Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
First of all, Happy New Year! I just returned from the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance Conference at NYU where I had a great time with colleagues from all over the world. There was a presentation by Matthew Miller and David Coolidge that I want to share with you this week. Their presentation was based on the book “Mindset: The new psychology of success” by psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD.
In a nutshell, there are two kinds of mindsets – growth and fixed. When faced with a challenge, the growth minded person will embrace the challenge and view it as an opportunity for growth. The fixed minded person will avoid challenge because it may show their weaknesses. When confronted with an obstacle, the fixed minded person will usually give up easily while the growth minded individual will persist in the face of setbacks. When a task requires effort, those with the fixed mindset may feel like exerting that effort will prove they are not a natural while the growth minded individual will view effort as part of the path towards mastery. When a growth minded individual receives critique, they view it as a chance to learn. However, the fixed minded person will often ignore negative feedback and make excuses. Finally, when the growth minded individual sees others having success, she looks for lessons and inspiration that can fuel her own growth. Those with a fixed mindset will usually feel threatened by the success of others and will blame outside factors such as that person being the “favorite” of their teacher, director, boss, etc.
I encounter many singers who have a fixed mindset. I think the internet and reality television are partly to blame. Our students see people who are “overnight successes,” which in most cases is simply not true. We as teachers (and especially parents) fuel that belief when we praise results instead of process. Everytime we praise the end result (i.e. “what a great high note”), we train the student to find satisfaction in only the final product and not the pathway to the final product. The worst is when we say things like “she learned that song in only three days!” In that moment the student begins to think “I don’t really need to practice, after all when I only worked on a song for three days they LOVED it.”
If we instead focus our praise mainly on growth (i.e. “I can tell you really practiced a lot this week”), we train our students to find satisfaction in the journey. In order to help them find life-long joy in singing, this is where we should probably spend most of our time offering praise and encouragement. Otherwise the student learns to only look forward to the big performance and when it is done, they are left feeling down and lost because they do not know what is next or the next time they will feel that same fulfillment. As we all know, there is a lot more time spend in the practice room than on the stage. This year, let’s make their practice room success feel just as special as their final bow and help our students transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
As always, thanks for reading. ~ Matt