My friend Paul is a musical terror. He’s freaky good at keys, slays the drums, grooves up a storm on bass, makes me nervous on guitar, and sings killer harmony.
But he’s a mediocre teacher. He’s happy to answer the many questions I throw his way, but Paul will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t like teaching, that he doesn’t have the patience for most students.
Tom Hess plays guitar in circles around me. He also claims to be the best guitar teacher in the world. But I’ve studied with him, and I gotta tell you: he’s guitar’s sleazy version of Anthony Robbins, not its Ann Sullivan. Third rate at best.
I have quite a few friends who out-guitar me in a wide variety of ways. But when our conversations turn to teaching, I’m occasionally horrified by the things they teach.
Which got me wondering:
Is Natural Talent An Impediment To Teaching?
Let’s start by defining what I mean by “talent,” and differentiating it from “skill.”
Talent, in my view, is your built-in aptitude for something.
Your skill, on the other hand, is how good you’ve become at something by working your ass off.
My friend Shonn has great talent for guitar––on the first day he picked it up, he was cleanly playing barre chords and grooving on the blues.
But his skill at guitar is quite low––even with that built-in head start, he still has a long way to go before he starts playing guitar in a band.
Steve Vai, who is alarmingly skilled at guitar, says that he has very little natural talent. He just worked incredibly hard, for a very long time.
In fact, one might argue that Vai’s real talent is grit and perseverance.
Talent may lead to being skilled, but no one is ever so talented that he doesn’t need to develop skill.
When Talent Interferes With Teaching
I mentioned that some of my guitar-teaching friends horrify me with their teaching methods. Just about every example I can think of falls under the umbrella of “too much too fast”––burying a student under an avalanche of true-but-useless information.
When you have Talent, you’re likely to remain enthusiastic long enough to gain Skill.
But having Talent also means that you have an intuitive understanding, which makes it hard to explain to others.
I was totally unprepared for this when I started teaching. Every single day I’d be asked a question that I didn’t have a good answer for, simply because I’d never consciously thought about it––I always understood it intuitively.
Teaching is skill completely independent from the thing being taught.
Teaching is a meta-skill, up one layer from the skill being taught.
Being a good guitar teacher requires you to study teaching and learning almost as hard as guitar itself.
Warren Buffet isn’t the best guy to teach you how to live within your means, even though he’s got it down cold.
Tiger Woods isn’t the best guy to give you advice on your golf swing, even though he would crush the living daylights out of you on a golf course.
And [insert super badass guitarist here] isn’t necessarily badass at teaching.