Motivating Students and Helping them find success in Music
Updated: Apr 26
The myth of the “Self - Motivated Student”
Many children have the desire to learn an instrument with stars in their eyes, but when the reality of learning to read music, counting rhythms and using proper techniques starts to come into play, some students can get frustrated and overwhelmed. The students who I have seen who are “self-motivated” have a family life which incorporate the culture of the music lessons into their daily life and it becomes a topic of weekly discussion.
Students need a daily verbal reminder to practice. I have tried and have seen many parents try to use different motivational tools. The only time you don’t need to remind student's is when they start to do it on their own but we have to be the ones to get them there. We want to teach lessons of accountability, but based on what I have seen accountability lessons through music doesn’t seem to work very well. What I mean by accountability is, saying, see what happens when you don't practice? We already know what happens and the result could easily be compared to math homework (except more fun!!). If you teach accountability through math homework and the student gets a D on their test, the lesson of accountability is not worth getting the poor grade. Students can learn these accountability lessons in some other area of life and I find that music lessons are very similar to math homework in this respect. On the bright side, music is much funner than math for most people!
In retrospect music lessons are a great way to learn some aspects of accountability but it’s learned by the success they feel and the experience they gain from a successful performance or when they perfect a difficult piece, or move onto a harder book. Another way they learn accountability is when they look back on all of the hard work they did and the difficult parts of the songs they had to work through. Most kids who say, “I never have to get reminded to do my math homework,” did not get this way overnight, it is usually the result of years of little reminders to help them get things done.
The concept of fun is one that I have put a great deal of thought into. Music is supposed to be a fun subject, like art. But has so many advanced aspects that to truly get to the point where the student is having fun they need to conquer certain difficult concepts. Counting with a metronome and saying note names out loud is the quickest way to becoming a fluent musician but is a hard process. Ok, so how to get to the place of fun. When a child's development is placed in their own hands they seldom succeed. Their wavering motivation is usually tested when the first hard assignment comes along and they would much rather play a video game or watch a dvd then practice music. When we make it a daily expectation just like normal school, the choice of whether or not to practice gets taken away and then they start having fun.
There are some exceptions to this rule, but the times that I've seen people experience the most turmoil surrounding getting kids to practice is when practice time is left up to chance or up to fun. Kids are not old enough to make decisions about other aspects of life, like whether or not they can go to school or do there homework. Practicing is the same way. They need to be taught these habits through years of reminders. The fact that they have the desire to even start an instrument is the most we can hope from the. In some cases, kids do not even have the desire to start lessons, the parents think it's a good idea and the kids end up going along. The top three performing countries in math and science all have music as a required part of their curriculum. Once we show them we won't let them quit they can settle down and stop debating whether its something they want to do and can just start making music. Music can sometimes be hard. Therefore, I have found that fun = more practicing.
When they practice, they are excited to come to lessons which eliminates the feet dragging routine before some lessons. And when they practice they come to the lesson and are met with success which boosts their enjoyment and confidence. When they come to a lesson without having practiced they start to imagine that there will be some sort of confrontation and think they are in trouble and they associate this negative feeling with music. After time, this feeling translates to not wanting to continue music.
I once overheard a boy say to his parents, "I don't want to play to in the baseball game today." His Dad said, "You have to go Son, you can't let your other teammates down." Kids default mode is to want to do nothing but once we build in strong habits with structure they begin to yearn for more creative endeavors.
Time and time again I have seen that when kids are not having fun, it's because they haven't built up the momentum they need to get to the place where music actually becomes a super easy routine.
In short, more practicing = more fun and they need daily verbal reminders to practice.