Let us keep looking in spite of everything. Let us keep searching. It is indeed the best method for finding, and perhaps, thanks to our efforts, the verdict we will give such a patient tomorrow will not be the same that we must give this patient today.
- Charcot, LM, February 28, 1888, p.174
We have to admit that we have only abandoned hypnosis in our methods to discover suggestion again in the shape of transference.
- Freud, 1938
It is clear that both Charcot and Freud realized that suggestion was inevitable in the healing professions. But what about piano lessons? Or, other private music instruction? Every year thousands of people will sign up for piano lessons, and many others, other types of private music instruction. The sad ending to many of these stories remains the same today; that most of the people who sign up for lessons will drop out before they attain enough knowledge to replicate what they know so they can use it for their own benefit. Stated differently, premature dropout is the norm. What starts out to be a dream of creative inspiration at the instrument ends for many in sadness. What happens?

I have proposed elsewhere two theories of mind-body interaction (Zinn, 2002) in which suggestion and learning are central. Piano lessons for many people turns in to drudgery and shame. Drugery comes from the practice expectations, and the shame from not fulfilling them. So, what is the issue here? One primary issue in operation appears to be the teaching model itself. If I suggest to you that your child goes to a school that meets just once per week, where new things are presented rapid-fire, then the child is give homework to be done ALL WEEK, spread out effectively, done diligently, every day, with no help from you, what do you suppose would happen? What would you have done as a child? The issue (not problem) is the human condition. People just do not operate this way. The reinforcement (delivery of the homework to the teacher) is just too far away, and there would be lots of ‘forgetting,’ putting it off, not having time, all week, then on the day before the school day, everything would be crammed. Of course, students would largely forget what the teacher said (since they waited so long to act on it), and grades would flounder. Would anyone in their right mind blame the child? No, not with the information we have today; we would know that the problem would be with a model whereby children were expected to learn about difficult information, then go home all week and carry out complex assignments on their own.

In private music lessons, however, this problem is seen entirely differently. When the student (can be an adult, but most beginners are between 6 and 8), is placed in an identical situation (once per week contact, difficult assignment, expected to do it alone), does not practice his or her ‘piano lesson,’ or only practices parts of it, on a day or two, this person is not seen as a victim of a problematic model; instead, this person is seen as either lazy (unmotivated), untalented, or perhaps both. Stated differently, when huge numbers of normal, healthy people start doing failing at something in the absence of any specific identifiable pathology (depression, psychosis, etc) or if the symptoms are out of proportion to normal behavior for the people, it is assumed that they are caused by psychosocial factors. In this case, the person presenting the symptoms (little practice) are diagnosed as ‘slackers,’ or ‘having no talent.’ This is known as diagnosis by exclusion, and it is not rational, because of one salient feature: proper tests, hypotheses and investigations etc., were not used to look at the problem. It is always necessary with other ‘diagnoses,’ medical or psychosocial, to try to document the presence of psychosocial factors that can (A) amplify symptoms,or (B) simply cause psychosocial perceptions of threat, turning the symptoms into maladaptive behavior (e.g., avoidance), independent of any hypothesized genetic failure or personal inadequacy. This type of intervention has not been done systematically to date in the arts. This is specifically what I am speaking of; people who get ‘diagnosed’ as being an ‘unmotivated “kid today,” or worse yet, having a genetic defect (can’t carry a tune). There is so engrained in our society that many reading this article will defend the very nature of inadequacy, rather than looking at it from a different viewpoint.

Think of it this way—the ‘symptoms’ (avoidance behaviors) are not gross overt psychopathology and do not meet the DSM IV (American Psychiatric Association) criteria for any sort of disorder. Thus, a substantial proportion of people in the music instruction system do not fit neatly into existing categories of mental or physical disease. Furthermore, the current system of diagnosing student after student, based on memory is simply inaccurate in reaching any sort of diagnosis. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association described diagnosis by exclusion as "a very large blind spot". It is a large blind spot.

Let’s go back to the problem of shame (being diagnosed as being genetically inferior by not having talent), or a “kid today, who just doesn’t care (lacks motivation, etc.)” which is essentially the same thing, implying that the gene pool in this generation is somehow inferior to the prior generation. What happens to these former music students, or what happens to them even if they persist in lessons, regardless of the perception of them by the adult community? Many develop functional somatic symptoms (estimated 76% of all artists, Performing Arts Medicine Assn.), such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain. Why? Because they do not have an effective means of dealing with the diagnosis given to them, and they have accepted these “facts” to be true.

Regardless of what happens to the participants, the problem here is a failed teaching model, or more specifically, a model which has not been challenged by scientific evidence, either from psychology or education. For example, our school system has transformed itself through such scientific inquiry, and as a result, is a much different place than it was 100 years ago. In private music instruction, the same cannot be said. People giving lessons are not required to have formal training in psychology or education, leaving them vulnerable to the same logical errors that all of us are vulnerable to without education. The music teacher can be distressed by his or her own perceptions, memories, or moods that are blocked from consciousness. The memories may pertain to recent painful perceptions or to old traumatic memory wounds opened up by a student who is having a lot of trouble doing assignments. Current events like these color and distort current perceptions, memories, moods and behaviors. Without training, these problems carry on inter-generationally, by people who intend no harm. Another problem comes to exist--the problem of identifying former students who do not recall or are unwilling to report traumatic or distressing events. Information about these events frequently remains inaccessible to our current methods of inquiry (there are not many good therapy models intact to aid the person). This tendency to forget distressing memories is known as Betrayal Trauma, and accounts for people’s tendency to block painful memories. All the student is left with is their own perception of what seems to them to be their own gross inadequacy.

Since there is no agency or oversight, it is up to those doing the teaching to seek such education in social science, but many do not. This population is highly trained in their art, but lacks the same training in education or psychology, the two areas of study that offer the most help in terms of delivery of their goods. Until such requirements exist, it is likely that things will not change. After all, education and psychology had to create their own oversight bodies, and even in some cases, make it illegal to operate without a license.* Until that happens, the suggestibility of small children will be overlooked, and they will continue to be labeled by those around them for simply being human—responding to the situational constraints around them, and not knowing enough to overcome them.

The private music lesson needs an overhaul. It needs to be placed squarely in the context of normal human behavior, not something elusive and impossible to define like talent. People only persist in the face of adversity for so long, and children are at risk to simply give up, given their limited skill base and immaturity. Until we take a long, hard look at what we are doing to young music students, this problem will go on.

* It is now common for teachers to claim they are “licensed.” That “licensing” is roughly the same as a non-disclosure agreement, appearing in some patented types of private instruction. It in no way guarantees any level of psychosocial competency. To my knowledge, the few claims of educational research are only claims; when one looks at the research itself, it does not fit the definition (no peer review, no replication requirement, etc.). In short, there is a movement by some to represent themselves as ‘scientific,’ while no science exists behind their claims.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Marcie Zinn is a personal empowerment expert who specializes in Performing Arts. Marcie Zinn is a person who can honestly say she is a performance Psychologist, Classical Pianist, consultant, speaker and author. With over 24 years as an expert in Performing Arts Psychology, Marcie works with the entire spectrum; from preschool pianists to Concert Artists. She continually addresses artists' issues through an effective comaination of scientific research (both hers and others) and traditional arts education practices. Her practical, mind-body approach to Peak Performance is about education--about knowing and recognizing the multi-facctorial nature of artist's problems and learning to address all of the effectively.

Dr. Zinn grew up in Central Illinois and became interested in psychology early in her music career. After graduating Summa Cum Laude with her degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, working with Donald Walker, she then earned her master's degree in 1988, then here doctorate at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2003.

Even though Dr. Marcie is trained to be a therapist, she knew that she would do her best as an expert instructor, using her skills directly in the Performing Arts. In 1991, she founded Musician's Stress Management (later ArtsNova Consulting Group), a company that provides servicees to all artists through better teaching practices, consulting for many typical scenarios arising in the arts through behavior analysis, biofeedback assesesment and training, helping artists through her Peak Performance techniques, and teaching. She and he is a member of the American Psychological Society, the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, the American Psychological Association, Division 10 of the American Psychological Association, and the Applied Arts Psychology Society, which she founded.

Dr. Marcie also founded a subspecialty, Performing Arts Psychophysiology, through the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. She was an invited editor for one of their publications, Biofeedback, and has published 25 articles and abstracts in scientific journals. Her book Healthy Piano Playing, has recently been cited as one of the top ten books for Piano Pedagogy.

Marcie currently lives between Dublin, CA and Chicago, managing her company, starting a Journal for Arts Psychology Society, and working with her husband, Mark.