Do you feel stuck in the practice room?
You are not alone! All those hours of practicing can be frustrating and make you feel that you will never make it as a musician in the professional world.
Enter the growth mindset, one of the most powerful concepts to help music entrepreneurs achieve success. The growth mindset is the brainchild of Dr. Carol Dweck whose research shows us that how you perceive your talent and intelligence has a powerful impact on how successful you are. Those who adopt the growth mindset believe that talent and intelligence are just the starting points of success and that you can improve through hard work, experimentation, the willingness to learn from mistakes and perseverance.
This is in contrast to the fixed mindset where you rely solely on talent as the measure of success. The consequence is that you protect your talent through perfectionism and avoid taking risks or making mistakes because those missteps will reveal that you are not, in fact, talented.
Dr. Dweck’s research concludes that those with the growth mindset achieve much greater success than people with the fixed mindset. In fact, students at the Yale School of Music who have learned how to adopt the growth mindset report greater success in music performance, auditions, playing for others, thinking big and taking action and dealing with unanticipated crises.
In a recent series of coaching groups, we added another area where the growth mindset was helpful: how to practice effectively.
Our students reported a wide variety of practice challenges, ranging from boredom to lack of focus to frustration with not seeing results to guilt for not practicing enough to feelings of inadequacy. Our discussions framed this challenge in the light of the growth mindset.
Let’s see how the music entrepreneurs at the Yale School of Music were able to use the growth mindset in order to improve the way they practiced.
1. Experiment with new strategies
Musicians with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their talents and that success flows from hard work and persistence—not just talent or intelligence. Therefore, they like to challenge themselves and they are willing to experiment and take risks.
One of our students shared how he was frustrated with his lack of progress in the practice room and came upon a new way of practicing that focused on having one goal for an extended period of time. Last semester, he concentrated on how to produce the beautiful sound that he wanted. Everything he practiced was through the lens of “sound.” He took his music and turned into exercises on how to produce that sound. With this extended focus, he was able to internalize the concept and has now moved on to a new area.
Another student shared that she experimented with the best way to learn difficult passages. Her strategy?
She scans or takes a photo of her score (You can even do this on your iPhone).
She then prints out the hardest sections and puts them on a notecard.
In her practice sesssions, she spend 5 minutes per card in order master those tough passages. (A lot of students loved this idea and have decided to incorporate it into their aresenal of practice techniques!).
Other practice strategies that students discovered through the process of experimentation included:
- Focus on one aspect of the piece at a time (e.g., intonation, vibrato, musicality, rhythm)
- Play a song that you love
- Listen to a singer
- Play for yourself as if no one else were in the room
- Go crazy!
- Listen to or play along with a non-classical piece
- Watch or listen to performances by inspiring performers
2. Learn from mistakes
The growth mindset encourages you to use mistakes as a learning opportunity instead of viewing mistakes as a sign that you lack talent. Not only does this motivate you to practice well but it also increases your self-esteem and confidence because you do not perceive mistakes as evidence of failure.
What are some strategies that our students use to learn from mistakes in the practice room?
- Record yourself to hear where you are having difficulties and concentrate on improving those sections.
- Keep a practice journal to document what works and what does not.
- Play for trusted friends and solicit feedback on what needs to be improved.
When learning from mistakes, it also helps to acknowledge the things that you do well. Not only does this help you to stay positive but it also provides a template of what strategies and techniques work for you so that you can work smarter, not harder.
3. Work smarter, not harder
While the growth mindset depends on hard work, it is not just putting in the hours: it is about using smart strategies in order to improve.
One of our students complained that she lacks focus when she practices and is easily distracted. When students asked her to describe her practice routine, she told us that she practiced for 4 hours straight without a break. Moreover, she spent an hour on scales followed by an hour on 3 pieces.
No wonder she lost her focus!
The advice from the group?
- Stop practicing for 4 hours at a time!
- Change things up and introduce more variety into your practice
- Break things down into shorter chunks of time
- Set a time limit on how long you practice and make each minute count
- Set practice goals
- If you get an idea while you are practicing, write it down and go back to your practicing
In addition, working “smarter” means taking a break if you need it.
One of our students does sit-ups in the practice room when she needs a refresher. Other students found that it often helps to get some cardio in before you practice.
4. Get help and seek guidance from others
Yet another aspect of the growth mindset is to reach out for help and seek guidance from others in order to learn smarter and better techniques. That’s one of the reasons our coaching groups are such a hit: because students feel comfortable learning from their peers about how to improve!
I am happy to share the guidance from Dr. Christine Carter, a clarinetist and assistant professor at Memorial University in St. Johns, who researches the application of sports psychology techniques to music and is an expert on the effective music practice techniques.
Check out her article on how to get the most of each practice session by adopting a new technique called “random” or “interleaved” practicing.
As Christine tells us:
“What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented …and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.”
Experiment with random practicing and see if it helps you to counteract the frustration of not making progress in the practice room!
By adopting the growth mindset, our budding music entrepreneurs felt reenergized and excited to go back to the practice room in order to try out new techniques and work smarter, not harder.
So embrace the challenge and see how you too can reenergize the many hours that you spend practicing or working towards improving your game!