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{11} The “Mental Landscape” of the student

May 9, 2017

{11} The “Mental Landscape” of the student

In the exchange of information between the teacher and student during a lesson, there is a lot more going on than first meets the eye.


We can liken this situation to the following.  There is someone who wishes to give to her good friend some new flowers for her flower garden.   The question for latter will be where to put the flowers so that they harmonize and blend with the flowers that are already there.

Are there specific places where the new flowers are most able to relate with nearby flowers that are already there; flowers that are already firmly rooted?  If not, is there a way to avoid putting them where they will clash, or cause dissonance, with the neighboring flowers.

Wherever it is put, will the new flowers be able to adapt to the new situation, will it get enough attention, light or nutriment.

If the flower-giver is a good friend, she may already know what the other flowers are that are already there, and will try to purchase flowers that might fit in.


Bringing the situation back to the one we started with, the teacher should try to be aware of the unspoken content of the student’s mind – a sort of hidden inner flower garden.  Insights into this inner self usually come outside the general flow of the lesson.  They arrive unexpectedly, in fleeting moments…  from an ephemeral look on the face, an unconscious but revealing gesture, a first and immediate reaction to something.  They can come from chance remarks, whose tone of voice, context and timing are often more important and more revealing than the content.  The teacher should intuit what the reason is behind a student’s question.  The teacher can consider too what questions have surprisingly not been asked.   As one thing leads to another during the lesson, where does the next thing come from.

Opportunities in the lesson to peer into the inner thoughts and feelings of the student come infrequently, and usually last for a brief moment.  They can easily be missed.   A look on the face that lasts an instant before subsiding into a more practiced look.  Keep watch on the eyes for they are often first to display a strong emotion, though that look be extinguished within a moment or two.


Moments of vulnerability, as when the student is unfocused, or has just made a mistake.  At that instant, a fissure opens into the deeper self. Mistakes in particular are useful because for a moment both can see into the student’s inner self: the place in which the true musician lies.   Making a mistake, especially in front of someone else, creates a feeling of vulnerability, a deep rooted feeling, that keeps company with other deep, more musically related feelings.

One doesn’t have to be a trained psychologist to notice these things.  It comes about more from feeling contact with the student that is renewed moment to moment throughout the lesson.


We want new information given to the student to become assimilated with the totality of previously assimilated information, where it can loose its identity as a separate chunk of knowledge and join in harmony with the rest of the student’s mind.

Everything that the teacher can do to gain an insight into the student’s mental landscape is of great value, and contributes to a wise selection of how to explain, how to frame, etc. the current ‘new’ piece of information. It is not enough to simply present a piece of information, no matter how obvious and logical it may seem.  There are always several or more ways of presenting the same material to the student.  It is helpful to use the one that is most likely to fit in the inner landscape we are talking about rather than one that cannot find a comfortable place in the student’s mind.

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