What Jack Nicklaus Taught Me About Teaching Music

You don't have to be a fan of golf to recognize the name Jack Nicklaus. One of the best of all time, several of his records still stand today in an era dominated by "forgiving" golf clubs, "spin reducing, extra distance" golf balls, and overly-athletic swinging that is leading to back/knee problems and shortened careers. Jack's biggest victories were spread out over 24 years.

To what does Jack credit his success more than any other factor? His ability to "manage the course." This essentially means his ability to know his own strengths, weaknesses, and the course well enough to make the best decision prior to each shot. Sounds simple, but it's not.

"I had always realized that golf is a two-part game: striking the ball and managing yourself and the course. Like most amateurs, however, I'd worked hardest during my learning years on part one....

As a handicap golfer you are always being told you would score better if you would think more about strategy and less about the swing -- to put tactics ahead of technique when actually playing on the course. This is almost certainly true, but as a piece of advice it's pretty useless unless you know or can discover exactly how to do that.....And here's the real rub: almost all golf instruction, both direct and written, focuses almost entirely on striking the ball rather than playing the game. In short, golfers suffer from too much information about its physical elements and too little information about the mental qualities necessary to use these to maximum effect."

How complete was your music education? Were you taught how to manage the course, or were you merely taught how to hit the ball? Did you have college professors who had "been on the course" long enough to help you understand course management, or were they really just your swing coaches?

Coordinating a band, orchestra, or choir program...or even an entire music department...requires excellent course management. We've all seen teachers who are a "show of force" musically but lack the planning, tact, and caring necessary for real teaching success. After a handful of years these folks are either looking for greener pastures as swing coaches or spending the latter half of their careers frustrated and jaded. They can surely hit the ball a long way, but as the great golf teacher Harvey Penick said:

"The woods are full of long hitters."

Spend some time thinking about the course. Jack had to teach himself, and so do you. Learn to manage that, and you'll be a more successful teacher...and a happier one as well.

5 responses
Great post. The last couple years I've found that we make better music when I spend less time beating details into them and more time building relationships. Once the kids care, they take care of the details themselves.
I like this idea and am happy to read about the distinction and importance of managing the course vs hitting the ball. Would you have any examples of each to give to an individual entering the profession that would further explain the idea?
Here's one of many areas to get you started: http://teachingmusic.posthaven.com/reducing-sho...
This is one of the most important lessons I have learned over the past year and has caused me to radically alter my philosophy of music education. I don't think I teach anything the same way that I did in previous years. This has been a good thing for my program and for myself. Thanks for reaffirming that I am on the right track.
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