About eight monts ago, I started playing the cello. In part, I was bullied into it by my better half (a violist), who wanted a cellist to play chamber music with, and in part, I started playing because I love music and I’ve always felt sad that I couldn’t make my own. But I also started because, as a teacher (well, tutor), I think it’s important to constantly remind myself what it’s like to learn something new, difficult, and a little intimidating. Okay, a lot intimidating. Cello is hard.
Of course, in many ways, my experience is not at all like that of my students. I chose to study the cello; I pay for the lessons; and I can stop any time I want. No one is threatening me with dire consequences if I don’t practice (not even my teacher, who is far too nice to do anything like that). I practice because I like playing and because I want to get better. Still, in many ways, the process of learning to play cello is a lot like learning any other complex skill. I have to learn a whole new vocabulary. I have to practice the same things over and over and over again until I get them into my muscle memory. I have to take the instructions my teacher gives me, figure out what the heck they mean, and then figure out how to actually do them. I have to learn to integrate a bazillion new and complex skills (reading music, finding the notes, bowing, counting, listening, etc), each one of which makes my head spin. Mostly, I have to wander around confused in the middle of this new world of music-making, hoping to identify a few signposts here and there until I have a mental map of the terrain.
That all sounds a lot like learning math to me, and I find it helpful (or at least humbling) to remember what it’s like to wander around lost. On the other hand, my students also remind me to be grateful that, unlike them, I wandered into this jungle of my own accord, and I’m happy to be here. And there are no tigers chasing me.