In many ways, tutoring is like music production.
Academic Coach Owen H. is a music producer whose job it is to take a musician’s idea through a dynamic journey that ultimately leads to a polished, professional song.
Vocalists arrive on his studio doorstep with a concept (for example, “I’m a fan of old school sound”), and Owen is tasked with supporting the musicians in their vision and building upon that idea to develop an actual song to be recorded. During the process, Owen edits, sings, plays instruments (bass, guitar, keyboard and drums), and works collaboratively with the artists to create the musical background, the hook, and the rhythm needed to produce a hit tune.
Owen says he uses both sides of his brain to succeed in this role – activating his mathematical prowess to generate a technical solution, while employing empathy to communicate with the different artists he meets.
Despite his success, Owen has never had formal training, and he didn’t play music in high school or college. Rather, he uses his math mind to understand spacing, scale formation, and note structure to arrange a desirable musical product. To that end, Owen takes a very focused approach to study. For him, this approach has been the most effective way to improve and thrive. Rather than be reliant upon natural ability, his single-minded dedication has provided Owen the room to grow as a musician and learn complicated skills later in life.
What makes his job as a music producer particularly exciting is that Owen often has to customize the process–to meet a particular vocalist’s within his/her comfort zone and to personalize the experience. Sometimes, if the needs goes beyond his capacity, Owen will ask a colleague who is an expert on a particular genre or technical skill to provide guidance for helping the team move forward.
Owen feels his most important responsibility is managing expectations, particularly in the middle of the process when musicians may feel particularly frustrated or fatigued by the journey of creating a song. Challenges that emerge part way through a project require creative efficiency and the ability to use time wisely. He trains for tight bursts, understanding that progress often happens in a confined period of time.
If you haven’t noticed, this story line is quite similar to the relationship test prep coaches have with students in supporting them to prepare for a standardized exam.
- It’s not necessarily about how “smart” you think you are on Day 1. It’s about commitment to focus and practice that enable students to improve their performance.
- Teamwork is key, as is knowing where your weaknesses are and the willingness to ask for help.
- Flexibility and creativity in the face of adversity allows for growth and creates opportunity for new ideas and ways of succeeding.
- Being able to “lock in and focus on a particular task” – followed by relief breaks – allows for efficient learning and coincides with the way our minds naturally operate.
Ultimately, Owen seeks to frame his work with students within the big picture, helping them understand that their goals are part of a larger process. Much like musicians seeking to create a stellar song, the only way for students to get where they want to go is to take things step by step.