8 Must-See TED Talks for Music Teachers

I often turn to TED Talks for inspiration in my teaching. There are countless videos touching on so many different topics. Below I have compiled the ones that have impacted my teaching philosophy the most.

8 Must-See TED Talks for Music Teachers


1. The Power of Believing That You Can Improve—Dr. Carol Dweck

If you only watch one video on this list, this one takes all. Watch it, share it, and apply it!


Stanford Psychology Professor Dr. Carol Dweck explains a central finding from her research, what she calls “the power of yet”. In this brilliant TED Talk, she explains how, after teaching students in extremely low-ranking classrooms how to apply a growth-mindset to learning, these students were able to out-perform students from some of the best classrooms in the United States after one- to two-years’ time.

"If you get the grade "not yet" you understand that you're on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future."


“If you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”

“First of all, we can praise wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don’t do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”

“And we can actually change students’ mindsets. In one study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter.”

Students understand and value this wisdom: “I received a letter recently from a 13-year-old boy. He said, “Dear Professor Dweck, I appreciate that your writing is based on solid scientific research, and that’s why I decided to put it into practice. I put more effort into my schoolwork, into my relationship with my family, and into my relationship with kids at school, and I experienced great improvement in all of those areas. I now realize I’ve wasted most of my life.””


Dr. Dweck provides the ultimate take-away in the final line from her talk: “Let’s not waste any more lives, because once we know that abilities are capable of such growth, it becomes a basic human right for children, all children, to live in places that create that growth, to live in places filled with yet.”

Regardless of your teaching methods or philosophies, the best thing you can do for each of your students is teach them the power of “yet”.

2. The Key to Success? Grit—Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth


As a public schoolteacher, Dr. Duckworth noticed that her smartest students did not always exhibit the highest performance. Eventually, Dr. Duckworth’s interest in this phenomena led her to complete a doctorate in psychology and to research grit full time. She shares some of her findings in this video.


“After several more years of teaching, I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective.”

“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.”

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

“What I do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.”

“We need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier.”


In addition to giving our students a firm musical foundation, we can give them a better future by teaching them about grit. We need to teach them that it is good to struggle, because when we struggle and overcome we learn what it takes to achieve excellence.

3. Every kid needs a champion—Rita Pierson


Charismatic educator Rita Pierson shares the life-long impact of building relationships with students, not just showing up to teach the lessons.



“But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships.”

“How do I raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time?”

“And I gave them a saying to say: “I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.””

“And when my mama died two years ago at 92, there were so many former students at her funeral, it brought tears to my eyes, not because she was gone, but because she left a legacy of relationships that could never disappear.”

“Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”


When we seek to build relationships with all of our students, to connect with them on a personal level, we transform their experience from a time when memorize learn facts because they have to into a transformational process.




4. Do Schools Kill Creativity?—Sir Ken Robinson


The wonderfully entertaining Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity in childhood and how the standardized educational system gradually strips individuals of this important element of the human experience.



“My contention is, all kids have tremendous talents. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

“What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong.”

“Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”

“Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”

“We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.”

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity.”

“Our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future.”


Through music, we can help reinforce (or protect, if you will) our students’ creative spirit. We have the opportunity to encourage creative thought and to provide a safe space for unexpected answers. Make the most of this opportunity!

5. How to Build Your Creative Confidence—David Kelley


Stanford Professor of Design David Kelley talks about his experiences with creativity and helping others develop and nurture their own creative confidence.

David Kelley


“If they stick with the process… they end up doing amazing things and they surprise themselves just how innovative they and their teams really are.”

“So I’ve been looking at this fear of judgment that we have. That you don’t do things, you’re afraid you’re going to be judged. If you don’t say the right creative thing, you’re going to be judged.”

“We could take people who had the fear that they weren’t creative, and we could take them through a series of steps, kind of like a series of small successes, and they turn fear into familiarity, and they surprise themselves. That transformation is amazing.”

“People from all different kinds of disciplines, they think of themselves as only analytical. And they come in and they go through the process… they build confidence and now they think of themselves differently. And they’re totally emotionally excited about the fact that they walk around thinking of themselves as a creative person.”

“I really believe that when people gain this confidence… they actually start working on the things that are really important in their lives.”

“It would be really great if you didn’t let people divide the world into the creatives and the non-creatives, like it’s some God-given thing, and to have people realize that they’re naturally creative. And those natural people should let their ideas fly.”


The confidence to display creative thought openly is often hindered from an early age, much like the friend that Professor Kelley referenced at the beginning of his talk. However, everyone possesses the capacity to think creatively. Help your students maintain (or recover their confidence in) this sense of creativity by incorporating creative elements into your weekly lessons.


6. How do we learn? From mistakes—Diana Laufenberg


Inspiring educator Diana Laufenberg talks about some of the interactive projects she has incorporated into her classroom over the years and the role of failure in students’ learning experience.

Diana Laufenberg


“The things that kids will say when you ask them and take the time to listen is extraordinary.”

“That is the absolute wrong thing to ask, to tell kids to never be wrong. To ask them to always have the right answer doesn’t allow them to learn.”

“[We] spent an hour talking about the learning process, because it wasn’t about whether or not it was perfect, or whether or not it was what I could create. It asked them to create for themselves, and it allowed them to fail, process, learn from.”

“And when we do another round of this in my class this year, they will do better this time, because learning has to include an amount of failure, because failure is instructional in the process.”

“Ask them really interesting questions. They will not disappoint. Ask them to go to places, to see things for themselves, to actually experience the learning, to play, to inquire.”

“If we continue to look at education as if it’s about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice and embracing failure, we’re missing the mark.”


It is easy to get caught up in the process of perfecting everything our students do. “Learn the notes perfectly, play this this way, and have everything ready for performance day.” But we need to remember that learning is a messy process, and that lessons stick much better when we give our students the space to experiment, fail, figure out why X, Y, and Z didn’t work, and then apply this knowledge moving forward.



7. Teach teachers how to create magic—Dr. Christopher Emdin


Dr. Christopher Emdin describes the urgent need for teachers to learn how to present material in an engaging way. When they do, they “create magic”.



“So why does teacher education only give you theory and theory and tell you about standards and tell you about all of these things that have nothing to do with the basic skills, that magic that you need to engage an audience, to engage a student?”

“Content and theories with the absence of the magic of teaching and learning means nothing.”

“You’ve got to view those folks that have the power to engage and just take notes on what they do.”

“They listen to his metaphors and analogies, and they start learning these little things that if they practice enough becomes the key to magic. They learn that if you just stare at a student and raise your eyebrow about a quarter of an inch, you don’t have to say a word because they know that that means that you want more. And if we could transform teacher education to focus on teaching teachers how to create that magic then poof! We could make dead classes come alive, we could reignite imaginations, and we can change education.”


It is easy to get bogged down with the technical aspects of teaching and learning: there is so much that goes into each lesson. However, Dr. Emdin says that the teachers who really make an impact are the ones who go beyond the facts of the matter and who learn how to engage an audience. The good news is, every teacher has the capability to learn this skill. He lists many places these skills can be learned, and we have many great examples within the realm of classical music, as well: check out these wonderful videos from Leonard Bernstein and Helge Antoni.

8. Three Rules to Spark Learning—Ramsay Musallam


High school chemistry teacher Ramsay Musallam shares his personal story about what transformed his approach to teaching, and he encourages teachers to really examine the content of what they are sharing: not just wrapping the same boring story in an iPad and calling it innovative.



“But if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction.”

“Rule number one: Curiosity comes first. Questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around.”

“Rule number two: Embrace the mess. We’re all teachers. We know learning is ugly. And just because the scientific method is allocated to page five of section 1.2 of chapter one of the one that we all skip, trial and error can still be an informal part of what we do every single day at Sacred Heart Cathedral in room 206.”

“Rule number three: Practice reflection. What we do is important. It deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision.”


Find ways to get your students to ask questions and to find answers to their questions. Additionally, I would like to challenge all of us to set aside a block of time, be it weekly, monthly, or once per semester, to review our teaching methods and to seek concrete ways to implement new ideas.

Your Thoughts

Which videos resonate with you? Do you have favorites that aren’t on this list? Share your ideas in comments below.

2 comments on “8 Must-See TED Talks for Music TeachersAdd yours →

Leave a Reply