What Can We Learn From Our Students?

It’s amazing the “newness” that’s spawned when the teacher becomes the student

December 6, 2018

When trying to learn something new, like, say, the bass, it’s always beneficial to have a good, competent teacher, someone who knows more than you do, someone who can show you things you can’t figure out for yourself. Oftentimes without expecting it, though, the roles of teacher and student are reversed, with the student providing unexpected insights and knowledge to the teacher.

This very subject came up at one of the Warwick Bass Camps I attended a few years ago in Markneukirchen, Germany. Over the years, the roster of Warwick “professors” has included Victor Wooten, Leland Sklar, Stu Hamm, Ryan Martinie, David Ellefson, Gary Willis, Felix Pastorius, Chuck Rainey, John Patitucci, Adam Nitti, and several other notable bassists. Each year, on the last day of camp, all the teachers and students would gather for a wrap-up Q&A forum, recounting what was learned during the previous week, and what takeaways the students could use to apply to their bass playing prowess as a result of what they had learned from their teachers.

Chris Loftlin learns a lot from his students

During the Q&A one year, a student commented on how much the attendees had learned from the teachers, but was also curious to know what, if anything, the teachers had learned from students. The teachers smiled humbly and proudly, citing several examples of how they’d learned to look at various approaches to bass playing in ways they’d never thought of before.

The topic also came up in this week’s interview with Chris Loftlin (coincidentally, a Warwick artist). Chris’ interview was conducted on the campus of Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he teaches bass. Berklee is a very unique place to study bass. Every year, hundreds of students amass all kinds of bass knowledge from Chris and the rest of the outstanding bass faculty members, led by Steve Bailey, many of whom have been at the school upwards of 20, 30, and in some cases, over 40 years. While music has changed immeasurably over the decades, aided by technological advances that couldn’t have been imagined even just a few years ago, the young generation has a lot to offer the “sage elders,” who, in turn, set a fine example of always keeping an open mind, with a never-ending willingness for continued learning.

“They all have really great ideas,” Chris says about his students, “and they’re really excited about bass!” His enthusiasm is palpable and he gets very animated when he describes the current crop of young bass players. His students are endlessly introducing him to different points of view, often taking music from a generation or two ago and melding it with new ideas, frequently from various countries and cultures. The fusion of these different ideas results in some truly fascinating hybrids of new music, taking the music to a brand new level. “And it’s great,” says Chris. “It’s completely great!”

We can learn a lot from our students, our kids, or anyone else to whom we’re “supposed” to be intellectually superior. There’s no telling how many new ways we might find to appreciate the things we thought we already knew, so let’s keep listening to what these people have to say.

How about you? Do you have a thought about something you’ve learned, perhaps unexpectedly, from a student, a child, or somebody else? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Chris here.

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