From time to time in lessons, I refer my students to watch Ted Talks that I think might help them with whatever they are struggling with.  Today, I am doing a quick round-up of a few of these talks, why I share them, and what a music student can learn from them.

1.  Hard Work is more important than talent

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve by Carol Dweck.

I most often share this Ted Talk with parents of young students as a way to encourage them to foster good practice habits and a growth-mindset in their children.  The TL;DR version of this talk (although you should definitely take the time to listen to it) is that research has shown that children who are praised for their successes resulting from hard work tend to be more resilient in the face of challenges and failure than children who are praised for their talent.  When you think about it, this makes perfect sense because a child who knows that hard work results in success will blame his or her lack of hard-enough work when faced with failure; conversely, a child taught to value talent alone will give up, thinking he or she is untalented and cannot improve when things don’t go well.

This is especially important in a discipline like music, where talent tends to be over-emphasized as the most important factor in a musician’s success.  Even truly great talents will practice for hours a day, but that’s what audiences don’t learn about.  The hard work.  If young musicians were to know that very talented and successful musicians practice countless hours, then they might be more inclined to think that they too can reach that level of success with some grit and determination.

2.  How to practice each day without being intimidated by the enormity of the endeavor.

Your Elusive Creative Genius by Elizabeth Gilber

This wonderful and highly popular talk contemplates artistic success and artistic process.  I use this most often to encourage students who feel “stumped” in their music practice or playing without improvement.  The TL;DR of this talk is that the ancients used to believe that someone’s “genius” was not intrinsic to them; an artist was just a vessel or mouthpiece through which a higher power…”genius” spoke.  Ms. Gilbert concludes that if we thought of genius more in this way, and not in the modern way of emanating purely from an individual artistic talent, that art and creativity are not such scary endeavors that will leave individual artists constantly disappointed in themselves.  My favorite line of her talk is when she is chatting with her on “genius” and saying that she showed up to work and is doing her part by being with pen and paper in hand (as an author), and it’s not her fault if her genius isn’t pulling its weight.

So when a student finds that something isn’t clique-ing for them, I suggest that they watch this video.  Just show up to work at the piano and let your genius do the rest.  (Also not bad metaphor for why practice is again necessary even when you have oodles of talent).

3.  For Motivation, a Challenge to Establish a Habit, and a Can-Do Attitude

Try Something New for 30 Days by Matt Cutts

I love this talk for many reasons.  First, it’s great at helping people see that it can be a small thing to establish a habit of practicing and that even beginners of any age has nothing to lose by trying out a new skill such as piano.  Secondly, I love how the speaker challenges you to have a 30 day goal and just observe the result.

For my students, when they are struggling with establishing a practice routine, lack inspiration/motivation in practicing, or simply need a new challenge, this Ted Talk works wonders.

Challenge your students to 30 days of practice of no less than X amount of time per day.  See what happens.  Also, use a habit tracker so students can see their success on paper.  I made one for a Summer Practice Challenge that lasted 24 days that you can check out below.

4.  On Achieving Mastery through Near-Wins (And Appreciating Our Near-Wins)

Embrace the Near Win by Sarah Lewis

This talk praises the near-win, which we generally tend to under-value.   So the pretty good performance, rather than the flawless one.  This is useful in thinking about performances and about practicing.

First, she talks about how numerous near-wins bring us closer and closer to mastery.  This plays out in the piano practice context in the sense that numerous repetitions of a particular phrase, perhaps hands separately or at a less-than performance tempo for (i.e. not perfectly) brings us closer to playing the phrase perfectly the next time and the likelihood of flawless repetitions.  In performance, this can mean that each performance is merely an opportunity to do the best you can at the time – not necessarily perform note-perfectly.  When viewed this way, the best way to achieve mastery of performance of a particular piece comes from doing many, many performances.

She also discusses, more directly, how as a student of a subject gets better and better at a skill or more and more knowledgeable about a subject, the more likely that student is to judge his execution of the skill or knowledge of the subject matter as being insufficient.

This relates to music performance because, in learning music, we are always working on the edge of our abilities (or where we can’t be absolutely perfect) so that we might improve.  If we worked on Fur Elise only when we should be playing the Hammerklavier Sonata, for example, we might be very satisfied with our playing, but we wouldn’t be living up to our abilities.  Conversely, if we play the Hammerklavier Sonata, we might struggle, and we might miss some notes or have other difficulties, but one day, that Hammerklavier Sonata will become as easy to us as Fur Elise once was.  But of course by then, we will be giving ourselves grief over not being perfect at some more challenging piece of repertoire.  Ultimately, if we aren’t frustrated and feeling like we only have near-wins, then we are not learning, which is why I tell my students that they SHOULD make mistakes in lessons when I teach them something new.  If they weren’t making mistakes trying out some new endeavor, than that means we aren’t learning anything new or of any benefit to us.

Why take lessons if you can already (as if this were possible) play everything in the world so perfectly that you have nothing to gain from a teacher’s perspective.

I hope you enjoy these talks and that you can use them to motivate your own students.  Please feel free to comment if you find them helpful or if you have others you’d like to recommend.

PS) For some reason, my embedding of some of the videos is now displaying links.  Will try to fix later because I’m not sure what’s causing it right now.  Feel free to let me know if you, know how to fix!

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