Professor of music theory and technology Brianne Little delivered a compelling and encouraging speech for fellow musicians and students for the national ‘Women in Music’ speaker series hosted by the Gamma Tau chapter of Tau Beta Sigma Thursday, March 18. 

Little addressed themes that she sees in college students and her own life: the fear of failure, imposter syndrome and the truth. 

“One of the big trends in students today is the fear of failure. It’s really scary to put yourself out there and it is really vulnerable, especially in a place like a music school where people are literally grading your performance,” Little said. 

Little said that the fear of failure is normal, but she emphasized to her students that they are at a growing stage and mistakes are lessons to be learned. 

“College is a great place to fail. This is the testing ground, this is the training ground,” Little said. “You cannot learn by doing everything perfectly the first time. Honestly, the best teacher you will ever have is failure.”

Little believes that musicians let fear take control the most when performing. “Allow failure to teach you its lessons, and refuse to let it crush your soul,” Little said. 

Little reflected on opportunities she missed because of her fear of failure. In one instance she pushed her doubts aside and entered a contest. She won first place and was invited to perform at Carnegie hall — fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Oftentimes, the fear Little had was run by imposter syndrome. She said, “It’s that feeling that everyone else knows what they’re doing, and at some point they’re all going to figure out that you don’t.”

However, she guaranteed that herself and many of her peers and idols have all had the feeling of imposter syndrome somewhere along their career. 

To conquer imposter syndrome, she emphasized that one has to learn to get better. This is how she was able to make an impact on her students. Little was aware of the fact that if she approached her teaching methods already believing she knows it all, her teaching would not be effective. “The more I taught, the more I screwed up, the more I learned how to teach, and I learned to teach in a non-judgemental way,” Little said.

She assured her classes that she will be learning right along with them. “They felt seen and heard because when they were confused about a topic, they felt empowered to ask me questions, to ask me to clarify, to ask me to find another way to explain that,” Little said. “So, the whole time I was thinking that I was an imposter, my students were loving the experience and felt like they were getting something truly valuable out of it.”

Little believes in telling the, sometimes uncomfortable, truth to her students “because the truth can help you make better decisions.”

The truth, in Little’s case, was that she had potential, but she needed to make a sacrifice to meet the potential. Little reflected on two specific moments where teachers helped her realize this potential, which inspired who she wants to be as a teacher. “I want to be the one that always tells you the truth, even when it’s hard to hear. I also want to be the one that encourages you to see your own potential,” Little said. 

As of recent, she has had to remind students how great they really are. “We are our own worst critic,” Little said. “The truth could be that you’re improving.”

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