3 Ways Music Instruction in Schools Teaches Grit

3 Ways Music Instruction in Schools Teaches Grit (and Why Children Need it So Badly Now)

The “self-esteem movement” in this country is coming to an end.  We have learned that giving a trophy to all kids just for participating hasn’t worked, and — even worse — has undermined the natural grit that our nation is built upon.

We are also at a crossroads in education, where people are starting to finally wake up to the fact that passion and perseverance matters more than intelligence when it comes to being successful.  Hard work and stick-to-itiveness trumps “talent” and “good genes” every time, and usually gets most of us to where we want to be in our life and in our work.  Grit is what we want our children to cultivate during their time in school, not just good test scores.

What is grit?

I write about grit quite a bit on this blog.  Grit is the result of struggle, risk-taking, determination, embracing failure, working relentlessly toward a goal, and perseverance to accomplish tough tasks.  Make no mistake about it: Like talent, grit can be learned and cultivated.  In my opinion, developing grit should be one of the core goals of raising and educating our children, and sadly is missing from our test-rich school culture these days.

Failure in a safe environment is how our children learn.  Considering that failing is the worst thing that can happen in school (think red pens, slash marks, and standardized test scores), we need music instruction now more than ever to help our children cultivate grit throughout their K-12 education.

Here are four ways students learn grit through music — perhaps more than any other subject in school:

It takes guts to perform.  Once the honeymoon is over with choosing an instrument or singing in choir, students must engage in performing, both alone and in an ensemble.  And it takes some guts to “put oneself out there” for all to hear — blemishes and all — even if things aren’t going to go that well.  It’s up to parents and teachers to use performance as a future motivator in order to increase the opportunities for students to build up their grit.  Think of how great you would feel knowing that your child is building confidence for the tough road ahead that we call life.

With the right help from adults, children learn resilience through music study. Playing a musical instrument does not yield a lot of immediate gratification — at first.  This is a new concept to our ever-connected young generation, yet it’s more crucial now than ever before that we create a culture in our schools that allows our students to embrace failure and frustration in a safe environment.  Parents’ whose first instinct is to protect their child from embarrassment or setback must develop grit of their own and remember the struggles they had that led them to their successes.  Teachers must constantly reinforce the concept of resilience and give students the tools to succeed as the result of some sweat equity on their part.

Initiative and perseverance are traits we want all our children to learn.  Learning a musical craft helps children learn to take initiative.  As long as parents and teachers give ownership of learning to their students, children — over time — will become self-starters.  We are all trying to educate future leaders, and taking initiative is one of the primary determinants of leadership.

Once children begin their musical journey, they must stay focused on it.  It’s this perseverance that is at the core of cultivating grit.  We see it all the time: someone has a setback and overcomes it only to be stronger moving forward — as long as they don’t quit.  That said, arguments I hear from colleagues about how testing also develops grit mostly falls on my deaf ears.  There is much choice involved when it comes to music as opposed to tested subjects; children choose which instrument they want to play and make music with others — this concept of student choice is a stark difference music has from other subjects.

Today’s digital age is eroding grit in all of us.  At the end of the day, children still need focused attention for an extended period of time to realize their full potential in any subject in school, and also as human beings.  We need to teach our children that working harder and smarter is something they can control — and music consistently gives them rewarding feedback through sound as to how they are doing.

We know more now about how the brain works than we ever have before.  Psychological studies of children have finally shown us that “talent” and “intelligence” is not always what leads to success.  It’s clear that it’s not only a small percentage of us who are destined to rise to the top.  Grit is something that we can cultivate in all our children, regardless of race or socio-economic status.  While education reform will hopefully catch up with this old yet often-neglected idea, music education has been providing children the opportunity to cultivate grit for ages — and every school in our nation must embrace music education in its curricula for music’s beauty and its benefits in this regard.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students around our nation start studying music in school.  What if administrators, teachers, and parents used this opportunity to not only commit to supporting their child’s potential lifelong love of music, but to also cultivate their children’s grit that will serve them well throughout their lives by simply not giving up when times inevitably get tough?

A Lost Art: The Power of Solitude Through Music Instruction in Schools – Tony Mazzocchi

DSC00827As a public school music supervisor, I saw firsthand the shift in our education system toward an emphasis on “constant student engagement” in the classroom.  To this day, there still is this push to keep students busy from the moment class begins to the dismissal bell.  Teachers are worried about the possibility of moments where students don’t have something specific to “do” and aren’t producing something concrete — especially when a supervisor walks in.

Ultimately, there is a huge problem with this education model.  Schools have become too concerned with the business of keeping students busy and labeling it “engagement.”  In a culture of immediate gratification, smartphones, social media, and streaming everything, I believe we are perpetuating a fast pace of life that will prevent our children from thinking slowly and critically, and hinder their ability to think and reflect independently on any topic.  Students expect to be put to work at every moment, and don’t get used to what it really takes to learn something challenging.  Even homework is an exercise in multi-tasking alongside listening to music, watching TV, and streaming shows.

Often it takes silent effort, reflection and mindful thought to truly learn something — habits of mind that are difficult to qualify as “engagement” on an observation report or a report card.

Luckily for schools and the communities they serve, musical instrument instruction provides students the time and space to devote themselves completely to the study and understanding of one specific thing.  In order to improve on an instrument, students (and parents) must carve out time each day for solitude —something that is definitely becoming a lost art in our culture.

The constant connection that technology provides makes it even harder for children (and their parents) to spend time completely alone.  The thought of going into a room all by themselves is enough to prevent a child from practicing altogether, yet the importance of overcoming distractions through concentration and even separation may be the most important skill they can learn in school.

Here are a few ways parents and teachers can build their students’ tolerance for solitude through music instruction:

Make sure students have a clear goal for each practice session.  Solitude without a purpose slowly kills creativity, especially in young people.  No one wants to sit alone and work all by themselves without a reason to deal with the initial discomfort that comes with it.  Students should start with one goal and put a timestamp on it — and teachers should be clear with their goals for each student.  For instance, a teacher can assign 4 measures of an etude at a specific tempo for the week; each evening the child’s goal could be to work it up to X tempo in X number of minutes.

Slowly build up tolerance for solitude.  Depending on the person, one minute may be the threshold for sitting alone on the first day they try it.  But they can work up to two minutes the next day, then three, and so on.  Anyone can handle one minute of alone time — an instrument can be put together and cleaned; music can be perused and listened to, etc.  Children should work up to ten minutes a day of practicing in solitude, then extend it to a new comfortable time.  Ten minutes a day of solitude and mindful practice of an instrument will yield amazing results over an extended period of time.

Explain the importance of solitude.  Whether you have a child who really is driven at a young age to be great at something or a child who is just starting their musical journey, it’s important to explain that solitude and deliberate practice are absolutely necessary to becoming great at any craft.  Solitude is not about being a hermit and avoiding other people — at least not for great lengths of time. But the solitude and concentration applied in music practice is key for musicians to develop their skills and become mindful learners in general. There is no substitute for solitude and spending time alone with things; mindful time spent thinking about concepts and working on a craft with clear and specific goals in mind is the only way to become great at anything.

Interestingly, it is a decrease in external stimuli and an increase in solitude that can facilitate creative play.  What initially may seem like “boredom” soon can become a beautiful leap into a child’s inner creative space.  When a child can’t watch TV or play video games and isn’t over scheduled by their parents, imagination and creativity takes over — they are capable of dealing with the alone time that it takes to become great.  Instrumental music practice creates a bit of this space in every child’s day with help from schools and families.

It is rare to find ourselves alone in this world of constant interconnectedness.  Children need more solitude and less external, electronic, and structured adult-world stimulation.  That said, solitude should not be confused for being completely alone — we are never lonely when our mind is engaged, and there is much strength that is derived from relying on our own mental resources.  Making music instrument practice in solitude a daily part of childrens’ lives will help build strong musical skills, cultivate creativity, and build self-reliance — three priceless gifts that they will treasure forever, whatever field they choose to pursue in life.

 

Original from: http://www.musicparentsguide.com/2015/12/15/a-lost-art-the-power-of-solitude-through-music-instruction-in-schools/