Gateway to a Growth Mindset for Piano Students

Is your goal to foster intrinsic motivation and growth mindset in your piano students? If so, then extrinsic motivation could be the best route to get there.

Gateway to a Growth Mindset for Piano Students facebook 2

⬆️ Listen to the podcast above or keep on reading, whichever fits your style. ↙️

I realise it sounds odd to advocate extrinsic motivation as a path to growth mindset for piano students. It goes against much of the perceived wisdom.

But stay with me as we unpack this nuanced and nebulous area. 🧳

Some Explanations 

I don’t want to bore you…but before we open the gates to growth mindset for piano students, we need to understand a few key terms. 🙂

Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic Motivation

Firstly, let’s unpack extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is something you’re driven to do from the inside. If you decide to learn about the Irish potato famine for no other reason than because you think it’s interesting or enjoyable, that’s intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is driven from the outside. If you decide to learn about the Irish potato famine because you know it’s going to be on a pub quiz and you want to impress your cousins, that’s extrinsic motivation.

Many see extrinsic and intrinsic motivation as opposites. But the truth is that most of the time, we’re motivated by both. It’s not a black and white issue.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

Now let’s look at the central terms for this article: growth mindset and fixed mindset. 

Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be improved. If you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to take on challenging tasks because you believe you can get better if you put in the work.

Fixed mindset is the conviction that you are either good or not good at something. If you have a fixed mindset about a skill, you’re unlikely to work at it to get better because you believe your talents are stuck at a certain level.

There is no ombré here. We want our piano students to have a growth mindset about everything they do in our studios.

Growth Mindset for Piano Students

Students will come to us with a certain built-in tendency toward growth or fixed mindset. Whether this is something innate or learned doesn’t matter. 

We take them as they are, and work with the individual.

When we have a student who truly believes they are “not musical” or “just don’t get it,” we need to have strategies to let them experience improvement. They need evidence to bolster their self-belief.

But if they don’t try, we can’t prove them wrong.

Extrinsic Motivation as a Gateway to Growth Mindset

This is where extrinsic motivation can be very useful. If we use praise or other rewards carefully, they can be the temporary push needed to start the perpetual motion of progress and piano student motivation.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t extrinsic motivation the opposite of what we want? Don’t we want students to be motivated to play music because they love it?

It’s tempting to paint extrinsic motivation as the bad guy and intrinsic motivation as the superhero. We humans love a simple answer that way. 😉

But what child starts piano lessons entirely of their own volition in the first place?

Almost everyone had a parent who suggested it or a friend who inspired them. We don’t all live in our own little bubbles.

And if it was something external which motivated them to begin in the first place, there should be a gentle gradient towards internal motivation. 

If we throw them in at the deep end, they’re going to climb out at the stairs. They’re not going to swim to the other end of the pool.

Therefore, extrinsic motivation, if used wisely, can be an important part of the piano teacher’s toolkit.

Pitfalls of Extrinsic Piano Student Motivation

A growth mindset for piano students can develop from extrinsic motivation. And that (plus autonomy and inspiring music) can lead to students who are driven to learn simply because they love learning.

students eager to learn

The problem with extrinsic motivation comes when we don’t focus it carefully towards a growth mindset. 

Most of this comes down to our word choices as teachers. 

We need to be very deliberate about what we say to our students. Instead of talking about the external motivator they have received (whether that’s a sticker, a glitter pen or a high-five,) talk about the work they put in to get them there. 

Have conversations about how they felt about a particular challenge before they started. Did they think they could do it? Was it harder or easier than they expected? 

Remind them of these feelings and experiences each time they face a new challenge. Reflection is essential to flipping a fixed attitude into a growth mindset for our piano students.

Need ideas for external motivators which might suit you and your studio? You’ll find loads of ideas on my Piano Practice hub page.

Do you have ideas about the best gateway to growth mindset for piano students?

This isn’t the only way to cultivate a growth mindset! I’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments below. 🙂 

1 thought on “Gateway to a Growth Mindset for Piano Students”

  1. Thks Nicola!
    Exactly what I needed with one of my students. I am thankful for all the growth and grit games that were created here. Will try on this student who is convinced that everything he sees on the music score is difficult. Let’s see how he progresses. I’m constantly challenging his mindset and it will take some time till I breakthrough to his mindset.


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