Growth Mindset and Learning Guitar

In 2012, Carol Dweck published a book called “Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential”. In this book (which is a great read - especially if you are learning or looking to start learning guitar), she identified two types of mindset, the ‘fixed’ mindset, and the ‘growth’ mindset.

What is a Mindset?

Before we start to think about how the two approaches apply to learning to play guitar, let’s quickly look at what mindset is. It’s turned into a bit of a buzzword in recent years, but, it is a valid concept.

A mindset is how you approach a given task or situation. It tends to be dependant on beliefs that we have about ourselves and the world.

Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset

As previously mentioned, Carol Dweck identified two types of mindset, fixed and growth. 

The fixed mindset says “This is the way things are. Things don’t change. I don’t change”. Fixed mindset tends to have a belief in the idea of “talent”, which is to say that our ability with something like learning guitar is either genetic or a gift from god.

Growth mindset says “How can I improve at this?”. Growth mindset tends to believe that talent is a product of hard work. Growth mindset recognises that it takes effort and overcoming challenges to learning something become proficient at it.

Your mindset can change between situations. You may have a growth mindset to our work, thinking “How can I improve my performance at work today?”, and a fixed mindset to looking after our children, “Why won’t they just do what I say?”.

When it comes to learning rhythm and strumming on guitar, a growth mindset person may seek out help, a teacher, a course when struggling to get their playing sound correct. A fixed mindset person may try for a few days, then give up, thinking that they are no good at playing guitar (which is a crying shame, the truth of the matter being that they haven;’t given themselves the chance to get good at playing guitar).

How Do These Ideas Apply to Learning Guitar?

As we have already touched on, the two different approaches in mindset have a huge impact on out guitar playing. They affect not just how we learn and the rate at which we learn, but they also impact our enjoyment of learning guitar and even our potential with the instrument.

Someone with a fixed mindset is likely to set themselves artificial “limits” to their potential, for example, “I’ll never be good enough to play lead guitar”. 

Someone with a growth mindset is likely to either choose a goal based on what they want and then work towards it, or study and practice and see where they end up. 

Someone with a fixed mindset if likely to experience continuous frustrations, as they tell themselves they have no “gift” for the guitar, and make little progress.

Someone with a growth mindset will try and work out what they need to do in order to progress at the particular practice item they are working on. They will either problem solve their practice, or find someone they can ask to help them.

How Can We Identify What Type of Mindset We Have?

It’s important to identify what type of mindset we have - if we have a growth mindset, we know we are on the right track. If we have a fixed mindset to our guitar playing, then we know we need to do a little work on ourselves and change our approach slightly. 

It’s also worth noting that if you do have a fixed mindset, it is not the end of the world! If you do find you have a fixed mindset, you can now anticipate some of the challenges you will face with learning guitar, and will be better equipped to overcome them.

Here are some thoughts that people with a fixed mindset may find themselves experiencing:

  • I’m too old to learn guitar
  • I’ll never be able to play like XYZ guitar player
  • I’ll never be able to play lead guitar (for example)
  • I don’t have any talent at playing guitar 

The thing that all these ideas have in common, is that there is some sort of “reason” why you can’t do something on guitar.

Here are some thoughts that people with a growth mindset will find themselves experiencing:

  • Why is this not sounding out correctly, and how do I fix it?
  • It would be cool to do XYZ on guitar. What do I need to learn in order to be able to do that?
  • Can someone help me with this thing that I am struggling with?
  • What can I change with my practice routine in order to achieve my goal on guitar?

You may sometimes find that you switch between the two mindsets along your guitar journey.

What Can We Do To Change Our Mindset?

If you find you have a fixed mindset, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. Here are some things you can do:

Pinch Yourself

Every time you find yourself having a “fixed” mindset thought, pinch yourself, replace it with a “growth” mindset thought, and get back to practice.

For example, if you find yourself working on something, and you say to yourself, “I’ll never get this”, pinch yourself, and say out loud, “I’ll get this eventually, I just need to practice a bit more”. 

Get Yourself a Teacher

Overcoming our insecurities and challenges are a lot easier when you have someone fighting for you in your corner. The great thing about having a teacher, is that they will fight for you when you don’t fight for yourself.

They can help give you a more objective view of the situation, and they can help re-align your expectations to something a bit more reality based. Often [our expectations of how quickly we will learn something on guitar are completely made up]({{ < ref “/blog/2020-08-14-how-to-be-content-with-your-progress-at-learning-guitar“ >}}).

Try to be a Problem Solver

When it comes to learning guitar, the only thing in your way of playing the way you want to… is a lot of little problems. Think of yourself as a guitar detective. For any given problem with your playing, there are going to be a limited number of things cause that problem. 

Draw up a short list of possible problems and see if you can identify what is causing you the problem. 

One of the benefits of a teacher is that they can identify problems quickly for you, and even help you anticipate problems before they develop. 

One of the things I try to achieve with the online guitar courses at Study Guitar is structuring material in such a way that problems are anticipated, so that you never have to face them. Any problems you do have can be quickly resolved in the student support forum, so that you can get the answers you need to help you with your guitar playing.

What Can You Do Next?

The best thing you can do for your guitar playing - get back to practice! 

See if you can identify which type of mindset you have, and try and be a bit more aware of your thoughts and emotions when practising guitar. 

Just by being aware of our thoughts when practising, we move ourselves in the direction of learning more effectively. 

If you want to read Carol Dweck’s book, it is available on Amazon.