Let’s Play Ball! Motivation and the Music Lesson (MTNA Conference Presentation)


Due to my Outlook getting corrupted and almost losing everything (but didn’t because my miracle man aka husband saved the day), I have been going through old emails trying to re-organize email files (because I did lose the organizational part of things…could be worse…). Anyway, I came across my MTNA conference notes and realized I haven’t posted about all the classes I attended. So I wanted to share with today, my favorite class of the conference, which happened to be on the very last day. I was so glad I was able to attend it before I had to run off and catch my shuttle ride to the airport home. Amy was a wonderful presenter, I hope you get a little benefit out of my notes that day…

Let’s Play Ball! Motivation and the Music Lesson
Amy Greer

How we learn-
-Sensory input (background noise, visual stimulation, internal noise, etc)
-Working memory- what to attend to and what to throw away.  Not everything that gets filtered goes to long term memory.  Juggling tasks, playing piano, driving cars, reading book, etc…  We can max out working memory- has limits.  Bottle necks of our brains.  “Article- Miller’s Magical Number 7 Plus or Minus 2”  Recent studies think the number is too high from Miller’s study and think it’s more like 5.
-Long term memory- We are never close to maxing out.  Skills, knowledge, memories are stored.  If we have truly learned something it is in our long term memory

Amy showed us on the powerpoint screen 7 numbers for about 5-10 seconds and then takes them away.  Randomly over the page. Later she asks how many we remember…  Later shows those numbers as a phone number.  Easier to remember the chunk/pattern.

A child that has to remember note reading, rhythm, dynamics, phrasing, etc.. in one lesson can take a lot.  Oh, then if they need to go to the bathroom, oops they lost something…

Managing the nuts of bolts of playing a piece is a lot for a beginner.

Amy’s distracted brain while practicing Bach…
Piano, birds and feeders, grocery list, matt dry cleaning, cats

-motivation is an important gatekeeper to the working memory.
A piece we have control over.

Have you ever avoided doing something?  Motivation is behind the things we do and the things we don’t.

We learn because we give our attention to something.

Self Efficacy- the belief in whether or not we can do something.  If we don’t think we can, we won’t try.  Established quite young.  Domain specific.  (Good at piano, but not at tennis)  This can also be sub-domain specific (ie: good sight-reader but not good ear)  As kids get older, self-efficacy diminishes and domain specific grows.  (ie: jump off the roof and fly; older= wiser)  Cues from other people will play a part.  We need to be careful.  Kids can read cues very well.

-Fixed or entity Mindset- believe intelligence and abilities are fixed.  You either have it or you don’t.  Limits.  Prescription for failure.  “If you have it, you have it- you don’t need to work”
-Growth or incremental Mindset- Work and effort can improve and develop skills.  Value work. Understand this is not the whole story.  Hard workers, typically like practicing.  Kids that you love to teach.

As a culture we value talent over work and effort.  We give to much credit to Lang Lang’s talent and don’t give enough to all the hard work behind it, all the hard work and practicing.

We want our students to possess growth mindset.  However they are very likely they have a fixed.

Two most dangerous words in music ed is talented and gifted.

Problem with perfectionist- they think if they can’t do it perfect the first time it’s a sign of failure.  Do not value process or effort.  They don’t want to try anything they can’t do perfect the first time.  “save face”
They are hard to teach, defensive, frustrated

New skills have to be reviewed extensively so they feel they can do it at home.  (Looks like hand holding) but teach to value work and expect failure as part of the learning process.  They give the impression they aren’t trying.
Even your very youngest student has some established attitudes.  As teachers we must believe that we can help develop how they believe.  How to practice, work, skills are not gift here today, gone tomorrow.  Can be acquired through practice and effort.

A good teacher should look for cracks and holes as a way inside.

-Self Regulation (practicing)
Ask all students regardless age/level- “How did you practice this” Wants them to start thinking about it from the very beginning.  If they are engaged in the work, they will get hooked.  ie: No child left behind emphasis is on test results – all about the end result not the process.  When we focus on the test, the competition it takes away from the process, the motivation.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation-  Good/Bad (kinda)
Intrinsic- doing it for the love of it
Extrinsic- doing it for reward. When it goes away, motivation gone.
Rarely are we entirely all of “i” or “e”
There are times we have to bribe ourselves to encourage the motivation that simply isn’t there.

Rewards and bribery- “the thorny issue”
Little kids will do anything, later in life it seems we need more rewards and bribery.  To introduce these things at the beginning not the best idea.  Do not assume you will need stickers or prizes to motivate practice.  However a reward may be exactly what your student needs.  Sometimes the novelty of the  task gets lost and we need the extra outside motivation to lift us out of a low spot.

Sometimes we are motivated to do something when other times we aren’t.
“Sometimes the best way to get over a wall is to back up so we can get a running start.” (love this!)

Lack of motivation- Not necessarily laziness

Teachers that only want to work with motivated students aren’t understanding the process.  Good luck!

Student centered/subject centered (we need both)

Student centered- We should focus on not just holistically musicians but holistically  people.

Subject centered-Pedagogical training usually focuses on the product.

How we live our lives, motivate our work, etc. is what matters. This in the end is our practice.

If you can teach students to think, you can teach them anything.
If we can teach students to self motivate, work, we have given them the world. Then they can be whole people.  (husbands, fathers, doctors, musicians, etc.)
” A guru gives us himself and then his system; a teacher gives us his subject and then ourselves.” Adam Gopnik

Teaching is crucial that we sit down and wrestle what we value and belief.  We are evolving creatures, each one of us.  Being a human being (not just a teacher) is an art form.

Q and A

You can’t motivate an entire class the same way.  Bottom line is a lot of extrinsic motivation.

You can do it, or you can do it or like it (quote from a headmaster)- changing attitude
Amy’s response- can change intrinsic twist to the person or can sound like a threat.

“Give them what they want so we can give them what they need” Brian Chung from his presentation

This is a spectrum we move through our different motivations in our lives over and over again.

Practical examples-
– varies…
– specific pieces
– goals
– games
*** Not really a set answer- if you look at your students differently then it’s a start.  One answer will work for one student but not for another.  Look at each student individually.  You will figure it out.

When asked about what motivated her when she was a child-
She was obedient, her and piano was a good match.  It just took- didn’t take with all her siblings.

Sometimes the best and loving thing we can do for a family is to say, let the kid play soccer.  Just not for him.

Piano is one of the best places for kids to learn to work.  They aren’t learning it anywhere else.

***P.S. If you haven’t already (or even if you did- you can do it again- no limit!) please go to: https://www.facebook.com/musicteachershelper then find my entry “Ode to Music Teachers Helper” by Jennifer Foxx click on like, leave a comment and share (you can even share it on my page if you don’t want to have it going to yours…). Likes are worth 1 point, comments 2 points and shares 2 points. I’m currently in 2nd place and REALLY want to get to 1st. THANK YOU for your help! You can comment and share as much as you would like!  🙂


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