The Good and the Bad


Anne Sullivan taught music theory and ear training at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1982–2002. She teaches harp at the University of Delaware and helps harpists find harp happiness at

Understanding what makes a lesson good or bad can help both student and teacher

Student Scenario #1: In a recent lesson, I felt like I came down pretty hard on a student who hadn’t been practicing. She has been slacking off for a while now, and I really called her to task on it. She seemed to understand my comments, and  she promised to do better. But when her mother picked her up and asked, “How was your lesson?” she smiled and said, “Great!” Did she not get the point?

Student Scenario #2: My student’s mother called me, worried because her daughter has said several times lately that she had a bad lesson and seemed very discouraged. She was unable to tell her mother clearly why her lesson was bad, other than that she played everything wrong. Actually, I feel we have been doing lots of good, albeit hard, work in the lessons and that she was making good progress. How can I fix this misunderstanding?

What is a “good” lesson? What is a “bad” lesson? And from whose point of view?

I had a student once who would always ask me at the end of a lesson, “Did I have a good lesson?” I usually humored her and responded with a nod and a smile.

One day, though, I turned the tables and asked her if she thought she had a good lesson. She started to laugh and then suddenly became serious. “How would I know?” she asked. “You’re the teacher.”

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