While I do not expect perfection, I hold my students accountable. How else are we going to help young people develop a workable approach to life!!
I expect them to be committed to developing higher and higher expectations of themselves and to work very hard in preparing for lessons. Pieces done half-heartedly are repeated over and over again, sometimes for weeks, until the lessons embedded in that piece are mastered reasonably well. I expect them to think through what they are doing so that they make more music than they do annoying noise. My expectations of them often go unmet, of course. It is frustrating to see them wasting precious time and their parent’s money. Still, I continue to hold the standard, adjusting it somewhat, depending upon their individual abilities and what past accomplishments have taught me I can expect.
If I set the standards too high, making them unattainable for myself or for my students, it’s counter-productive. Why? Because the thinking of “No matter how hard I work, I can never be good enough to meet the standards.”
Same goes when we are working on shame issues. Dropping our perfectionism or unrealistic expectations, such as totally eliminating shame in this life, is just downright counter-productive. Beating up on ourselves because we have shame is a comical concept--it’s like trying to pound a thumbtack into a solid, concrete wall in order to hang a picture.
My best students learn, sometimes after years of struggling (with me refusing to lower expectations so that they do not have to struggle at all), that they can make great progress and become more and more efficient when they decide to do the hard work that is required, on a daily basis, whether they are in the mood or not. Of course, the best students set goals for themselves and meet them week after week, often exceeding what I think is realistic. The result is they are able to tackle lots of new music, with excitement and joy, each week. For learning is a cumulative process, whether it’s about music or authenticity and integrity or anything else.
While some have learned in the past to internalize the most constructive criticism I can give into “I am an awful student,” I try to make it crystal clear that it is their apathy that is causing the grief. That's what is keeping them from doing the hard work of practicing what they know in their head, but their fingers haven’t yet mastered. I remind them that practice doesn‘t always “make perfect,” no matter how hard we try. Practice simply makes progress, and that’s what people who live authentically want to see.