Using Habits of Mind to Play Music Better by Jesse

July 18, 2022


Using Habits of Mind to Play Music Better


My name is Jesse and I am a music teacher with a background in creative approaches. I’ve chosen three of Costa’s Habits of Mind to summarize myself as a teacher and also my approach to learning. Hopefully these will paint an accurate portrait of what it might be like to study with me.

Firstly, is the Habit of Listening With Understanding and Empathy. Costa writes that “[s]ome psychologists believe that the ability to listen to another person—to empathize with and to understand that person’s point of view—is one of the highest forms of intelligent behavior.”

I would agree with this, but I would also argue that empathetic listening is especially fundamental to learning how to play music, both in an ensemble and solo setting. Whether you’re listening (or watching) a conductors cues, hearing and interpreting a drummer’s time feel or, finding a way to fit in with a chordal instrument player’s improvised harmonic structure, or trying to interpret a composer’s musical intentions (even if that composer is yourself!) you’ll certainly be exercising your ability to deeply and viscerally understand what your senses are pulling in, particularly in relationship to others.

Next, the Habit of Creating, Imagining and Innovating. Costa stresses the importances of looking at particular problems from many different perspectives. This is certainly applicable to music. Sometimes we don’t know how to make each other sound good, and the answer isn’t so obvious. Maybe there is something in an orchestration which is causing certain voices to clash. Maybe two people aren’t feeling the rhythmic structure in the same way. Or perhaps someone’s instrument is out of tune. Perhaps there’s a mistake hiding in the score. In any case, the ability to examine situations from all sides is crucial to excellence in music.

Costa also emphasizes that creative thinking involves being able to handle criticism. This leads me to my next Habit of Mind — Taking Responsible Risks. I think that a healthy willingness to embrace the possibility of being wrong is certainly bound up with the ability to solve problems. If we only allow ourselves to find solutions that already lie within our comfort zone, then we’d likely be unintentionally acting as the barriers to our own success .

Some of my most valued lifelong teachers have told me, “if you want to play improvised music well, you have to be prepared to sound bad.” I’ve taken this to essentially mean “not all ideas work so well as well as we think that they will from the outset, but in order to find the good ideas, a certain amount of trial-and-error may be necessary.” This guidance has only rung more true the older I’ve grown and the more experience I’ve gained.