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Motivation In Music Learning

Shuchita Rao
07/13/2017

Motivation in Music Learning

On Sunday, July 9th Guru Poornima was celebrated at Vedanta Society in Providence, Rhode Island with ritual pooja by Swami Yogatmananda, readings, reflection, prayer, a grand culinary feast and Hindustani music. Many of my students who gave group and solo music performances knew about the Guru Poornima event a few months in advance and practiced hard, spending considerable time and effort in preparing for the upcoming performance.

As a music teacher, many parents approach me with this request. “Can you please coach my child to give a high-caliber solo performance? I want that my child should work hard and deliver a grand musical performance in front of a large audience. Can you please motivate my child to work harder in music?

As a teacher, I have no simple answers as to what makes some students practice with persistence to achieve their musical goals while others (with equal or better ability) do not like to practice music and fall short of fulfilling their potential. I can however share some observations and offer tips to enthusiastic parents and young musicians who aspire to do well in music.

Several factors influence a student’s motivation to practice what they learn. The student’s background, personality type (easy-going vs hard working), sense of self and conscientiousness play a part as much as their teacher’s scholarship, methods of teaching and inspiring as well as their parents’ nurturing attitude are some important factors.

A Teacher’s Role

A teacher can play a powerful role in inspiring and motivating students. Effective teachers research, find and present appealing content that speaks to the students’ souls. The music must reveal to them a kind of beauty that words alone cannot convey and affect their lives in positive ways. Teachers must raise students’ appreciation of great music by introducing them to the music of the great masters. If teachers offer a child an opportunity to choose what they learn, provide opportunities to improvise, perform in community sharing events, and listen to what the students have to say about the music they learn, they help them fulfill their need for autonomy and enhance intrinsic motivation. Teachers should communicate clear expectations to a student that shows potential to achieve and provide supportive comments to help the student to improve his/her skills. Feedback that focuses on the process of practice and on outcomes rather than on the student’s personality works best. Finally, teachers must also lead by example and work on their own performing skills to ensure that the students see good stage presentations by their own teachers.

A Parent’s role and Rewards/Punishments

Should parents offer rewards to encourage their child to practice or do they enable the child to take control of their own learning and progress? A basic theory of motivation suggests that rewards encourage continued action while punishments discourage it. Some parents may argue that rewards strengthen desired behavior but research suggests that rewards foster extrinsic reasons to engage in music practice. There is no way to accurately determine if the child practices music to earn the reward or to improve their skills and do well in music.

Great musicians such as late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan has shared sad stories about immense pressure from his father to put in long hours of practice and punishment upon resistance to the task. He turned out to be a very great musician but there is every chance are that he would have been an even greater musician had he been intrinsically motivated to practice music. If your child does not practice music even after reminders, there is a possibility that while he/she may love music and show good potential to succeed, his/her heart is really not in learning music with the grand goal of presenting an arangetram/manch pravesh show. Observe the child to see what activities they genuinely enjoy and encourage them in that direction. Create a motivational environment at home.

A motivational environment takes the student a long way

To improve a student’s engagement with music, parents and teachers must work towards creating a musical environment that fosters learning. A neat and clean practice room, a library with interesting books, audio and video recordings, shared family experiences at good quality concerts, discussions at home about music, hosting artists and helping artists create a motivational environment. Understanding how students think and feel about themselves, their musical preferences and goals, attending their performances and providing constructive feedback also help.

A Few Practice Tips for Aspiring Musicians

1.    Daily practice must be a commitment: Music lessons are rewarding but real progress happens when you practice between lessons.  Skills are introduced during the lesson – success, however, depends on how you work on those skills between lessons. Daily practice between 20 minutes to 60 minutes is a commitment that every young musician must make over a period of several years. Enjoy the journey.

2.    To be a musician, think like a musician: Practice not just the exercises and songs you are taught, but put your thinking cap on and come up with some original exercises on your own. Too many students expect the teacher to do all the thinking and to spoon-feed the content. It is important for the young musician to improvise and compose on his/her own and present his/her creations to the teacher for feedback and guidance.

3.    You are the player and the umpire: The good part of the “practice” game is that you make your own rules about practice. Understand the rules and stick to them. If you cannot devote an hour at a stretch, divide it into a half hour session in the morning and a half hour session in the evening.

4.    Develop good organization habits: Make a colorful binder where you store all the content given to you. Order the sequence such that the handout of the most recent class is the very first document you can access. Record the audio portion of the lesson using a recorder or a smart phone, label the audio clip appropriately and listen to the lessons as often as you can. Listening is the key to learning music properly.

5.    Aim for perfect attendance: Try not to miss a class. Continuity is extremely important for practicing musicians. Gaps in training create problems.

6.    Invest in an electronic tanpura/table app:
It is very important to have an electronic tabla/taanpura app on your smart device. I-tabla-pro costing $24.99 is a lifelong investment that must be made the day you start your lessons. You can play it anywhere you have quiet surroundings to practice music.

7.    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes:
The classroom is practice ground. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Be natural. If you make a funny sound, laugh at what happened. Develop confidence in yourself. We all learn from mistakes.

8.    Practice slow and steady: Do not be in a hurry to sing fast passages. It is important to first sing slowly to develop good intonation and perfection in pitch and rhythm.

9.    Know when to stop:
If your voice is becoming hoarse, there is no point in running it down further. Take a break and gives the muscles a rest. Take precautions such as avoiding fried foods.

10.    Mental practice is as important as physical practice: Recall the lesson taught to you frequently. Even if you cannot exercise the vocal cords, practice by recalling the content without looking at your notes. If you cannot remember, consult your notes.



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