Why I want my student’s “desk” as big as possible

Did you ever go to a library or coffee shop just to have a bigger desktop?  There’s something so spacious and freeing about just having more physical workspace right in front of you.

Last week, I visited several co-working spaces in New York City just for that reason. Having a bigger desktop is incredibly freeing. It opens up your thinking.

And it’s the same thing with your internal mental workspace.  Years ago, I came up with the metaphor of the mental desktop.  This is how I imagine each child learning.  As I begin teaching a 4-year-old, they can only retain one note at a time in their mental workspace.

Over time, we begin chunking that into two and three-note phrases.  Over time, we begin expanding their “mental desktops” to be able to hold complete phrases and sections.  It is incredible to witness!

Each child’s progress is individualized.  

There are no hard and fast rules of how many days or weeks it will take to expand from two notes to two measures.

But sometimes we overestimate how much a particular student can retain.  Sometimes the student will shut down and not want to do anymore.  They’ll refuse to even try!  Other times, it’s as if we’ve gone backwards.

I’ve had some parents complain about their kid’s slow speed in learning how to read music.  But it’s similar to learning to read words.  You can’t skip ahead.  That will only lead to confusion, frustration, and overwhelm.

The core principles of the Musicolor Method include a 7 step framework of teaching and learning.  The first is the Growth Spiral. Every organism in the universe follows this spiraling outward from a central core.  You can see it in the petals of a flower, microscopic cells and the macroscopic like the cosmos.  It’s how growth happens, physical and mental.  You can’t skip from the inner to outer rings.

Another principle is called the Stepping Stone Principle.  Imagine you are trying to cross a stream.  Your guide (the teacher), picks a path and even lays out some stones for you (the student) to cross over.  If the stones (lessons) are too far apart, the students falls in the water.  Some may even get swept away or drown.  Putting the stones too close leads to boredom and perhaps the student also gets stuck there.

These principles are not something taught in music education programs.  It’s my distillation of what I have learned from other effective mentors and reflection on my teaching experiences.

So what if your child is not progressing to your expectations?

Well, the first question to ask is:  Are they practicing every day?

Practice is a learned skill.

You need to teach them how to practice.  It’s not about cramming.  It’s creating a routine that then becomes a habit.  We are all made of our habits, good and bad.  Learning to practice takes effort at first, but quickly becomes a routine.  It’s all about finding even five minutes at the same time every day.  This makes it easier.  Brushing your teeth was not something you just did on your own.  Your parents taught it to you.  It’s the same with music.

If practice is happening, then most issues dissolve. But please be patient.  If your child seems to be going slower than their friends, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.  Skipping ahead will only make things worse.  Trust the process and practice.

The best way to praise your children

The best way to praise your children

Take a look at these two sentences.

1) “Great job, you must be really smart.”

2) “Great job, you must have worked really hard at this.”

So similar but a vast difference in results.

 

If you say “Great job, you must be really smart,”

the child hears,

“Oh you think I’m brilliant and talented.  That’s why you admire me and why you value me. I  better not do any that will disprove this evaluation.”

It leads to a “fixed mindset.”

Whereas focusing on the process of growth leads to greater perseverance, grit and focus.   This comes from the research in the 1970’s by Stanford professor, Dr. Carol Dweck and has influenced so many others including Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s work on Grit.

When Alejandro was still small, I used to habitually say, “Good job.”  And I noticed over time, a fixed mindset was starting to set in.  If the task did not come quickly and easily, he wouldn’t persist or even attempt to try.

After I learned about Growth Mindset, I quickly shifted how I  praised and it began to change.  Thankfully, it seems to have been corrected.

It’s the same in music lessons.  I have become aware of seeking to praise the process and effort.  Over time, you will begin to notice how your child reacts differently.

I tried to read Carol Dweck’s academic works, but found them very dry.  This video is a much simpler, easier and fun way to learn more.

 

How to ensure your child’s success?

How to ensure your child's success-

What can we do to help our children become successful?  It’s a question that reverberates deeply in every parent.

[box] “To give our kids the best possible potential for a successful life, we need to teach and model for them how to work well.” – Cal Newport[/box]

The summer I was 10 years old, I would ride my bike every morning to my local public library.  There, I would greet the librarian, Mrs. Mascolo, and take home a stack of books: everything from mysteries to biographies, science fiction, and history.  

For most of the day, I would be hidden among the leaves, high up in my backyard willow tree, diving into worlds far beyond my backyard.  

There wasn’t much else to do in my suburban town.  

To me, the book was the ultimate escape. I could sit reading in the tree all day, until Mom would cry out, “Andrew!  Dinner time!”

Today there are so many ways to escape.  

I doubt I would have spent so much time reading books if I had the options available today.  Every kid has a “pocket computer” that can instantly look up anything, listen to music, “talk” to just about anyone, watch movies, videos, take photos, and play games.  

It’s a blessing and a curse.

As a parent, I love the ability to “find my friend” and track my son’s location.  I can instantly message him and send automated reminders for appointments with the orthodontist.

But these options have made a problem.  A problem of focus.

With the lure of instant gratification, our attention has become shallow and scattered.  (Note the rise in cases of ADHD.)

In his book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, author Cal Newport states

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”  

Faster…But Better?

To be a contributing member of society today, one needs to achieve mastery of multiple areas.  As the pace of innovation increases, we need to learn new skills, behaviors, and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago!   

And to do this, we need to learn “how to learn.”  We need to develop the muscle of concentrated focus.  It’s a skill that is not inherent.  Simply clearing away the noise is not going to make you a master of focus.  It’s a skill that needs to be cultivated, honed, and practiced.  

10,000 Hours

Perhaps because I was bored and lonely in my teens, I spent hours and hours practicing guitar. I felt like I had to “catch up” to all the other prodigies who started when they were 5 years old.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was engaging in the “10,000 hours” rule that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his fascinating book, Outliers – The Story of Success.

The basic idea is that it takes a long time, about 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery in anything.

The Zen of Practice

Studying a music instrument is like a zen practice on the art of practice!  It cultivates attention skills required for deep focus.  In psychology terms, they call it deliberate practice: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.  

This is what will set apart your child for their future life success.

Deep work is not an inherent ability but a skill that needs to be practiced.

You can’t multi-task your way to mastery.  

Multi-tasking is not a real thing.  

Studies have shown that you are not actually doing more than one thing at the same time, but rather jumping between two or more things quickly.  This results in a slow-down and lowering of quality of attention.   So when you want to get things done, you need to go into the world of Deep Work.

Success is not about innate abilities / talent, but rather skills of focus, courage, action, and perseverance.  

So the next time your child sits down to practice, take a moment to be fully present.  Listen deeply, observe, and praise something specific.  Your gift of attention and focus is a reward in itself.  You are showing, not telling, that this is important and a priority.

And you are showing your child the path to mastery and success in life.

 

Note:  also see the excellent TED Talk and book by MacArthur genius award winner Angela Duckworth.

[box] “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint The greats were great cause they paint a lot Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands Ten thousand hands, they carry me” – 10,000 Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis [/box]

“There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers…practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”  – Malcom Gladwell Business Insider

 

Winter Music Recital at Park Slope Library January 28, 2017

winter music recital 2017

Tomorrow is our big day.

We have two concerts scheduled at the Park Slope Library at 9th street and 6th Avenue.

  • 11:30 am
  • 2:15pm

As we have grown, we’ve had to create two separate concerts as the auditorium would not fit us.  Plus, I’m afraid of tiring out our audience with multiple renditions of Hot Cross Buns! 🙂

We’re going to have some great music – everything from folk songs to classic rock from Deep Purple and the Police to newer hits by Rihanna, Broadway show pieces, classical sonatinas and original songs.

Here’s Oliver practicing for the recital as he discovers a new sound he can use!

Mastery

All music should be memorized.  This is all about creating mastery.   With exception of lyrics and duets.

Stage Jitters and Power Poses

It is normal to be nervous and anxious.   One of the most amazing discoveries in the last few decades is the idea of the power pose. It has been proven in scientific studies that by holding the body in a confident pose, you can create the feeling of confidence.   And it only takes 2 minutes! Check out Dr. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk or her new book Presence.

So when I talk about Power Poses on Saturday, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Get There Early

Another way to alleviate anxiety is to get there early.   It gives time for your child to acclimate to the new room.   He/she will also be able to warm up a little on the keyboard as I set up the equipment. Certificates I print out Award Certificates for each and every performer.

I bring up all the kids to the stage at the beginning.  Please be on time!

This allows for

1) the realization that it’s not so scary on the stage – you’re already there!

2) a wonderful photo opportunity of the entire group

3) a chance to recognize all the hard work and effort of our children

Seating

We usually set up a rug in the front for children to sit together.  We try to reserve chairs for elderly and pregnant parents first.  If you need to ensure seating for a family member, get there early.

Audience Expectations

We are here to support our kids.  Please give them your full attention. Please refrain from talking, texting or leaving early.   No matter how polished or unpolished the performer is, we need to applaud the effort.  It takes massive amounts of courage to perform in public.  Through repeated practice, we can overcome our stage fright.

 

Teaching Strategies For Growth Mindset

What is the most important factor in a student? Many people would say it’s talent, or effort, or persistence, or luck or some combination of these.

Behind all of this is something that is more important – the proper mindset. Recent research (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) has shown that there are two different mindsets among students:
1) intelligence as a fixed, static trait or you got what you got
2) intelligence is a changeable, flowing trait, in other words:  you can learn whatever you put focus and effort to

Most of my music students do have a growth mindset, but may need some extra encouragement.   To do this I need to use a specific way of communicating.

The Dangers of Praise and How To Do It Right

Researchers have discovered that if you just praise the intelligence of the child, there are negative consequences.  So just being positive and saying “Good job!” is actually detrimental and has a backlash because given a new challenge, the child would rather not participate (quit) in order to “save face” and live up to the expected standard.  Rather if the child was praised for their effort, the next harder challenge was met with more effort.

Communicating Learning Goals

Almost daily I have a student who complains
“That’s too hard! I want to just stay on the same song!”

Here’s some things I say and you can too in your classroom, studio or with your own children.  Though I’ve made these specific to music, you can apply a variation of these to any subject.

  • Learning music is like playing a video game. Once you achieved the last challenge, we’re on to the next level.
  • You’re not supposed to know this already, this is brand new.

High Expectations For Forward Motion

  • I KNOW that you can do this, that’s why I’m showing you this.
  • This will be challenging, but I’ve seen you do amazing work before.
  • Remember how hard _____ piece was? And now you can play it so well. This is like that one only better.

Struggling Even With Effort

  • You are not there…YET (emphasis on the yet)
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remind yourself that you can’t do it…YET.
  • Let’s take a break and come back to this tomorrow.
  • I admire your persistence.
  • I appreciate your effort and focus on this.
  • I love how you never gave up on that last piece. Let’s do it here too.

Struggling But May Need Help With Strategy

  • Let’s work on just the one spot giving you trouble
  • What part is giving you trouble? Let’s just look at that.
  • How about we make a plan to learn this piece? You can do section A today and then section B tomorrow and then back to A…

By setting the proper belief system in place at an early age, we can guide our children to future success in music, and in life.

For more information, read this excellent article from Prinicipal Leadership, a magazine aimed at school principals.

For a free download on Growth Mindset Framing. You’ll have to register but it’s free and you can download a pdf.

Some Kids Have A Secret Advantage

Ava wrote her own music!
Ava wrote her own music!

All parents want the best for their child and after-school is an opportunity for extra enrichment beyond the classroom.

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article,  After-School Activities Make Educational Inequality Even Worse.   The author, Hilary Levey Friedman, interviewed and followed 95 middle-class families over 16 months who were involved in soccer, dance and competitive chess.   She identifies 5 skills  she believes separates middle/upper class children from less fortunate children and which she calls Competitive Kid Capital.   There’s some overlap here with Angela Lee Duckworth’s concept of Grit which I discussed previously.  Though Friedman didn’t profile music students, these all overlay very well with music instruction and recitals.

1 – The Importance of Winning – In music there is not necessarily winning and losing, but if you didn’t get the right notes, or you didn’t perform as well as you did at home, then, there’s a sense of a loss.  All of my students are pretty hard graders on themselves when asked, “How did you do on that piece?”

2 – Learning from Loss – this is resiliency and happens everyday you practice at your instrument.  You’re going to make mistakes, but what matters is what you do next.

3 – Time Management – Music is a time based language- you need to keep the beat  – events happen over time.  Having good rhythm and timing to correctly and effective communicate a beautiful piece of music is one aspect but so is the management of practice time  over weeks and months for a big recital.  Will you be prepared?  This is life!

4- Adaptability – you need to go with the flow – some days you’ll feel different and you’ll play the music different because of that.  But also making small corrections everyday on technical issues is a way of adapting.

5 – Grace Under Pressure –  performing in front of a roomful of strangers can be a very intimidating experience.   The more you do it, the easier it gets.  I’ve seen some of my students blossom over the years and these skills  will be useful in the classroom, the job, the board room, anywhere.  I wrote this article Why Music Recitals Are Like Life Skills 101 a few years ago.

See the full article at the Atlantic.

And here’s another article that caught my eye.

Last weekend’s New York Times had a brief article about the Long Term Benefits of Music Instruction.

A new study reports that older adults who took lessons at a young age can process the sounds of speech faster than those who did not.

“It didn’t matter what instrument you played, it just mattered that you played,” said Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University and an author of the study, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience.

What’s incredible is that this is 30-40 years later!  And these people may never have continued on an instrument after their childhood music lessons.

See the full story here.

Is Music Education The Key To Success in Life?

Is Music The Key To Success?
Is Music The Key To Success?

This past Sunday, there was a NY Times Article on the importance of music education in everyone’s life.  I feel like it was written specifically for music teachers!  The author interviewed some of the top performers in numerous  and diverse industries and has found a surprising number had deep musical training from Condoleeza Rice to Allan Greenspan to Paula Zhan to James Wolfensohn to Steven Spielberg to Woody Allen and Paul Allen.

[box] “I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” – NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd[/box]

See the full article, Is Music The Key To Success at NYTimes.com