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Why Music Teachers are Unsung Heroes of the World

“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousand hands, they carry me”

– 10,000 Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis


When I was a boy, I would spend the days reading up in a willow tree in my backyard.  It was my way of escaping to far-flung lands of adventure, mystery, and intrigue.

There just wasn’t much else to do.  And, I loved it.

Today there are so many other ways to spend our attention.

With our smartphones, we can instantly gratify any curiosity, itch or bet we have with a friend.  

It’s a blessing and a curse.

As a parent, I love the ability to “find my friend” and track my son’s location.

But this instant gratification has made a problem.  A problem of attention.  

With the lure of instant gratification, our attention has become shallow and scattered.  (Note the rise in cases of ADHD.)

In his book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, author Cal Newport states

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”  

Faster…But Is It Better?

To be a contributing member of society today, one needs to achieve mastery of multiple areas.  As the pace of innovation increases, we need to learn new skills, behaviors, and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago!   

And to do this, we need to learn “how to learn.”  We need to develop the muscle of concentrated focus.  It’s a skill that is not inherent.  Simply clearing away the noise is not going to make you a master of focus.  It’s a skill that needs to be cultivated, honed, and practiced.  

Catching Up With Prodigies

Perhaps because I was bored and lonely in my teens, I spent hours and hours practicing guitar. I felt like I had to “catch up” to all the other prodigies who started when they were 5 years old.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was engaging in the “10,000 hours” rule that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his fascinating book, Outliers – The Story of Success.

The basic idea is that it takes a long time, about 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery in anything.

The Art of Practice

Studying a music instrument is like a zen practice on the art of practice!  It cultivates attention skills required for deep focus.  In psychology terms, they call it deliberate practice: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.  

This is what will set apart anyone for future life success.

Deep work is not an inherent ability but a skill that needs to be practiced.

By the way, you can’t multi-task your way to mastery.  

Multi-tasking is not a real thing.  

Studies have shown that you are not actually doing more than one thing at the same time, but rather jumping between two or more things quickly.  This results in a slow-down and lowering of quality of attention.   So when you want to get things done, you need to go into the world of Deep Work.

Success in life is not about innate abilities/talent, but rather skills of focus, courage, action, and perseverance.    

As music teachers, we help foster these skills.  We become a factor in their life success.  We are coaches of practice.  Mentors of mindset.  Role models of focus and should embody the successful work ethic.

“My earliest memories of my father are of seeing him work at his desk and realizing that he was happy. I did not know it then, but that was one of the most precious gifts a father can give his child.”? Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

So I encourage you my fellow music teachers, to keep on keeping on, knowing you are more than just teaching someone to play a tune.  You are activating a person for life.  Carpe diem.


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