Grammy Nominated saxophone group “Battle Trance” played a concert for students. It was a great experience to hear these guys play!
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?
As 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.
(The following article is an excerpt from Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, printed with permission from the author. The book is a compilation of 32 profiles of CEOs and business professionals who played music as a child or adolescent and view that experience as a defining one in preparing them for success in their business endeavors.)
These are alarming times for the plight of music education funding. Economic downturns are an immediate sign of crisis for those programs that have perennially been at or near the education budgetary chopping block. Non-profit organizations that try to fill that resource gap often rely on the benevolence of those impacted by an ailing economy. Perhaps a new understanding of the transcendent lessons of a music education can lead to a reshuffling of education priorities.
Consider a conversation that I had a couple of years ago with Ellis Marsalis, Jr., modern jazz pioneer, music educator, and the father of the first family of jazz in New Orleans and beyond. “To me there’s nothing wrong with somebody who has played a musical instrument and is not going to do it for a living becoming the CEO of a major corporation, and there’s a ton of that,” said Marsalis. “I met a guy at Merrill Lynch who’s a clarinet player. One of the best pianists we had, a young lady at NOCCA when I was teaching there – She’s a banker in New Jersey” (NOCCA refers to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an advanced program for young prodigies of music and the arts for high school-aged youths in New Orleans).
Ellis Marsalis, Jr. understood that regardless of whether the ultimate vocation of the students that came under his tutelage (including his children) turned out to be trumpet, saxophone, trombone, percussion, or banking and financial services, music education could comprise an integral component of the foundation for their success. As he explained, it’s only one element, but an important one in a well-rounded education that prepares a student for a diversified world and uncertain times.
Researching the Business Correlation of Music Education
For a period of 18 months I discussed this subject with 32 CEO’s and business leaders from around the country (and a few from beyond). The task was to identify successful people from a cross-section of business who were influenced by music education as a child or adolescent and who view that experience as a defining one in preparing them for success in their business endeavors. I asked them to reflect and to articulate the lessons learned, attributes developed, and insights gained from their music experience that were highly correlative to success in the business world, “FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM,” so to speak. Here are the nine common lessons articulated by the research participants.
1. Confidence and Self-Esteem (Stepping Up to the Mic)
One of the most common benefits of music expressed by our research subjects was the development of confidence and self-esteem. Consistently, I heard our contributors speak of the positive effect that performing in front of an audience, mastering a new musical piece, or simply connecting with other musicians in an ensemble had on building their ability to believe in themselves and perform under pressure.
“Courage is realizing your fear and going ahead and doing what you should do. So for me, realizing that I had stage fright, the confidence builder was that I did it. I was supposed to get up and do a solo, and I actually finished. That built the confidence. Something that I was terrified to do, I could prepare to do it and do it well, despite being afraid.
“As a surgeon there are lots of times when you make your incision, and it’s a lot more challenging than you thought it would be…That experience helped me in terms of training me that when you get a little nervous, to use that energy to perfect your performance rather than fall apart.”
H. Steven Sims, M.D. Director, Chicago Institute for Voice Care
Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center
Vocalist, Pianist, Trombonist, & Bassoonist
2. Collaboration and Teamwork (I’m in the Band)
There’s a certain give and take that comes from playing in a band where you have to assess the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of the members of the team. Fitting the complex pieces of that puzzle in a way that makes the music come together is quite an art. Those skills translate well to business endeavors or projects that involve teamwork and collaboration.
“In five minutes, I’m going to walk into a room to talk about a multi-million dollar RFP (Request for Proposal). I’m going to go in there with an idea or two or three or four, and I’m going to sit down with other senior people in the firm. As if we were a jazz combo, we’re going to just start riffing off of one another, and we’re going to find a rhythm – a creative, strategic rhythm. And then we’re going to come out with some really good ideas.
“I don’t want to belabor the parallel, but when you have people who speak the same language, musical language or intellectual language, people who have similar skill sets and traits and talents, and you bring them together with a common purpose, good things often happen.”
(Global Independent Public Relations Firm)
Guitarist, Music Critic
3. Leadership (Conducting Your Symphony of Employees)
The application of the competencies of teamwork and collaboration takes on new meaning from the perspective of a leader. A conductor must understand the strengths of all of the musicians, understanding how their skills fit into the big picture of the orchestra. That conductor must then communicate a compelling vision, motivating the players to either step into the spotlight or to subjugate their own needs for the benefit of the whole, depending upon the circumstance.
“Naturally, every singer has all the skills to be an entrepreneur. When you’re an entrepreneur, you see a niche and an opportunity in everything. Once you learn to channel energy and direct power when you’re in front of people and you’re singing, it’s something you never forget. You can’t be a singer unless you are a leader.”
Founder/CEO Sittercity.com (America’s Leading Online Caregiver Matching Service)
4. Salesmanship and Branding (Give the Fans What They Want)
Musicians and bands have to put together songs, performances, or identities that their fans (or potential fans) will find compelling. While greater musical proficiency will improve your chances of success, it’s no guarantee. Repeatedly, participants spoke of how that constant campaign of engaging their fans and packaging their music in a way that creates loyalty served them well in business.
“To this day, it [music] is the driving sense of self that I have. I still think of myself as a musician with a day job, not a Silicon Valley marketing executive. Being successful is not about being the best musician. There’s somebody singing in a bar that’s a better piano player than Billy Joel or Elton John.
“You learn that and apply that to business as well. You can have the absolute best technology or the best product or service, but it comes down to brand awareness and getting noticed in the marketplace.”
Vice-President of Marketing, Mozes, Inc.,
(Mobile marketing technology company)
Keyboard Player, Songwriter
5. Creativity & Innovation (Improvising From the Charts)
Unless we think of creativity as a muscle that gets stronger with exercise or withers with inactivity, we’ll never reach our creative potential. People involved in music come to the workplace with toned and fit creativity muscles.
“One of the things that musicians and artists tend to do is explore other people’s art and other people’s way of doing things. I think we’re looking for inspiration. I think we look at a level that non-musicians don’t.
“Most non-musicians more easily stay in their rut. Musicians tend to find ways out of the rut, because that’s what gives us joy – learning the new thing.”
CEO & Founder, Burrus Research, Technology Forecaster, Best-Selling Author ofTechnotrends
6. Risk Acceptance (Let’s Just “Jam”)
Before one can get to a place where creativity and innovation are possible, learning to trust the process that discards familiar, safe systems is a prerequisite. We must walk out on that musical limb and have “jam” sessions. We’ll just see what happens and assess the results afterwards. Musicians understand that the greatest innovations often come when you leave the harbor of predictable outcomes and sail into the sea of uncertainty.
“The insurance business is purely risk taking…You go in knowing there are going to be risks involved. Any time you play music, there are risks involved. You can have equipment failure. You can have rain. Somebody can get sick. Guitar strings break.
“Then there’s the personal risk. There are going to be better people in the audience, and I’m going to be nervous. I’m going to forget my part. Or I’ve got to sing this really high part, and I hope that I can hit that note this late in the evening. There’s a whole range of risk that you take in a band that’s highly correlative to business.”
Vice-President of Marketing, Underwriting, and Claims
Clements International (Leading Insurer of Expatriate Markets)
7. Discipline and Fundamentals (Learning the “Scales” of Your Profession)
The discipline that musicians must possess to develop their craft to the point that they are even ready to share their talents on any significant level is often underappreciated. How many times had Joe Pass played a scale on the guitar, put chords and bass lines together in interesting combinations, or simply run through fingering techniques to stay sharp and limber? I don’t know the answer, but when I hear
his recordings, contemplating those questions is mind-boggling.
“I can’t even imagine what I would have done with my time during those years if I hadn’t had marching band and drum and bugle corps. I really felt like I had no direction otherwise. What it gave to me was something to focus on, something to commit to, and it really pushed me to grow in ways I would have never been able to grow.
“It teaches you to be accountable to something other than yourself. It teaches you to commit. It’s a great character builder.”
Professional Organizer, Speaker, Author
Drummer & Percussionist
8. Individuality (Make Your Own Kind of Music)
Any form of expression, especially music, is an exercise in self-discovery. Determining what makes you unique is perhaps the most important aspect of personal development. Music and the arts help people find their unique “voice” in life rather than just going through the motions. There is perhaps no greater gift we can give our children than those tools of introspection.
Also, in a global business world where access to information, technology, and resources is getting easier, differentiation is essential.
“Listening to, performing, discovering, feeling, and expressing music is almost like nature itself unfolding inside of you. To deny people that world of discovery seems to be bordering on criminal.”
S. Neil Vineberg, President, Vineberg Communications,
Guitarist (recording and performing credits
include Whitney Houston, Carlos Santana,
& Narada Michael Walden)
9. Passion (Play it With Feeling)
Hand in hand with finding your unique talents is the discovery of your passions. We have too many people on the planet who are square pegs trying to fit into round holes. They have jobs and no purpose, a living but not a life, and they are avoiding the pursuits that they are uniquely qualified to offer to the world due to fear or complacency.
Yet nothing great was ever achieved without passion.
“When it comes to success in business, the first place that people fall down and fail is by refusing to own up to their actual dream. Rock bands teach us that the actual dream is to be world-famous. To play huge arenas and change people’s lives.
“When people come to business, I wish more of them would say that. Your goal is to change the face of the world through what you do. If more people came to the table like 16 year-old rock musicians, they would find a lot more success and a lot more happiness in the success they find.”
Mark Truman, Executive Director & Founder,
College entrance consulting, tutoring, and test preparation
by Craig Cortello
New national music education standards are announced starting this year. This is on our mind as the WWSU teachers will be working together starting next week to re-vamp out K-12 music curriculum.
Read the standards and explore them here.
RESTON, VA (August 27, 2014)—The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is pleased to announce the release of the New National Core Music Standards, which will ensure students receive quality music education. These new standards replace the original standards released 20 years ago.
“Standards exist to identify the learning we want for all students, and to drive improvement in the system of education,” said Mike Blakeslee, NAfME Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer. “All of America’s students deserve a full and balanced education to equip them for the years to come. And we honestly believe that music is an essential part of that.”
Hundreds of educators contributed to writing and reviewing the new National Core Music Standards, which were vetted through a two-year inclusive public review process. The standards were developed by the profession for the profession, with a student-centered focus that respects each professional educator’s teaching style and unique contributions.
The new standards provide voluntary and pragmatic flexible processes and strategies that can be welcomed, implemented, and assessed in every American school district.
“As a recent Harris Poll revealed, music education matters to American citizens. It is essential for preparing our students for the 21st century workforce,” said Michael A. Butera, Executive Director and CEO of NAfME. “And now music educators and their supporters, administrators, and policy-makers have the tools they need in the New National Core Music Standards to ensure students receive a true quality music education program.”
The new music standards were developed as a part of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards work on standards for all arts. More detailed information about the New Standards can be found here. On September 9, 2014, NAfME will host a Q&A webinar presented by Johanna Siebert, Director of Fine Arts at Webster Central School District, and Richard Wells, Simsbury Public Schools (retired), and Music Chair for the Connecticut Common Arts Assessment Project. Learn more about them here.
National Association for Music Education, among the world’s largest arts education organizations, is the only association that addresses all aspects of music education. NAfME advocates at the local, state, and national levels; provides resources for teachers, parents, and administrators; hosts professional development events; and offers a variety of opportunities for students and teachers. The Association orchestrates success for millions of students nationwide and has supported music educators at all teaching levels for more than a century. With more than 130,000 members, the organization is the voice of music education in the United States.