"Look at that."
I pointed up at a small wooden construction on a large oak tree during a family walk. My eldest son noticed it straight away, but my youngest couldn't make out what I was looking at.
"It's a bat box, how cool is that?"
My youngest was still searching the skyline in an attempt to catch up with the rest of us.
What happens in this situation? I'm sure everyone would do the same. I crouched down to my 8 year old's eye level and tried to understand his field of vision. I then pointed my finger and asked him to follow it. I described all the features of my view in distance order:
"Do you see the bush just in front of us?"
"Look above it and follow the telephone wires to the big oak tree. Then look halfway up the tree and you should see a wooden box with a small letterbox type hole at the bottom"
"Oh yeah!" Once it had been pointed out we then talked about the design, why it was there, how bats lived and we even went home and made our own bat box and nailed it to a tree in our back garden.
This is of course a demonstration of a common process. I thought it relevant to mention because I have a lot of students in a similar situation with their music. The music is there, but they can't hear it. They understand the theory but they can't apply it. They are intelligent people but, in this instance...they just don't get it! I've had so many students like this and sometimes I feel like I'm squeezing blood from a stone or banging my head against a brick wall, but I always try to find a way to describe the process more efficiently and relevant to them as an individual. Think back to my son on the walk. It would be pointless to immediately launch into a lecture about the designs of bat boxes because he has no comprehension of what one even is. Neither would it be necessary to calculate the exact angles of sight as his knowledge is limited to up, down, left and right (mostly the correct way round!) and very recently, right angles.
As a teacher I feel it's important to point the way until the object is seen or the lightbulb switches on. It's often not the student's fault as everyone has a unique approach to learning and perceiving the world. My son could have easy felt embarrassed by not being able to immediately see the bat box. He could have also felt stupid for not even knowing what one was. My other son was probably feeling smug at this point because he could see it and he knew what one was. I could have felt frustrated because we were spending a long time pointing it out whilst standing in the middle of a country road. My son might have compared himself to others and felt he was the only one who couldn't see it but my experience told me that it's unlikely that a lot of 8 year olds would know what one was or had seen one before. It's interesting and often necessary to jump into someone else's shoes to see what they see, hear what they hear and feel what they feel. That is usually the way to pointing the direction and showing the way. Once you've locked onto to the object of interest, you can then expand and explore the topic in full.
I have often felt that as a student I was 'blind' to a lot of concepts. I also felt that I was behind, worse than others, unable to comprehend, untalented. Was this true? Probably not. In hindsight I probably needed time, motivation and someone to show me the way.
If you know that you are weak in a particular area of music then target it in as many different ways as possible. It's often the case that you will 'get it' when it's presented in a way which works for you. Once you know what that way is, you can recreate this process for future discoveries.
Here's our homemade bat box: