This article was originally produced for SheetMusicPlus's blog, Take Note, published on April 27th, 2022. For full article context, please click here.
“I can’t do it!” “It’s too hard!” “I’m not good at it!”
Parents and teachers - odds are, you or your student have probably said one of these phrases in the midst of a challenge, and I absolutely empathize with you. The feeling of missing the target, especially on repeat, is truly exasperating.
However, experience has shown that a shift in expectations toward a growth mindset mentality can do wonders. No, I am not talking about lowering expectations, but instead, of altering the perspective. Switch from aiming for a target task to observing a sensation, mentality or effort. Change “fix this rhythm” to “sustain full concentration as you subdivide” for a minute. Alter “use full bow” into “observe the sensation of your upper forearm stretching”. Pivot “fix your posture” to “maintain this feeling of openness in your spine”. Now - why does all this matter?
The concept of “growth mindset” is exemplified by the Harvard Business Review as when “individuals … believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others)”. This, as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (where a person’s capabilities are preset by nature), provides the student with not only limitless possibility, but correlates results with the associated effort and learning process put in, rather than a predetermined concept of “I’m not good at it, so why bother trying?”.
In all honesty, the idea that a person may be predisposed to musical talent for whatever reason – their parent plays an instrument, they have perfect pitch, they can carry a tune – is truly insignificant if the developed work ethic cannot support this “talent”. Unfortunately, it is also this version which is most commonly sensationalized in the news, on social media and online – the idea of the rarity from birth. On the flip side of the same coin, those who may not have any reason to succeed at a musical instrument, but has a rigorous and thoughtful work ethic can often find success not only in music, but also in whatever field they choose to apply themselves. This is likely the reason for the phrase, “those who are ‘talented’ are often ‘multitalented’” – though the common error here is that “talent” becomes a misnomer for an innate ability rather than the cultivated work and learning which honed the abilities in the first place.
A fantastic anecdote which my former teacher, Kurt Sassmannshaus (Founder of ViolinMasterClass.com, and prominent violin pedagogue) once shared with me was of a conversation he once had with his own former teacher, the eminent Dorothy Delay. He asked Ms. Delay – “I see some students who can spend hours and hours on a technique or section or whatnot, and not accomplish what they set out for, while others can do it in a matter of minutes. Why? What is ‘Talent?’” Apparently, Ms. Delay gave her usual sweet smile and replied, “it’s just a mood”.
Parents and teachers, growth mindset is the key to cultivate this mood.