Soft Skills Vs Hard Skills

There’s been a lot of talk in the education world of late about the value of the soft skills, emotional and psychological.  These are the skills that are traditionally not tested.  Unlike math or reading or science, these skills are more nuanced.

Because I’m a music teacher and my wife works at ExpandEd Schools by TASC, I read a lot of articles about this.

Grit & Self Control – 2 Determinants for Success

One of the researchers at the forefront of this movement is Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth.  Her passion is in discovering how self control and grit can predict future success.  Her research has shown that grit is a better determinant of future success than academic scores and achievement.   See below for her excellent TED Talk video.

And if you didn’t realize already, music lessons are a long term sustained pursuit towards goals.  They are the perfect example of a grit-enducing activity!  It’s less about talent and more about the “stick-to-it-ness” that determines success in music…and life!

Teaching Kids Grit, Perseverance, and Success Through Music Lessons

Chloe wrote her first song!

How To Praise – Right and Wrong Ways

Since reading about these studies, I’ve been more careful about how I praise in my private music lessons.  Of course, praise is wonderful, but if you just say “good job” automatically you are sending a signal that any effort or any result is good.  What I’m trying to elicit is a long-term grittiness.  By praising the effort, focus and patience, I can now subtly influence how they are working towards their goal.  Some of my best students are a challenge because if I give them a piece and they play it very easily – they love it.  But if it’s just a bit too far out of their reach, sometimes they will shut down completely.

The never-ending process is finding the appropriate material that is just a single rung or two up the ladder of complexity.  This can be either conceptual like introducing a new concept such as chord inversions or a challenge technically with a certain stretch or position of the fingers.  By matching the material to a small enough distance, anything is possible.

With particularly challenging music, I have the student focus only on a single measure or sometimes even a few beats.  I like to use Post-It notes to cover up the rest of the page to truly give them nothing else to focus on.

So as you work through my lessons with your kids, think about how you are teaching life-long skills of persistence, patience, and focus while learning the beauty of music.

Note: I’m truly sorry for the delay in getting Volumes 2 and 3 of my Play Piano For Kids multimedia iPad book out. I am currently hard at work and anticipate having them in the Apple iBookstore by end of October 2013. Thanks for your patience! I’ll try to post some sneak peeks here soon!

Watch These Short Videos

Congratulations Dr. Duckworth on yesterday’s MacArthur Genius Award!  Wonderful

Further Reading


“So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier. This was startling news. “Everybody said, Oh, it’s how kids achieve academically that will predict their adult employment, and health, and everything else,” recalls Mark Greenberg, a Penn State University psychologist. “And then it turned out that for both employment and health outcomes, academic achievement actually predicted less than these other factors.”

Author: ppfk

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