Why Does Musical Instrument Education Matter?
Unlike eye color or hair color, children are not born knowing how to handle risks and failures. This attitude, often called a growth mindset, develops over time and is shaped by experiences with learning, appraisal, and feedback. While often treated as a characteristic and/or a responsibility of individuals, our research argues that a young person’s growth mindset is not only the result of their efforts, but also shaped by peers, adults who teach and model, and the expectations of the institutions and ecologies in which they develop. Developing growth mindset is critical to successful learning – in school and in life – and, thus a shared, rather than individual responsibility.
To this point, research shows that experiences like racism and poverty can stunt or erode the development of a growth mindset (i.e., constant messages that a child’s race or wealth predetermines their capacity to learn can have a corrosive effect). Steady messages about growth and possibility can have the opposite effect.
Therefore, as we confront the profound inequities in formal and informal education, we need to promote opportunities that challenge the systems and isms that prevent children from believing in their potential and their worth. One such activity may be learning how to play a musical instrument.
To assess the potential of developing both a musical and overall growth mindset through
learning how to play a musical instrument, we partnered with El Sistema programs across the country. These programs were selected because:
- They exist across a variety of communities and geographies.
- They are low cost or free to participants, eliminating traditional barriers to musical
- instrument education.
- The majority of enrolled students are from Black and Latinx communities.