Motivating Students

Ahrens and Atkinson believed that there were three stages in the learning of music.

They are as follows:

1. Commencement of lessons. All the factors of newness and novelty may hold the student’s attention for a time.

2. In the middle period, difficulties arise. There is some forced interest and attention, and if not carefully handled, the student may drop their study of music at this point. Self-expression, the desire to possess a musical background, competitions and examinations and positive reinforcement are useful during this period.

3. This is the stage of more objective, as well as subjective interest in the study of music. The student begins to form definite habits of interest in their musical studies.

Our goal as Teachers, or shall I say, our “dream” as Teachers, is to guide our students to stage three. Unfortunately, it is often extremely difficult to get past stage two! The Teacher’s aim is to around interest, set good standards of work and to explain difficulties. To provide encouragement in order to develop self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement within the student. Positive reinforcement is a critical part of a Teacher’s motivational tools. Always be honest and present criticism in a constructive manner in order to preserve the student’s interest and spirit. Focus on developing each individual student to the beet of their personal capabilities, Not every single student is capable of a mark of ninety on an exam!

As the Teacher, we must investigate whatever methods of motivation work for the different personality types within our studio. As Keirsey and Bates illustrate in their book, “Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types”, there are four basic personality types:

1. Sanguine
– being intuitive, adventurous, quick, realistic and curious
2. Phlegmatic – being factual, consistent, dependable and conventional
3. Melancholic – being logical, deliberate, analytical and pensive
4. Choleric – being sensitive, perceptive and spontaneous

The key to motivation is thought to be enpowerment. Give students as many and as varied decisions as is age appropriate for them to handle.

– allow the student to take an active role in choosing their repertoire
– try to present material in segments appropriate to the student’s processes and
adapt your expectations to each student’s abilities
– incorporate different styles of music — pop, jazz, blues, TV themes. hymns —
perk their interest with these genres
– set attainable goals and chart their progress in ways they can see and understand
– encourage friendly competition amongst students — plan contests and reward
with items that really excite the student — tickets to the latest movies, the most
sought after type of small toy or gadget — whatever it takes!
– arrange practice-a-thons with pledge sheets
– have the student design their very own personalized practise sheets on their
– transfer responsibility regarding the content of the lesson to the student as a
form of motivation — ask them what they’d like to play or which areas need help

Working towards a specific musical goal such as an exam, festival or competition can inspire motivation also, most children love a challenge! Also, receiving recognition at school by being able to play in class or a talent or arts night show — everyone enjoys positive attention from their peers.

Incorporate duet and ensemble work into the student’s repertoire. Not only will they get inspired to make music with other students and friends — their rhythmic and listening skills will develop and improve as a result! Try also to encourage them to team up and accompany their friends who play other instruments. Consider promoting improvisation and composition in your studio — some students thrive in this type of creative expression.

As Teachers, we should try to offer encouragement and positive reinforcement to help in building our students self-esteem and their self-motivation skills. Discovering the method of motivation that works best with each individual student’s type of personality is the key to success.

Remember, we want to keep the student engaged in their musical studies!

About the Author
Ms. Ildiko Skeldon runs a successful piano and theory lessons music studio in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
She devotes her time to private music instruction, coaching, pedagogy, master classes and examining for RCM Examinations (Toronto)

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