Bruising the Ego, Responsibly

We’ve all had moments when we’ve lost all inspiration and any desire to pursue music.

These moments are heavy ego bruisers: “I suck; I’ll never be any good; I want to quit.” Some quit, others recover and continue the slog.

Having a bruised ego may be a setback, but in the end, it could also make us stronger and more resolute. Oscar’s story is classic. This is from his autobiography A Jazz Odyssey:

“One afternoon Pop walked in, called me as he wound up his gramophone and said, “Tell me what you think of this piano player.” I later found out it was Art Tatum playing the Tiger Rag…

…A total sense of frustration came over me. First, it was unbelievable to me that this man could play that way. Second, it was obvious that, though blind, he had accomplished pianistically worlds more than I had been able to do with my sight. I sank into a morass of dejection and would not go near a piano for a month, so incredible was this music that I heard and so impressed was I at its performance. I can recall being encouraged to play by various members of my family, but I could not respond.”

Teachers have to deal with all kinds of egos. We also have a special vantage point where all the ego’s vulnerabilities and insecurities are exposed.

We may decide that deliberately bruising a student’s ego is exactly what she needs to grow and succeed. But is it beneficial for a teacher to bruise an ego to the point where the student is significantly set back? To the point where she’s saying to herself: “I suck; I’ll never be any good; I want to quit.”?

I have talented friends whom have entered long periods of “music depression” because of something their teacher said. I’m always hearing about ruthless teachers who pride themselves on brutal honesty, even if it drives their students to cry and quit. Is this really effective?

I don’t think so. Navigating around students’ egos should be done more responsibly. For example, if a bruising is in order, perhaps it should be treated simultaneously with doses of inspiration!

What do you think?

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