“And when you say: ‘Give me also a share in these gifts which you have found so helpful,’ I reply that I am anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” - Seneca, Letters from a Stoic 6.4
Many musicians have the opportunity to share what they have learned with others. This can be in a formal setting, like when we offer private instruction, or informally, like giving a few helpful tips to a friend or family member. Whatever the circumstance, teaching is valuable to those we help, to ourselves, and to the world of music.
Learning music is a challenging endeavor. There are many moving pieces, which can be overwhelming and confusing. This makes receiving assistance from an experienced musician a crucial asset to students of music, especially those who are just starting out. In his book Zen Guitar, Philip Toshio Sudo describes himself as a guide, doing so “in the spirit of the Japanese sensei—not ‘teacher,’ as the word is commonly translated but, literally, ‘one who has gone before.’” A musician who is further along the path knows what it takes to get there. By sharing their insights with someone less experienced, they can show them exactly where to go and what to work on. Having these clear directions and instructions can prevent a student from becoming lost or giving up.
Those of us who impart our knowledge onto others also reap substantial rewards. Not only do we experience the satisfaction of helping a fellow musician, we also solidify what we know for ourselves. In Victor Wooten’s The Spirit of Music, Victor explains, “I had to walk the path and teach myself. And the best way to completely teach myself was to teach someone else…”. As we explain a technique or concept to a student, we are able to reinforce what we know, and also see where there might be holes in our understanding. This makes teaching one of the best ways to get better at our own craft.
On a broader scale, helping other musicians learn and grow contributes to music as a whole. Music is best experienced with other people; whether we’re listening together, creating, or just jamming. The more of us there are, the more potential musical connections we can make. It also means an increase in the number of different perspectives, experiences, and tastes, which helps music to thrive and continue evolving.
No matter how we look at it, teaching music is a gift. By sharing what we’ve learned, we can make the journey easier for someone else, strengthen our own craft, and build a strong musical community with a wide variety of friends to share the experience with.