During my early teaching career, there was one extracurricular activity that I never missed and that was our annual State Music Camp. I loved it! It was a buzz for me to attend as a teacher for many years, the kids were stoked to be there, some great conductors gave their time and energy freely and the kids worked hard while having lots of fun along the way. We all learned such a lot together!

I remember looking around on the first couple of days over the years and noticing the children attending. Some of these children had travelled 15 hours from the outback just to be there, others had travelled five minutes down the road. There was a diverse range of backgrounds sitting in one room all with very different life experiences. Yet there never seemed to be any of those “child musical prodigies” or seemingly “naturally talented” children out of all of the hundreds sitting there.

I remember thinking to myself “Where are they?”.

In music, we come across these students all the time. You probably know the ones I mean.They’re the ones who find everything so darn easy – ask them to play a tricky note, piece and passage and they do it without any effort at all….sometimes even with a bit of attitude of how easy it is..I used to ask myself “wouldn’t a child who finds it easy and is naturally great at it, be happy to come to such an event?”

But…they never seemed to be there at this music camp….during the school holidays….in the middle of winter.

I remember thinking to myself….are they too busy to be here? Are they too “good” for it?

I wonder if there are any other teachers out there who feel like I did? How many teachers find that their more “naturally talented” students just didn’t bother turning up one day, even when they had the chance to do something really special, they never put themselves in a position of trying something new and eventually (dare I say it) …drop out!

After years of suspecting that students who are seen as the more “naturally talented” early on are at more risk of not succeeding, not just with music, but also in life; a recent (January 1st, 2015) article published in the Scientific American confirms this to be true and gives some researched, insightful tips to help parents and teachers .

The author of the article, Carol S Dweck, who is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, recently (January 1, 2015) wrote an article called “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids”

In the article, she writes;
“Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

Two Types Of Mind Set
Carol and her team have done studies in this area since the 1960’s and they validated that people can have one of two types on mindset:

The first being a “fixed” mindset . This is where people believe that they are born with a certain amount of intelligence and that won’t change throughout their life. They found that often a person who thought they had talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well and that they thought that having to work hard at something was a sign of low-ability.

The other type is a “growth” mindset. These people believe that the more you work at something, the better you become at it. Often people with a growth mind-set who have a setback in their test or study results, find new ways or strategies to master the materials.

In the article Dr Dweck states;
“Our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mindset,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.”

How to Encourage Growth Mind-Set
In a “nutshell”, the advice Dr Dweck gives in her article is don’t tell your kids they’re smart! Parents and teachers need to focus on the process of learning rather than the intelligence or ability of each child.

Some other practical advice she suggests is:

  • Tell your students about achievements that resulted from hard work. Tell stories of great mathematicians,musicians and scientists who fell in love with their subject and developed amazing skills.
  • Be careful how you encourage your students. Statements like “Wow-That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard on that” encourages a growth mind-set rather than “Wow -that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this” which encourages fixed-mindset.
  • Educate your students on what mind-set is and how this can help them with their study habits. Read articles such as “You can grow your Brain” together as a class or study interactive computer modules such as Brainology to help raise awareness and understanding with your students.

Your Thoughts
But now I want to hear from you. With this information in mind, what are some of the ways you encourage growth mindset in your music classes? Please go ahead and fill in the comments box below to share your ideas and experiences together with the wider music teaching community.