Bach or Bark?

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Cello By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Cello
Last updated: 29/06/2017
Tags: cello, dogs, learning

Last summer, my girlfriend and I decided to get a dog. Not just a dog, a puppy. It's fair to say that the last year has been one of the most frustrating, tiring, but ultimately rewarding experiences of my life. We now have a pretty well-behaved dog who is a pleasure to spend time with but it wasn't always the case. We spent many months teaching him basic obedience and it was during this time that, to my surprise, I found myself drawing on my instrumental training as a way of dealing with the stresses of dog training.

The patience and discipline required to learn an instrument should not be underestimated and nor should it be undervalued as a transferable life skill. By treating my dog like a student, rather than an animal that needed to be tamed, the whole process became much more enjoyable for the both of us. It occurred to me that, without wanting to sound ridiculous, people are not that different to dogs; both species crave security and respond better to regular, meaningful, and tangible rewards. My musical background informed my dog training and now the same process is happening in reverse. My dog is teaching me a thing or two!

It's all very well for a tutor to say to a student "keep it up, you'll appreciate it one day!" but that means very little to the student who is struggling with a basic concept or technique. By setting short terms goals and making each task an achievable challenge it becomes possible to achieve rather more than expected with seemingly less effort. 

Another dog-inspired titbit I like to tell students is the art of doing the least amount necessary. This is not, however, to be confused with just being lazy. If my dog wants to go somewhere or do something, he will take the shortest, most direct route. As humans, we often over-complicate things and can manage to turn something relatively simple into a complicated, multi-step procedure. A good example of this is shifting on the cello; something many students worry about. In their anxiousness to be quick and accurate, students often add many extraneous movements to an action that really should be quite straightforward. By thinking more like a dog, one can start to cut out these troubling, extraneous movements and go straight from A to B without any of the unnecessary fuss in between.

Playing an instrument doesn't need to be made more complicated than it already is. Much in the way I learned to work with my dog, I now try to think of my teaching as a process of learning that happens both ways. The best thing about being a musician is we never stop learning and improving. We're all in it together and by remaining positive we can achieve great things.


Matthew Barlow Cello Teacher (South West London)

About The Author

Hi, my name is Matt. I'm a freelance cellist, pianist, tutor, actor, comedian, and writer.




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