As a parent, I have always wanted my son to have a music education.  It’s not that I want him to be a professional musician, it’s because

  • It’s so much fun and he loves it
  • the life skills accessible through music lessons

Brain Development and Music Education

There have been so many scientific studies and articles in the media over the last few years.  They have all proven the benefits of music education in brain development, personal growth, self esteem and success in later life.  

In my private teaching practice, “Life Skills Through Music” is clearly stated as my objective.

Part of this bundle of life skills is a “growth mindset.”  Growth mindset has become a buzzword in education and psychology these days.  It came from Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford who conducted a study of 5th graders in 1998.  

In the study, the students were given a challenging test.  At its completion, they were all told they did well.  

However, half the students were also told, “You must have worked really hard on this.”  The other half were also told, “You must be naturally smart.”

The difference in the next round of testing was startling.  

The kids who were praised for their effort and hard work, tried to live up to that praise and pushed themselves harder and longer.  The kids who were praised for their natural gifts, took less risks, and gave up quicker on challenging questions.   

All because of HOW they were praised.

In my Musicolor Method™ training for music teachers, we discuss growth mindset with extensive resource videos.  So I was a little surprised to hear that the US Marine Corps are also using it.  

In Charles Duhigg’s best-selling book Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive, he tells the story of a young man with no ambition, drive, or motivation.  It seems this man was never made to do anything for himself.  Everything was given to him and after the structure of school, he had no idea of what to do with his life.  Somehow he found his way to the U.S. Marines which completely transforms him.

Locus of Control

Duhigg interviews the officer who reinvented basic training based on studies like Dweck’s that show the importance of an internal locus (point, position, or location) of control.  

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan

“We were seeing much weaker applicants.  A lot of these kids didn’t just need discipline, they needed a mental makeover.  They’d never belonged to a sports team.  They’d never had a real job. They’d never done anything.  They didn’t even have the vocabulary for ambition.  They’d followed instructions their whole life.  This was a problem.  Because the Corps increasingly needed troops who could make independent decisions…We need extreme self starters.”

The officer discovered “studies the Marine Corps had conducted years earlier that showed the most successful Marines with a strong internal locus of control, a belief that they could influence their destiny through the choices they made.”

Duhigg continues:

“Locus of control has been a major topic of study within psychology since the 1950’s.  Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence.  A student with a strong internal locus of control for instance, will attribute good grades to hard work rather than natural smarts…

People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer and report greater professional success and satisfaction.  

In contrast, having an external locus of control, believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside your control, is correlated with higher levels of stress, often because an individual perceives a situation as beyond his or her coping abilities.”

So what does this have to do with teaching music?

The entire process of learning an instrument with a caring teacher is like the perfect process of developing a strong internal locus of control:

  • Learning how to focus on playing a piece well through repeated practice
  • Linking cause and effect based on student choices
  • Persevering through difficult pieces – building grit!
  • Breaking down big problems into smaller manageable pieces
  • Trying different approaches in speed, rhythm, quality, etc.
  • Development of personal responsibility for practice
  • Public performance and presentation
  • Memorization skills

To name just a few.

Professor Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Duhigg interviews Professor Dweck who says,

“Internal locus of control is a learned skill…Most of us learn it early in life. But some people’s sense of self-determination gets suppressed by how they grow up or experiences they’ve had.  They forget how much influence they can have on their own lives.  That’s when training is helpful.  Because if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control – where that internal locus of control is re-awakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel they are in charge of their own lives.  And the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”

Did you notice Dweck says practice?  

It’s as if she’s directly talking about music lessons!

And there’s some good news

The U.S. Congress recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which has done away with the controversial No Child Left Behind.  So no more common core curriculum!  

Instead, the goal is for a well-rounded education.  And for the first time in 50 years, music is now a stand alone subject in that well-rounded mix.  

Hopefully, this means the demand for music teachers will increase.  Perhaps there will be a bit more respect, and most importantly, funding for programs like band, chorus, orchestra, and general music.  

Music is the practice of developing belief that we control our destiny through our actions.

So the next time your child brings home good grades on a test, don’t just say “Good job!” Take a moment to praise the effort.  And sign them up for music lessons! With some guidance, they just may turn out to be extreme self-starters.


Author: Andrew Ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet is the creator of the Musicolor Method™, a proven system to teach preschoolers music. He offers a music teacher training course and coaching. He is owner/teacher of Park Slope Music Lessons and was one of the first 3 VJ’s for MTV-Asia in the 90’s.

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