Talent…

I’ve chosen a potentially controversial topic for my first post of the year.

My holiday reading was a massive pile of books relating to education, brain science, neuro-plasticity, music and talent.

The reading list was in part compiled last year when I had attended the ASME Conference (Australian Society for Music Education) in Canberra.

I have been saying for some time now that I’m not sure whether I believe in talent, since over the years that I have been teaching, I have seen precociously ‘talented’ children drop out and less ‘talented’ children improve and succeed over a long period of time.

I always find it difficult to answer parents when they ask about the child’s potential, since on many occasions I have seen a child who I may not have considered particularly able, slog away and keep coming back year after year and eventually start to play musically and gain increasingly high grades in exams.

I am finding support for this very concept in the work of Dr Carol Dweck, in her book “MINDSET” which is subtitled ‘The New Psychology of Success’.

My first opinion was that the book looks like a jargonish self-help book, but once I started reading, this belief was dispelled.

The book is based on scientific research, and it only backs up the ideas that I have been pondering.

I am a positive thinker (for the most part, anyway) and I believe that an important part of my job is to instil confidence and self-belief into my students.  I truly believe that anything is possible, with effort and diligence, and this fits with Dr Dweck’s research.

There are apparently two main mindsets – fixed and growth.

Fixed mindset people tend to think that we have finite talent and abilities, while in the growth mindset people see that improvement, change and transformation are possible.  For the fixed mindset, failure is catastrophic, since it can destroy all sense of self and success, while those with the growth mindset always see the opportunity for future growth.

What gives me hope is knowing that I definitely used to have a fixed mindset.  I spent my childhood needing to be the best, and feeling distraught if that didn’t happen.  It was always preferable not to try and blitz a test, than to work really hard and get a mediocre mark.

I have no idea when the change occurred, but I am now very much of the growth mindset, although not in all areas of my life.  Reflecting on all of this, I still believe that I am not very sporty or coordinated.  So my challenge to myself is to extend the growth mindset to all areas of my life.  I definitely believe that I have changed and can continue to, intellectually, spiritually, musically, relationally, so my next challenge is pertaining to physical skills.

And how does this relate to music?

To me, this just proves that no education is ever wasted.  Perhaps we will not all end up concert musicians, but certainly these skills will improve our coordination, intellect and quality of life.  The joy of playing music, whether alone, but particularly in ensemble, can only enrich our lives.

And one more thing the neuroscience is teaching us is that music creates more pathways in the brain, so here’s another reason to keep up the lessons and practise!