Confidence is a funny thing. When you don’t receive positive feedback, you start to doubt your abilities. Even though you know you have some degree of skill and a deep love of what you’re doing, without that praise and support you question your purpose.
I sacked my bass teacher this week after months of hearing “you don’t practice enough”. I practice around six hours per week. He really meant you don’t practice what I think you should be practicing enough. He was probably right there. He never provided actual lessons or activities. He’d say “practice scales”. How about providing exercises or activities to make the tedious parts of music fun or interesting? Then I’d get told “you’re just rebelling” and “not working on things you don’t want to do.”
He would habitually toss off assignments during the last five minutes of a zoom session. I’d scramble to write it down before he hung up. I learned to take ten minutes to quickly record a sample of what we’d worked on so I didn’t forget. I was repeatedly criticized for “taking lousy notes”.
I love my bass. I began to doubt myself and hate my lessons. I had very few lessons where I’d leave with a smile and feeling good about myself. I starting getting anxiety stomachaches every week prior to my lesson. After I hung up from the lesson, I’d feel old and stupid and inept. I’d sit and cry from sheer frustration.
I didn’t purposely confuse arpeggios and pentatonic scales. I have always struggled with finding notes in different places on the fretboard. Trying to listen to music and identify what scale it’s written in (major or minor or blues or dominant) is very difficult to do. He’d play songs and make me guess, and I was usually wrong. I couldn’t hear it. I lost confidence each time, and then he’d say I needed to be more confident.
Listening to a piece of music and first trying to actually hear the bass part which is usually buried in the mix and then trying to find the root note and what key it’s played in is also difficult and extremely frustrating. He made me try to do this during lessons while he waited. I felt so stupid as I stumbled around and he judged the notes I would pick out or how I was doing it.
We rarely worked on actual songs or things I wanted to play. We did TWO songs I actually asked (insisted) that we do. I never got the impression that he cared what I wanted to play. I excelled at those two songs. He suggested music I had never heard of or songs I had zero interest in playing. We did bits and pieces. I don’t want to compose bass lines. I just want to play them.
Despite knowing I have social anxiety disorder, he kept saying that I should play with other people. He suggested open microphone nights and walking up to strangers or even contacting strangers on Craigslist. While I appreciate the fact that he thought I was competent enough, approaching strangers and playing confidently in front of them would never have been a possibility for me.
I was with him for almost two years, since July 13, 2021 (twenty-two months). I’m not a quitter, and you can’t say I didn’t give it a good try. I just got tired of his method of teaching (bullying) and the resulting loss of faith in my own skills.
Confidence for the socially inept is a hard won commodity. Over the last five years I fought hard to get where I am musically. I refuse to let a bully strip me of that.