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Pushed to Excel – Part 2

Lang Lang[Continued from Part 1]

What does creative excellence take?

In his article How to Win American Idol, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to research by Rena Subotnik and Linda Jarvin, who “interviewed over 80 top students at different stages of their musical careers and identified the traits important to succeed at every stage on the way to the top.

“The three abilities that were absolutely necessary as a baseline were intrinsic motivation, charisma, and musicality.”

But for musicians at an “elite” level of talent, “technical proficiency mattered less and the following factors rose to prominence: self-promotion skills, having a good agent, capitalizing on strengths, overcoming self-doubt, exuding self-confidence, good social skills, persevering through criticisms and defeats, and taking risks.”

How does a brutal teaching style impact those factors?

The context perhaps matters a lot.

Fletcher’s tactics were with students who had already worked hard to be proficient enough musicians to get in to an prestigious arts school.

But in another setting, what this fictional teacher does could be called bullying.

(And of course some “real” teachers, parents, coaches and others use this style as well.)

In high school, musician Lady Gaga (a graduate of the Center for Talented Youth gifted education program at Johns Hopkins University) was bullied by other students, even thrown into a trash can, and said she was called “really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point. I didn’t want to go to class.

“And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”

The scars don’t go away, she says. “To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”

From my article: Traumatic Childhood, Creative Adult.

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Concert pianist Lang Lang (photo) commented on his own experience of high intensity coaching:

“If my father had pressured me like this and I had not done well, it would have been child abuse, and I would be traumatized, maybe destroyed.

“He could have been less extreme and we probably would have made it to the same place; you don’t have to sacrifice everything to be a musician.

“But we had the same goal. So since all the pressure helped me become a world-famous star musician, which I love being, I would say that, for me, it was in the end a wonderful way to grow up.”

From the book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.

See more in my post: Lang Lang: “Pressure…but a wonderful way to grow up”.

[Photo from his Facebook page.]

Another aspect: being highly sensitive

In one of the scenes in “Whiplash” (also in the trailer, posted in Part 1) music student Andrew gets so upset from another of teacher Fletcher’s verbal attacks, he starts to cry. Fletcher gets closer to him and yells. “You are a worthless pansy-ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a nine year old girl!”

Responding to that kind of emotional attack by crying may be understandable for many young people in similar circumstances, but it may also indicate having the personality trait of high sensitivity, as many creative people do.

Psychologist Elaine Aron declares that HSPs (highly sensitive persons) “do cry more readily than others. It was a strong finding in our research.”

Actor Jessica Chastain says, “I’m very sensitive in real life. I cannot not cry if someone around me is crying…even if it’s not appropriate.”

See more in my post Jessica Chastain, High Sensitivity, Crying and Creative People.

What do you think about “drill sergeant” teaching styles?

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Pushed to Excel – Part 2

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2014). Pushed to Excel – Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Oct 2014
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