Motivation is not something the teacher does *to* the student. It is something the student does to himself. The teacher's job is to present possibilities.

The Key to Motivation
Empowerment is the key to motivation.

Give students as many and as varied decisions as they can handle. Young students may need to have their choices circumscribed if they are not yet old enough to formulate their own good alternatives ("Do you want to play one line or two lines of this song for next week?").

Let students dictate the pace of their study. Again, as much as they can competently do. ("Let's try this new exercise and then you tell me whether you want to do it this week or wait until next week.")

Ask students what kind of music they'd like when it's time for a new piece.

Ask them to tell you if they start a new piece and truly don't like it (make sure they distinguish between not liking the music itself and not liking the fact that it sounds awful because they're still stumbling through it).

Social Music
Give students the tools for pick-up music. These are things such as knowledge of how to build triads, sight-reading ability, knowledge of how to play fake book style, knowledge of how to improvise a 12-bar blues, and so on. This allows students to explore music on their own and to make up their own. Don't leave this to chance and hope the student will investigate at home. Unless you show him it exists, he might never think to explore it.

Similarly, give students the social music they like. This is music they'll play for friends. It might be blues, jazz, hymns, Top 40 hits, movie/TV themes, Broadway tunes. How to find out? Ask the student. Point out that hard work on the standard repertoire means it's easy to learn to play the other stuff.

Especially for children, holiday music is important. It's another way for the student to use the skills he's worked so hard to attain, as these tunes are great "concert" material for family and friends.

Keep in Mind the Student's Goals for Piano Study
Find out what the student's goals are. If the student feels that his study is moving him toward these goals, motivation stays high. Touch base with each student about goals at least once a year.

Demonstrate Progress
Make sure the student sees the progress he's made. Ask him to play "old" songs; if necessary, remind him how intimidated he was when he first saw that score or how difficult it was for him to get that coda up to speed. This is one reason a review song every week is a good thing. When time permits at the lesson, I'll ask for a concert: I ask the student to play one of his favorite pieces for me. I also encourage my students to give family concerts and to play for their friends.

Exercises are another good way to demonstrate progress. As the student moves from #1 to #50, this is quantitative evidence. The fact that these exercises are usually short means that there's always a "sign of progress." (Which reminds me: if you want to use etudes, check out Czerny's Op. 821: 160 Eight-Measure Etudes. Long enough to do the job-- especially if played up to tempo--but short enough so they don't become major pieces on the weekly assignment.)

Using the metronome is a third way to demonstrate progress. Example: playing hand- over-hand arpeggios to 208. When the student begins with the C Major triad and struggles at 52 he thinks he'll never in a million years reach 208. When he gets there, it feels great! And he'll discover that it takes him a fraction as long to get the G Major triad to 208. What a confidence builder!

Demonstrate Your Confidence in Him
Show the student you have confidence in his ability to accomplish. Pet names, such as "champ" and "hot shot", are very effective, as are flat statements, such as, "I have complete confidence in you."

Competition and Motivation
Competition against an absolute standard is better than competition against another person, in my opinion. Playing arpeggios (or scales) to the metronome has been mentioned. Others: completing all diatonic scales or chord arpeggios, completing a book, earning points for completing technical tasks (points can be cashed in for printed music, lunch with the teacher, etc.; I am -totally- against points for practice minutes as this reduces practice to time drudgery rather than goal-focused efforts).

Competition against oneself is also good. For kids, passing off all songs at a lesson is an excellent goal. (I call this a "clean sweep" award and draw a broom and fireworks in the assignment pad.) "Can I do this?" "Can I do this two weeks in a row?" Learning a new Bach prelude in shorter time than last time (because of more effective and efficient practice techniques as well as because of enhanced understanding of the structure of Bach preludes) is an example of something an older student might accomplish.

I reward initiative. I want to develop independent musical thinkers. If this is your goal, too, read on.

If the student went on in a piece on his own, praise that--completely independent of the quality of the work. Let the student know you approve of and encourage his working ahead; express your confidence in his ability to do a good job with it. (In my studio, this means an "on your own award," a blue ribbon with stars and fireworks, which is the highest award I give. These "awards" are my pitifully poor artwork, nothing tangible. But students are pleased as punch with them because of what they represent: hard work on their part without so much as a suggestion from me.)

copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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