Nothing says “natural ability" and “innate talent" quite like the piano. Seeing skilled pianists often supports the mistaken, fixed-mindset view that some people are born brilliant, and others simply live in their shadows.
Take Mozart, a supreme example of precocious genius. You've likely heard the stories of young Wolfgang writing minuets when he was 6, and his first symphony at 8.
We like to assume that he had some deeply ingrained ability that accounted for his wild accomplishments. No doubt, he had a disposition towards learning and some degree of natural musical endowment.
But the picture is incomplete without accounting for Mozart's father, Leopold, who made it his life's work to nurture and develop his son's talent through rigorous instruction.
There is also the considerable length of time it took between Mozart composing his first work and composing more celebrated pieces of music. In the highly influential book Mindset, Carol Dweck writes:
“Mozart labored for more than ten years until he produced any work that we admire today. Before then, his compositions were not that original or interesting. Actually, they were often patched-together chunks taken from other composers".
A year ago, I became fascinated with the piano. I knew nothing about it. I am a long-time drummer, and a friend of mine referred to it as “88 tuned drums".
I started with the C major scale, and fumbled around with chords. Then, I started to learn parts of songs. Each day, I'd carve out 20 minutes and practice. I began layering my new skills and discoveries. It was exhilarating.
But, there were setbacks.
I'd play a part I had practiced 20 times and still make mistakes, making one of my favourite songs sound terrible in the process.
I took on songs that were far too challenging, and gave up in frustration.
The fixed mindset part of my brain went to town. Thoughts like “you will never be good at this", “You didn't start young", and “you are a failure" cropped up again and again.
But I struggled through. I kept up the unshakeable habit of showing up, and eked out just enough progress to feel occasionally satisfied.
And now, I get to play keyboard and communicate through the language of keys and chords with my musician friends, and the learning cycle has accelerated.
But most important of all, I have learned that I can learn nearly anything I put my mind to, and I am empowered to take on new challenges. Piano taught me the value of a growth mindset for learning.
What is something you've always wanted to learn, but thought you could never get better at? Start learning it, even if its on your own, and use it to hone the most important part of your learning toolkit: your mindset.
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