Want to Practice Better? Forget About “Natural” Ability.

One of the most important chapters in The Practice of Practicechapter 6–has nothing to do with practice directly, it has to do with what you think about musical talent. Is musical ability “natural,” a gift of genetics? Is it something you’re born with? Something you either have or you don’t? Or is musical talent earned through exposure and effort? Your answer will have a profound impact on your practice: your motivation to practice, how you approach practice, whether you persist in the face of challenges, and how deeply you learn when you do practice.

This stems from Carol Dweck’s work on how your ideas about the nature of intelligence affects how you learn. Here’s a superb summary of her work by Trevor Ragan. Dweck’s studies have been replicated and expanded since 1986 when Dr. Dweck first began her investigations. She has a wonderful book out that covers the topic in great detail, called Mindsets.

Music education researcher Bret Smith has found similar repercussions for musicians who hold fixed (innate ability), or fluid (talent is grown) ideas about musical ability. The kicker is that it doesn’t really matter whether musical talent is genetic or not, it’s your ideas about its nature that shape how you practice. Want to learn more about this topic, and 45 other chapters of great material? Pick up a copy of The Practice of Practice. Learn more about the book here.

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