“Our job is to understand the motivation that already exists in each student and then find ways to expand it beyond where it already is. Our job is not to replace his motivation with our own.”
– Richard Chronister
As piano teachers, we have likely all dealt with motivation issues. I know I have. Sometimes I find myself wondering how to motivate a student, particularly one that may not be progressing in the way in which I would like. This week’s quote reminds me that as a teacher, I need to go deeper and realize that each of my students already has his or her own motivation; I simply may not recognize it since it may not align with my own.
I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of material that I have to cover during lessons. This is particularly true when there are evaluation programs on the calendar. My motivation as a teacher often involves “checking off boxes.” Repertoire. Technique. Theory. Sight-reading. Ear-training. And although I often feel stressed when preparing students for evaluations, I know that these programs are helping them to become well-rounded musicians who are learning how to perform well under pressure.
My research in youth performance psychology helps to keep me grounded when I feel overwhelmed by all of the boxes that I need to check off. There is a completely different set of boxes dealing with motivation in young students. First and foremost, are my students having fun? Research has shown that fun, or enjoyment, is the primary motivating factor for students participating in sport or music study. Second, do my students feel successful? Research has also shown that mastery (“I can do this!”) is incredibly important for young students and performers. Third, am I instilling an intrinsic love of playing music well, rather than centering motivation solely around extrinsic factors such as certificates or medals? Many researchers suggest that intrinsic motivation can be more beneficial than extrinsic motivation in young students.
To be completely honest, I often feel that I would be a better piano teacher if I just focused on this second set of boxes. It certainly would be a more luxurious, and less hectic, way of teaching. However, I have realized that this is too simplistic – and probably too idealistic. I believe that it is important to focus on both sets of boxes. More specifically, I need to use the first set to help my students get to the second set.
For example, when a student plays a scale well during a lesson and gives me a high-five and a genuine smile, the technique box has facilitated fun. When a student who has struggled with aural skills correctly identifies an interval, the ear-training box has facilitated success. When a student has a best-ever performance of a piece during a studio recital and realizes that it feels great to play well, the repertoire box has facilitated intrinsic motivation.
In other words, piano study – and all of the “nuts and bolts” that go into it – is one avenue by which my students can experience fun, and success, and a love of playing well. And these experiences not only motivate them to keep at it, but also make them better human beings. And if I can just try to remember this, I will be a better teacher.
Jyoti Hench is an independent piano teacher and has presented workshops for music teachers at local, regional, and national levels. Presentation highlights include the Music Teachers National Association National Conference, Music Teachers’ Association of California State Convention, California Association of Professional Music Teachers State Conference, and College Music Society National Conference.
Dr. Hench has taught pre-college piano students in her own independent studio as well as in children’s programs at Sacramento State University and the University of Oklahoma. She holds degrees from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Sacramento State University, and the University of Oklahoma. Her doctoral research involved the creation of a performance psychology activity workbook for six- to twelve-year-old pianists and their teachers. She lives and teaches in San Marcos, California.