Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What it Takes to Motivate

Stickers, games, prizes, music money, or competitions…is that what it takes to lure students to stick with an instrument? Is the magic triangular support of student, teacher and parent a promise of guaranteed success?

Gold Medal Winner at Piano Olympics

Dr. Randall Faber with wife Nancy co-authors of Piano Adventures

Dr. Randall Faber states that teaching an instrument is completely dependent upon students’ level of engagement at weekly lessons. As teachers, we must be involved more in the learning that is going on rather than the teaching. Monitoring students’ emotional engagement is the key to making the unfamiliar familiar, and the biggest motivating factor.

At a recent workshop, Faber listed the “facilitative factors of motivation”, in other words, the ages and stages of motivation. His insightful expertise validated and inspired how I teach. For those interested in the scientific facts of his findings see http://pianoadventures.com/about/pdf/MotivationA4.pdf

So…what does it take to motivate? First: KNOW the STAGES of Motivation:

I Can DO It! Ages 4-6. Activities during lessons must be engines of FUN which generate learning. Fun or “play” magically holds the students attention and the motivation to “DO it” (again and again) keeps the kiddos coming back for more.

I CAN Do It! Ages 7-13 At this stage, students become aware that they are capable and see that their practice pays off. Those who are not as industrious may feel inferior to their peers and may doubt their ability and in turn lose interest. Students are motivated by connecting what they achieve with their personal EFFORTS. Positive reinforcement from teacher and parents is critical at this stage.

I Can Do It! Ages 13-20 Students eventually realize how important playing an instrument is to their self-esteem and it becomes part of their IDENTITY. Motivation is sparked by the passion for making music which in turn becomes a crucial part of the individual’s personality.

So…what does it take to motivate? Second: KNOW your STUDENTS

1) Design lessons around each student’s ages, needs and interests.

Can you spell "FUN"?

2) Gather attention with “play” and follow the lead of the student in lesson activities and skill-building.

3) Continually reinforce concepts to build skills and positively acknowledge practicing efforts vs “talent”. Offer rewards for individual PROGRESS made rather than just the amount of practice time.

Bobby with Mom Performing at Whole Foods

4) Find MUSIC that inspires the student (provide selections that are pedagogically sound AND stylistically attractive to the budding musician).

5) Consider revising the coined “magic” triangle of student, teacher and parent with student, teacher and music. Parents and teachers are to encourage the budding musician to take ownership of his/her skills and develop his/her OWN passion for music and making music.

We must continue to use positive reinforcement through fun and games to keep up students competence. Confidence in skills builds self-esteem, and then identity as a fine musician follows for a life-time. If the the lower level of the “hour glass” deflates (skills become rusty, the fun or joy is lost, negative feedback, etc) the passion and self-esteem can crumble.

Faber emphasized that the dedication and focus learned while playing an instrument (what we as teachers nurture and develop at each lesson) transfers to every other area of learning. Perhaps one reason why so many musicians head to the medical field?–high expectations and engaged, focused learning are nothing new to a musician.

Graduating Senior, Brittany and her "piano made of memories"

Games, stickers, activities, standard music selections and sequenced lesson plans can be very useful tools; however, in addition, make sure to base the focus of lessons on the individual student tastes and engaged learning. Consider how you can inspire your students from playing an instrument to being passionate about music. Plan now to know and implement what it takes to motivate!

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6 Comments

  1. Dennis Ng

    Hi Leila Viss,
    What an interesting article and thank you for sharing.
    Regards,
    Dennis Ng.

  2. […] What it Takes to Motivate: “Stickers, games, prizes, music money, or competitions…is that what it takes to lure students to stick with an instrument? Is the magic triangular support of student, teacher and parent a promise of guaranteed success?   Dr. Randall Faber states that teaching an instrument is completely dependent upon students’ level of engagement at weekly lessons. As teachers, we must be involved more in the learning that is going on rather than the teaching. Monitoring students’ emotional engagement is the key to making the unfamiliar familiar, and the biggest motivating factor…” […]

  3. […] What it Takes to Motivate – ”Stickers, games, prizes, music money, or competitions…is that what it takes to lure students to stick with an instrument? Is the magic triangular support of student, teacher and parent a promise of guaranteed success?   Dr. Randall Faber states that teaching an instrument is completely dependent upon students’ level of engagement at weekly lessons. As teachers, we must be involved more in the learning that is going on rather than the teaching. Monitoring students’ emotional engagement is the key to making the unfamiliar familiar, and the biggest motivating factor…” […]

  4. Radio Head

    This was an insightful read. Positive reinforcement and a more learned awareness of their capabilities are a few of the reasons a kid would likely stick to their to instruments.

  5. Music Jobs

    I think this article is awesome. There are not a lot of articles that talk about motivation and is broken down a way that can be understood. It can be difficult motivating students. Members of my network will appreciate this read.

  6. Vince Madison

    Fantastic synopsis Leila. I attended a workshop with Randall Faber, and I think you presented this material even more clearly and succinctly than he did! And it really is valuable to understand what motivates kids at different age levels. Thanks for the thoughtful work!

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