the copy machine in the building where class occurs. Seconds later, she returned and announced that the copier was broken. Of course!

My stomach lurched. I pictured myself as the instructor and wondered what I would do in that situation. Panic! 

Here's how she gracefully handled it:
  • Sent someone to Kinko's to search for her original copies and/or to make new ones
  • Talked about how she arranges songs by ear
  • Played the song for us again, called out chords, and invited us to play along with any strum or finger-picking pattern we wanted [I loved this part because it got me to think about just the chords, not the fancy finger-picking pattern that I usually focus on; it sounded great because everyone played along with a multitude of strums but since they were all on the same chords, it sounded harmonious; there's nothing quite like the sound of twenty guitars playing well together; I knew that even if I didn't nail every single fill when practicing or performing the song, I could still play the chords and sing along and it would sound great!]
Just as she started to teach us the fancy fills by demo-practice (less-than-ideal without having the music to look at), the copies arrived! For the remaining ten minutes, we walked through the music as we usually did. 

I left the class feeling inspired not only to practice the song but also to think about how to handle unexpected situations during training sessions.

Anyone have an example of a time your training or class didn't go as planned? Please share in the comments!