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Growth Mindset in the Music Classroom

Imagine that you are a music teacher with two talented young students. Both are pretty passionate about music. It’s what they love most in the world, and both are fortunate enough to have parents and a music teacher who are willing to help them foster their talent.

Nonetheless, these two students approach their lessons and their practice sessions very differently. While one is always eager for new challenges and practices diligently on an almost-daily basis, the other seems to have a hard time focusing. Practice is done only as an afterthought, if at all. Still, this student clearly has raw ability. Why won’t he work to develop it?

In short, what is the difference between these two students?

Some experts suggest that the main difference is mindset. Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck is the author of a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that explores this phenomenon.

What Is a Growth Mindset?

Students and others who have a growth mindset are adept at seeing that skill and knowledge come from sustained effort. Accordingly, they are more likely to view talent and intelligence as the outcomes of hard work. Moreover, they believe that their creativity isn’t preset by genetics because they know that it is possible for neurons in the brain to make new connections over the years.

According to Dr. Dweck’s research, a person who has a growth mindset has a tendency to:

  • Take inspiration from other people’s success
  • See errors as learning opportunities
  • Relish challenges
  • Be adept at bouncing back from disappointment
  • Solicit criticism and advice
  • Be motivated by setbacks

What Is a Fixed Mindset?

On the other hand are people with fixed mindsets. They typically hold an unconscious belief that a person’s abilities are a part of an innate endowment. In their eyes, people are either dumb or smart, and they are simply born that way. This means that abilities to cultivate intelligence and skill are innate and cannot be learned.

This mindset can be demonstrated with a simple example. A music student with a fixed mindset may hear a talented professional musician perform and think: “They are so much more talented than I am. It would be impossible for me to ever play that well.”

Contrast that with the student who has a growth mindset. In the same situation, they are more likely to reflect on all of the hard work that went into that artist’s performance. Then, they set about finding ways to incorporate that into their learning.

Dr. Dweck’s research suggests that a person with a fixed mindset has a tendency to:

  • Allow someone else’s success to diminish them
  • Avoid challenges
  • Abandon a project after disappointment
  • Get frustrated relatively quickly
  • Look for ways to incorporate minimal learning strategies
  • Look to others to provide praise instead of advice or guidance
  • See their mistakes as a personal failing

How These Mindsets Manifest Themselves in Music Classes

As any seasoned music teacher can tell you, it is fairly easy to determine which students have a growth mindset and which students have a fixed mindset.

Those with a fixed mindset are more likely to seek constant reassurance about how good they are. They may demonstrate a reluctance to put in a lot of hard work because they figure either you have “it” or you don’t. In fact, students who have a fixed mindset are more likely to suffer from stage fright. This is because of a tendency to see the audience as being filled with judges and critics rather than supportive allies.

On the other hand, the student with a growth mindset is more likely to look for constructive criticism from an instructor. They believe that hard work and dedication can help them increase their skills and achieve their dreams. These are the students who you will find practicing morning, noon and night, and they may show a love for being in the spotlight where they can demonstrate the new skills they have learned.

Can You Help a Student Develop a Growth Mindset?

One of the best ways that you can help a student to transform from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is by believing in them. If you approach each student with an attitude that tells them that they can learn and improve, then all of your students are more likely to excel.

As an example, consider a research experiment in which a teacher was informed on the first day of school that all of the smartest students would be in her class. From day one, the teacher treated each student as if he or she was an over-achiever. The result was that all of the students in her class made far more academic progress than the students in other classes. Accordingly, the students who were naturally predisposed to excel did so, and so did the students who were more likely to struggle with learning.

This only demonstrates the malleability of children’s minds. If each student is treated as though they have an equal opportunity for advancement and success, then they will all live up to our expectations.

It does remain true that some students are gifted with exceptional capabilities while others are more likely to encounter challenges that must be overcome. Still, all of these students are capable of making progress. Part of the instructor’s role is to help students find their motivation to learn, to welcome challenges instead of shying away from them and to believe in their own ability to succeed. By doing this, all of your students can develop a growth mindset that will serve them in every facet of their life for years to come.

Group of kids friends arm around sitting together

How to Foster a Growth Mindset

Even the way that you talk to a student can signal to that individual whether or not you think they are smart and can succeed. Consequently, it is critical to approach each student with the assumption that they are extremely capable.

Encouraging a growth mindset can be as easy as praising students for their diligence and hard work. When you see them using a smart strategy and developing better concentration skills, point it out to them. Emphasize points such as these over how quickly a student is able to finish a goal or project or how “smart” they are.

Some teachers also give a great deal of thought to the art and motivational posters on their walls. Do these pieces provide empty praise or do they motivate students to embrace and overcome challenges? Children really do soak up the messages in motivational posters, so use them strategically.

It similarly can be immensely helpful to help students find ways to reframe their thoughts and challenge negative self-talk. A student who constantly says and thinks “I can’t” will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Work with your student to change their perspective so that they focus a lot more on “I can if I practice,” or “I can if I work hard.”

Other Factors May Be at Work

Some children have more to overcome than a fixed mindset. A dysfunctional family or early trauma may have a significant impact on motivation. Psychologists often refer to such situations as an Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE.

ACE students may appear withdrawn or disengaged. They may not react well to pressure, and anxiety is an ordinary response even in non-threatening situations.

Fortunately, music teachers can help ACE students by developing supportive relationships with them. This relieves tension in the child, leaving him or her free to learn new skills, find motivation and discover the determination that they may need to meet and overcome challenges in the home. ACE kids who participate in music lessons or even play with an ensemble may discover a new, more self-confident identity, and they get valuable support from their teacher and the other students.

Accordingly, a music teacher has the power to help unlock that child’s potential by fostering their ability to change their mindset.

Encourage a Child with Prodigies

It’s never too early to start a child on the path to appreciating music. Even infants are known to respond positively when hearing a favorite song. Not everyone is meant to become a professional musician, but that does not mean that they can’t benefit from learning an instrument or just developing a better understanding of music.

When it comes to a growth mindset, music lessons have the power to unlock all sorts of potential. A student who is resistant to challenges and appears unmotivated to practice can be transformed by a teacher who cares enough to offer the right kind of encouragement. Approach each student as if they are just as capable as any other, and they will soon believe it.

Get started today with one of the fun and engaging programs here at Prodigies. We believe that music is powerful. It’s so powerful, in fact, that it can change lives. Start with a video lesson today to introduce your children to the world of music.

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