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But I Don't Even Use That Drum Fill: Navigating Cognitive Biases in Music Education

In the dynamic world of music education, students often grapple with the challenge of embracing the unfamiliar. The resistance to delve into uncharted musical territories can be attributed to cognitive biases, creating narratives that shield them from facing difficult tasks. To shed light on this issue, let's explore common biases in the context of an anecdote that recently unfolded during one of my drum lessons.

The Fixed Mindset Dilemma: A Drumming Anecdote

Just last week, a drum student inquired about drum fills—a seemingly innocuous question that opened the door to a profound exploration of mindset. Eager to nurture his curiosity, I introduced drum fills to our lessons. However, as soon as he realized that executing drum fills required structured patterns rather than random hits across the drum kit, a shift occurred.

Almost instantly, he declared his newfound disinterest in drum fills, expressing frustration that he could no longer play haphazardly. This episode serves as a clear manifestation of a fixed mindset—a mindset that recoils when confronted with the discomfort of structured challenges. The initial excitement gave way to the discomfort of not being able to rely on randomness, highlighting a common tendency among music students to resist stepping out of their comfort zones.


1. The Familiarity Fallacy Revisited

In light of this anecdote, the "familiarity fallacy" takes on a new dimension. The drum student's initial enthusiasm for drum fills was rooted in the novelty of the concept. However, the discomfort of structured patterns led him to retreat to the familiar territory of random drumming, reinforcing the bias against embracing new, more structured elements.

Solution: Address the familiarity fallacy by emphasizing that structured challenges, such as drum fills with specific patterns, contribute to a drummer's toolkit, enhancing their overall musical expression.

2. The Effort Excuse Unveiled

The abrupt shift in the student's attitude exposes the "effort excuse" at play. The perception of increased difficulty became a justification for abandoning the pursuit of drum fills altogether. This tendency to avoid challenging tasks, especially when effort and structure are required, is a classic symptom of a fixed mindset.

Solution: Counter the effort excuse by reframing the challenge as an opportunity for skill development. Break down the structured patterns into manageable segments, encouraging incremental progress and a positive approach to effort.

3. The Comparison Conundrum in Drumming

In this drumming anecdote, the comparison conundrum emerges subtly. The student's desire to revert to random drumming may have been influenced by a perceived ease of comparison—random beats are less likely to be critiqued or compared to the structured precision of drum fills.

Solution: Shift the focus from external comparisons to individual growth. Encourage students to appreciate the unique value of each musical element they explore, fostering a mindset centered on personal progress.

4. The Perfection Paralysis on the Drum Kit

The fixed mindset's impact on the student's perception of drum fills reflects the "perfection paralysis." The fear of not being able to execute the fills perfectly hindered his willingness to engage with this new challenge.

Solution: Emphasize the iterative nature of learning drum fills. Celebrate progress, encourage experimentation, and reinforce that imperfections are stepping stones toward mastery.


In conclusion, the drumming anecdote highlights the pervasive influence of a fixed mindset in music education. By recognizing and addressing biases such as the familiarity fallacy, effort excuse, comparison conundrum, and perfection paralysis, educators can guide students toward a growth-oriented mindset. Through patient encouragement, a focus on personal progress, and the celebration of small victories, students can break free from cognitive biases and embark on a fulfilling musical journey marked by continuous exploration and improvement.

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