Most of us are teachers, whether full time or part time, for a living or not. As players, we can benefit from our teaching in that it can keep us engaged in our own practicing. We listen, evaluate, instruct, listen again, evaluate again… it is a cyclical process if the teaching (or practice) is to be effective. In my practice I can tell that me the teacher is working for me the player. I find myself increasingly able to be that teacher, which is what I ask of my students. After all, they spend an hour per week with me, and they spend forever with themselves. Their potential (and your and my potential) for self teaching is immense.
I have often heard it said that musical skill benefits other areas of life. This is not just to say that art enriches life, which it certainly does, but that music actually promotes practical life skills. Supposedly, employers like to hire folks with backgrounds in music. I have puzzled over that a bit; the connection between discipline and musical skill is obvious but what else is there about musical development that could make someone a better worker? Or a better person?
Being of a skeptical nature, I would stop short of saying the above notions about musicians are necessarily true, but I have a few ideas that lend them credence. When we practice or teach we evaluate a phrase, a technique, perhaps a single performance. Occasionally we step back and look at our playing as a whole thing but more often we try to construct improvement on small parts of the whole. One brick at a time. A little polish here, a little tweak there, followed by repetition ad nauseum. Maybe we seek refinement of low register articulation or tone, or we want to come up with a better approach to a singing vibrato style. Or we just want the fingers to fire in the right sequence. Sadly, most of us experience the occasional “heck with it” moments when we resist the urge to throw the horn down the stairs, brush our hands off, and be done with it. But most often we can work more constructively- one brick at a time. Those of us who have been playing for a long time understand that the building process is not quick, nor is it ever really finished.
My experiences are relevant to you, and yours to me, because we are human and we share similar emotions and struggles. My theory, and thence my suggestion, is based on the little polish here, the little tweak there, and the focus on one brick at a time. What I can improve about myself is not a matter of becoming someone I am not but about improving what I hope is fundamentally good, just a little at a time. A work ethic, a tendency toward compassion, the ability to keep criticism constructive-these are all areas that can benefit from baby step improvements. Interestingly, they are also qualities that make good teachers.
Perhaps employers understand on some level that musicians tend to be people who work on making themselves better, both at what they do and who they are. If we can put away the arrogance that often comes with musical territory, us musicians who so often evaluate and seek to better our skills might better ourselves too.