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5 Secrets to Help your Students Overcome Fear of Failure

Sep 13, 2022 | Tips and Tricks for Music Teachers

5 Secrets to Help your Students Overcome Fear of Failure

As a music teacher, one challenge you run into all the time is students who don’t think they’re good at music. They may think they can’t sing well (or maybe someone’s told them they have a bad voice). sigh . . . They might say they aren’t talented or that they don’t know how to (can’t) play that instrument.

Society teaches us that we have to have natural ability in order to be great musicians. As an elementary school music teacher, you know better. You know that while some students have natural ability, being a good musician takes more than talent. It takes grit, practice and determination.

That’s all well and good, but how do you make that clear to your students, when everyone else is telling them something different? How do you help your students overcome the fear of failure that leads students to have a bad attitude about playing the instruments in your classroom?

Like most other things in life, the key is mindset. Having a positive, growth mindset can make all the difference. Learning to play a new instrument can feel comfortable or even scary to your students. That’s why today, I’m going to give you my 5 secrets to helping your students overcome fear of failure and develop a growth mindset.

Bust the myth

Before you begin teaching anything, talk about the fact the being a musician is not about natural talent. Talk about how most musicians practice for many hours to become good at playing their instrument. Tell stories about yourself and other musicians you know. Tell stories about people in other fields where practice is more important than natural talent.

Talking about professional athletes is another great option for talking points. Professional basketball star Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team. Instead of giving up, he went home and practiced every night after school for hours, until he was able to make the team.

Growth Mindset is Key

Growth mindset is the ability to look at learning as a process; to say to yourself, I’m not good at this yet, but with some effort, I can become good at it. This is not the natural human thought process, especially for our kiddos. They want instant gratification, like the rest of our modern society. Kids don’t like it when they aren’t good at something. It makes them feel uncomfortable. (like us adults, right?)

Developing a growth mindset in your students takes time and effort on your part, but not a lot of either. It’s pretty easy to add things like I know you don’t know how to do this YET, but with a little practice, it will feel easier. This can be a constant part of your student talk as you are teaching new subjects. Here’s a link to an article, if you want more info about helping your students develop a growth mindset.

Admit it’s scary

Before you start teaching your students any new instrument, be sure to talk about how they might feel uncomfortable or even scared. You might even have this quick talk with them:

  • Give me a thumbs up if you don’t know how to play this instrument
  • Look around to see who else doesn’t know how to play it.
  • Give me a thumbs up if you’re nervous or even scared to play it.
  • Look around to see who else is nervous.
  • Turn and talk to your neighbor about why you feel nervous.
  • Anyone want to tell the whole group about what you’re feeling

Talk about it

Kids need to hear the same thing over and over before they really own new knowledge. A positive mindset should be part of the learning in the music classroom. You will need to remind them many times that just because they don’t know how to do something, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give it a try.

Along with that, you can tell stories about how you felt when you started learning how to play your instrument. Stories about performance anxiety can be particularly eye opening for kids. For example, I always tell my students that while I absolutely love to sing and know I have a pretty voice, I always get very nervous singing in front of adults. Then I tell them that I sometimes miss out on opportunities to sing, because I don’t even volunteer. Many acquaintances don’t even know that I sing and play the guitar.

Mistakes are good!

Most children are afraid to make mistakes and look foolish in front of their classmates. Just like us right? So before you start any instrument play, be sure to remind your students that it’s OK to make mistakes. The conversation can sound something like this:

  • What happens if you make a mistake while you’re playing?
  • Is anything bad going to happen?
  • Are the walls going to fall down around us?
  • What if someone laughs? (take some input on this one from the group)
  • We do not tolerate someone laughing at another person, because it’s mean. Mean behavior is not allowed in this classroom.
  • Guess what, mistakes are the only way we learn. If we aren’t making mistakes, either we’re not trying, or we’re not learning.


Playing instruments is one of the most fun parts of being in music class . . . unless it’s stressful. If your kiddos are anxious about playing, do not force them to play. Encourage them to play by busting the talent myth, developing a growth mindset in your students and showing it yourself, admitting that it’s scary, talking about it, and not making a big deal out of mistakes. Plus, you can point out the mistakes you make to show your students that it’s not a big deal.

Do you need more information, have questions, or need examples. Be sure to join our email community for the newest tips and tricks for music teachers.

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