A very close friend of mine, let's call him David, in his mid-thirties has just (1 year and a half) recovered from a very hard and horrifying for his environment state of drug abuse and isolation that lasted more than 10 years in a culminating manner.

With a strong physique (former martial arts athlete) and a preference for vigilance-inducing drugs he was not easy to cope with. Things got very tense as the drugs started causing him hallucinations with a more lasting effect and with violent outbursts, which had legal backfires to him.

Now after a close relative of his took him with her, David has been reducing the drugs he uses, to the point that I think that now he is not using them at all (more because he realized that they started making him really freak out and less in respect of others). His abstaining was accompanied with an effort to learn to play music (he played the guitar as a teen), which now takes almost all of his day. He is trying to learn different instruments at the same time and he really tries hard, attending classes for mandolin and percussion and spending many hours practicing.

The thing is that my wife has been playing mandolin since she was a kid and when we all meet, he tries to check his progress with her get a compliment for his progress from her. But what my wife thinks is that his mandolin teacher, a woman younger than him, is approaching him in an understandable at some point but insincere way, not telling him the truth about his progress, not giving him basic guidance when he clearly lacks it, guiding him to practice stuff he is the least capable to practice, suggesting that he would be helped if he bought a better instrument, when she doesn't even tell him to clean his instrument, almost umplayble from dirt on the strings.

It is clear that David has shown mistrust for her competency, trying to use tricks he sees in youtube that can by no means truly handle, or he has made her feel awkward, requesting that she plays stuff she hasn't practiced etc and in general he seems impatient and trying to achieve more than reasonably possible (like trying to make up at once for all the time gone) and even the thing with the new mandolin purchase could easily be something he suggested. That is why I called her behaviour understandable at some point, she clearly doesn't want to confront him with the truth or to put pressure on him and herself or she feels frightened by him, so she gives completely random lessons, with exercises in books highly advanced, and seemingly she just lets him do whatever he wants as long as she keeps her lesson (its a private music school).

So while David has made some progress (he exercises many many hours and that would happen either way) it is clear that his mandolin lesson is a complete waste of time. My wife vaguely made some hints for the whole thing but his frustation caused her to stop and the next time she avoided telling him what she thought (kind of like his teacher).

The thing is that in his other lesson he seems to be getting it better. The percussion teacher is a man and it seems that he is getting David to start from basic stuff, which is hard for David but he is handling it which is hard for David because he has to try very hard and not in the way he was used to (to do the things as he wishes, like playing along youtube songs without listening the least to what he is playing or playing a song at whatever tempo as if music is all about speed and nothing else). The percussion teacher has imposed some methodology on him and David is getting very slow results (but he is getting them) instead of a progress that is mostly in his head. I guess as a man his percussion teacher is not that much worried to confront him.

So I would like to say or give a hint to David about his mandolin progress and his lesson, because I believe he is kinda getting deceived. How could I do that in a way that will help him go on (perhaps with a better teacher) and not hurt his feelings or utterly frustrate him?

EDIT Thank you for your answers so far. I rephrased some things to make some points mentioned more clear.

  • Thanks for all the answers. It's been some months now, and David is making a true progress, working very very hard. As it turns out by progressing he is becoming more aligned with the perspective of his teacher. Perhaps she knew that early on and just let him do his thing waiting for this alignment.
    – oupoup
    Dec 18, 2018 at 8:03

4 Answers 4


In this kind of situation, you should come to him prepared to offer him an alternative or your assistance/support in finding an alternative.

Right now, David is receiving some amount of comfort from just having a teacher whether she's effective or not. The lack of teacher and the breaking of trust with that teacher is going to be very detrimental to him if not handled in a seamless way.

Saying something like:

David, I've spoken to my wife about your mandolin progress and it doesn't seem to be going as well as it should be. We think your teacher is a bad fit for you and would like to help you find a better one.

I really want to emphasize that some support structure should be offered when this news is delivered. If he is left feeling betrayed without assistance to remedying his situation, it will most likely hurt him far more.

  • @spiralsucculent The interpersonal solution is to come to him with a solution to his problem instead of just telling him and leaving him dry. I could edit out the advice/suggestion that goes along with it, if that would make my answer better. Otherwise, my answer also serves as a sort of frame challenge to telling him without having a way to help him.
    – Arthas
    Mar 26, 2018 at 18:53
  • imo Your answer is not a clear frame challenge, nor is the concept of "bring a solution to a problem you are pointing out" clearly (framed as) an IPS skill. Mar 26, 2018 at 18:58

Basically, it looks like David is trying to replace one addiction with another one ( as far as I know this is a regular thing for those who recovered from heavy drugs - like methadone,morphine,fentanyl, or other opioids.) So, it seems to me, that it would be a tough thing to do no matter what you decide.

If you decide to tell him the truth, he would probably take it too personal, which makes a drug relapse very possible.

However, if you decide to pretend he is doing great with mandoline, the truth would come out anyway, and consequences could be just as damaging.

Thus, I would probably try just to talk to him and find out what he really thinks about his classes. Help him to come to a personal conclusion, do not push on him. You need to make sure David does not feel guilty because the lack of success. However, you should give the constructive critisism to a mandoline teacher if you believe this is important.


Why doesn't your wife simply reply to David with her direct observations? David wants to know how he's progressing, so he asks her.

Here's a good response: "It sounds like you still haven't learned a few basics, David. Are you working on strumming rhythms and scales?"

Your wife won't help David by making nice and hiding her opinion from him. Her niceness might actually unhelpfully make David think that everything is fine, in spite of his own thinking on the subject.

However: I do not advise for you and your wife to tell David what you think about his teacher, unless he asks. From your post, he is checking his progress. So tell him his progress!

I suppose that if he checks his progress more than once over time with your wife, and there isn't real progress, and he agrees about that... then maybe he will ask why that is. That is your opportunity to talk about the teacher and what might be happening during lessons.

Be careful to understand the difference between worthwhile speculation (maybe he intimidates the teacher) and direct knowledge (he hasn't even tuned his mandolin). If you speculate a possible fault, ask a question about it... but don't assert it! If you were wrong, then your wife would be the one worthy of "mistrust for her competency"!

  • 1
    This answer does not really address the interpersonal skills of the question and is more of a "try this." Mar 26, 2018 at 17:04
  • The question isn't purely in the interpersonal skills spectrum, I think. Yes, there is an aspect of the delicateness of the personalities, but I believe that the main point is that the OP knows "the truth" but doesn't know how to make David know "the truth" without saying something bad about the teacher. I just read the question better... here comes an edit... Mar 26, 2018 at 17:33
  • Nearly all questions we get here have a bit of thats not specifically interpersonal, but only the interpersonal bits are on topic, so answers are expected to be interpersonal focused. Mar 26, 2018 at 17:42
  • What do you think of my edit? I think this is closer to the interpersonal skills focus. Mar 26, 2018 at 17:43
  • 1
    Regarding the sources, I am only claiming to make a plausible analysis, which the OP is free to take or leave. If I can identify a true aspect that had been unexamined, that is my contribution. Mar 26, 2018 at 17:53

I do not have personal experience with heavy stimulant users, but I have had plenty of practice in life finding ways to share my point of view with people who are somewhat hostile to new or dissenting ideas.

My approach to sharing with David my opinion that his mandolin lessons are not as productive as they could be would be an indirect one. Instead of presenting your opinion directly by saying something like:

I feel like your mandolin teacher is not teaching you very well

Try to instead guide the conversation to have this be the concluding takeaway for David of a dialogue between the two of you. People are rarely hostile to ideas they come up with "on their own."

You've said that David has one teacher for percussion who is following a good progression of difficulty that seems to be working well for David. The goal is to have David recognize the difference between his percussion and mandolin development and identify the teaching style/direction as a cause of that difference.

I obviously cannot script out an entire conversation between you and David, but when you have an opportunity to have a semi-casual, comfortable one on one (or maybe 3 person with your wife involved and prepped for the intended topic) 15-20 minute conversation, you could start approaching the topic with a question about the lessons and how they are going.

How are your percussion and mandolin lessons coming?

The key to this "self discovery"/indirect approach is a lot of listening and facilitating reflection on and analysis of David's music lessons by David. Ask lots of open ended questions, if David mentions something about being frustrated with his mandolin progression, or proud of his quick percussion aptitude, ask a questions for more information on the subject and gently push comparisons between the two.

Your percussion progress seems to be moving smoothly and I think you're learning a lot, is this different from your mandolin training in some way?

You can ask leading questions and prod towards the topic of differences in teaching style and difficulty progressions between the teachers. Be careful not to try to push the conversation in on direction too much, if the topic or desired conclusion isn't coming up immediately, bide your time. Not all change happens immediately and the conclusion doesn't have to happen during your conversation at all. The goal here is to prompt self analysis by David, helping him reach the conclusion on his own.

If a few conversations like this don't seem to be breaking through, you can try slightly more leading questions (try to guide the conversation with questions asking for David's thoughts).

Do you think that your percussion instructor is teaching you more effectively than your mandolin teacher?

This has caused David to consider the point you want to make of the mandolin teacher's efficacy without actually stating it as a fact or statement by you. Instead the idea has been put up for consideration and input, perhaps David has a differing opinion and you can understand why your assumptions may be misguided, or may find what is "blinding" David to what you consider is bad teaching.

@Arthas has brought up a concern that upon realizing the intended point David may blame himself for not coming to this conclusion earlier. If you feel this is a risk, you may be slightly more direct with your wording:

[wife] and I are concerned that your mandolin teacher may not be teaching you as effectively as your percussion teacher, what are your thoughts on that?

This still frames the conversation as "OP and David analyze teacher" and avoids "OP vs David re: teacher," but adds your third party perspective as a prompt and an angle for viewing the situation that David may have previously overlooked.

  • 1
    The self reflection route is good for someone with high confidence, but given David's past he may not be so confident and it may lead to a self doubt. He might blame himself instead of the instructor ("How was I so stupid not to notice?"). I think there's probably a good middle ground for this kind of approach: set up the conclusion early on and then lead him through some of the process it took to get to that conclusion.
    – Arthas
    Mar 26, 2018 at 19:12
  • 1
    Also, bringing some emphasis to it being more obvious from the outside can do wonders. It might help avoid him feeling stupid for not noticing it.
    – Arthas
    Mar 26, 2018 at 19:13
  • 1
    Thanks for the points, I'll edit my answer to incorporate Mar 26, 2018 at 19:17
  • Downvoting without commenting is an exercise in futility Mar 28, 2018 at 18:07

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