The way I see it, there is this thing, this Difficulty (capital D, for emphasis) to playing the cello. And it’s there; sitting, waiting, towering, looming, quivering.

Many a student has tried to devise strategies to get around this Difficulty.

Example A demonstrates that you cannot cover the Difficulty with laundry.

Example B depicts what happens when you try to use the Difficulty as a soccer ball.

Ah yes, example C: the student tries to talk her way out of the Difficulty, citing everything from a desire to play real music to my personal favorite, a challenge from YouTube. Yes, you can see a lot of things there. I once saw a monkey playing a pipe organ, but I don’t know if that sort of thing is the best item to base a technical challenge to one’s teacher on.

So you have a choice. The Difficulty is there. Finite, but impressive. Fairly successful students shoulder some of It at home, and then are faced with the remaining portion during their lessons. Students averse to battling the D on their own have a light home ethic, which tends to be more play than practice, and then have rather unpleasant lessons, if their teachers are worth their salt and keep focus on what the student needs*. Highly successful students are those who practice well and enjoy their lessons in a profound way. This begins a cycle of improvement and refinement in the quality of playing, practice, and tuition.

The magnificent William Pleeth described his lessons with Jacqueline DuPré as tennis matches. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like, “It was wonderful to see. I would hit the ball to her, and she would hit it back twice as hard.” Something to remember is that you don’t have to get good at the D in order to have home-run quality lessons. You just have to sit in it, battle it, work on it. It is the work, not the individual achievement that gets you traction. Do the work and reap the reward of momentum.

* A good teacher can focus on the task and also account for the fact that one approach does not fit all. Some students need to change pieces or scale keys, or adjust some other aspect of the curriculum to manifest this improvement. In a belated response to MT’s comment:It is not an option to not have the answer, if one is a high level teacher. If a student is faltering for any reason except personal crisis, I need to continue crafting a good approach for them. The cello asks much of the student. The teacher must be a fearless guide, recognizing things that are destructive to the process and pushing on, even if it leads to the student realizing that the cello is not for them. The real trouble happens when a student is lead to believe that they are doing what is necessary to succeed because the teacher punts† during difficult spells when really, it’s time to run the ball.

† Ooh! Future Glossary post right there.