Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can’t, Teach

© Digitalidad |

© Digitalidad |

When I started college, I had a decision to make. I knew that I loved music, it was my life. But I had to decide if I wanted to be an education major, or a performance major.  In other words, did I want to teach music, or did I want to perform music? For me it was simple. I didn’t care for performance. Performance never felt like who I was. I felt that sharing my music with the outside world was like sharing some intimate part of myself with people who had no business knowing about it. For me, it just didn’t feel natural, and I really didn’t get any gratification out of performing.

Then what did bring me joy? The teaching and coaching other musicians and helping them become better at what they did. I loved passing on knowledge that I had, inspiring others, that sort of thing. I believed I was pretty good at it too. I was good at recognizing talent, good at motivating others, or at least I think I was. For me, no amount of applause could ever make up for the joy that I felt to see a student achieve some previously unattained goal.  So what do I think when someone says “Those who can, do;  those who can’t, teach?” Yikes! That’s what I think!

My very first clarinet professor was an incredible clarinetist. He had performed all over the world, and had quite an impressive resume.  He could certainly “do,” but he could not teach. I burned up lots of my time in the studio that year with him cleaning his fingernails during my hour-long lesson. His fingernails were immaculate, but my musicianship was not advancing in any way. In fact, I suppose he thought I wasn’t worth the effort, because at the end of the first semester (after having hardly spoken to me) he said; “what are your grades like in your other classes?” What he meant was;  I’d like you to change your major and get out of the music program altogether.  Fortunately for me I had all A’s in every subject, so I was stuck with him and he was stuck with me. He did his best to make my lesson time miserable. I survived. Yet I did learn one thing from him, I learned how NOT to teach. Honestly, that might not have been such a bad lesson.

Teaching and performing are two very different skills. I do not mean to say that people who are performers cannot teach, for there are many talented individuals who can do both things extremely well.  But believing that because an artist is gifted in the “doing” of their art, they are automatically gifted in the “teaching” of their art, is just not necessarily true.

I suppose the phrase, “those who can, do;  those who can’t, teach,” has grown out of the fact that there are a surplus of people who wish to make a living out of “doing” their art. The world does not have enough room to sustain all of them, so many of them end up “falling back” on teaching their gift to others. My hope is that these “doers,” do not consider teaching and coaching a second-rate plan.

Artists need and deserve committed teachers who love what they do, who enjoy passing on the magic to others, who can direct and encourage others to be and do more with the skills they possess.Teachers and coaches provide the roots from which all artists grow. The act of coaching someone is the genesis of something much larger than any one individual. These professionals shape every performer and each performance you see. Coaches and teachers touch and impact it all. They are the necessary. They are the believers in, and the shapers of, talent.


Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can’t, Teach — 2 Comments

  1. i CAN do, i just…don’t. mainly because of the lifestyle. so i DO teach. both to inspire others and to stay as involved as i can. i NEED music in my life. both performing and teaching are rewarding in very different ways. performing is my first love and for many years was my life and did come naturally. but lifestyles change and i’m so happy that i have teaching as an outlet and to keep music alive in my life and the lives of my students.

    • Your comment is a lovely addition to the thoughts I posted about the importance of teachers. You can do both wonderfully, which is a credit to you. I also have seen you joyfully inspire others. Often a lifestyle consideration may lead us in that direction, and I am thankful that you keep music alive in your life and the lives of your lucky students!

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