Habits of Mind of Musical Learning

February 18, 2011

A few summers back I was fortunate enough to take part in a Project Zero symposium in Amsterdam, called Gateways to Understanding.  It looked at teaching and learning and the research done by Howard Gardner and his associates.  We discussed “habits of mind”, and looked at their application to the arts as well.

I was reminded of the relevance and importance of these habits of mind because I’m presently reading Eric Booth’s “The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible:  Becoming a Virtuoso Educator”, in which he devotes an entire chapter to this topic, called “The Habits of Mind of Musical Learning.” Booth lists the 16 habits of mind that were identified by Gardner and specifically put forward by educators Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick as the basis of their teaching-and-learning system.  A “good” learner has this full repertoire of mental habits at the ready to apply in the encounter with the new, as Booth explains, and he says that they open a big opportunity for us as teachers as well.


Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

Managing impulsivity

Gathering data through all senses

Listening with understanding and empathy

Creating, imagining, innovating

Thinking flexibly

Wonderment and awe

Thinking about thinking (metacognition)

Taking responsible risks

Striving for accuracy

Finding humor

Questioning and posing problems

Thinking interdependently

Applying past knowledge to new situations

Remaining open to continuous learning

Booth asks us to imagine that as a teaching goal, we work towards developing  habits of mind in our students.  How would our teaching be different?  He suggests five specific habits of mind to raise to a high priority in our teaching, which aims to make our students as passionate as we are about the arts.

1) Attention–full, open, active.  Persist and fully open one’s attention to listening.  Full attention is a habit we need to develop, Booth writes, and one that serves us well throughout life.

2) Inquiry.  Asking right questions determine where we go and how far we get.

3) Playful attitude. Encourage trying things out, experiment.

4) Flexible empathy.  Willingness and eagerness to switch the ways we connect to a piece.

5) Reflection. Music is an inherently reflective medium, yet we live in an antireflective culture.

Booth adds that these five habits of mind will take any listener deeper into the joy of music, and spill over to a richer, fuller life in general.

If we are able to teach our students these habits, their ability to evolve as independent learners, and more inquisitive learners becomes more likely.  Their skills in problem solving with an more open mind and heart will only help them succeed more as they continue on in their musical life into the future.

Laura Lentz ©2011

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