Motivating Students

This one is a topic that came up through the survey at the end of last year. A number of you are also teachers and wanted to hear a bit more about my thoughts and experiences on teaching. So here we are! It is an interesting topic and I wrote a post on a similar topic very recently, on motivating oneself for practice.

I’ve been very fortunate with my students to date in that I’ve never really felt the need to have to intentionally and explicitly motivate them to learn, to think about things differently or to do practice. They are all highly motivated – intrinsically motivated – individuals (some even turning down tickets to the tennis this week so that they didn’t mis their lesson – such dedication!). So yes, I am very lucky to have such students. And this may be partly reflected by the fact that I choose to teach only adult and older learners – people coming to the guitar after a hiatus or for the very first time tend not to need too much external motivation and pushing along.

I appreciate that this may not always be the case, however, and some teachers with younger students in particular may need to give their charges a loving and helpful prod along from time to time. It is also worth bearing in mind that when you have a poorly motivated student or a student that seems to be flagging in enthusiasm or commitment, it may be a good time to stop and look to yourself as teacher – the issues may not be with the student. Perhaps there’s something that you as teacher need to tweak, sharpen up or refresh.

So here are my thoughts on putting, and keeping, the bounce into your students’ steps and nudging them on….

Give lots of feedback and keep it positive

The student wants to know that they’re doing well and that they can do it (which they can!). Sure there will ALWAYS be room for improvements to be made (and that goes for pretty much any guitarist, regardless of level), but it’s the delivery of the feedback for improvement that counts. Deliver it in a sandwich format like so:

* Really good positive stuff – “You really played that phrase beautifully.”

*Area for improvement – “How about you try it this way the next time through?”

* Really good positive stuff – “Awesome playing overall; really great sound.”

Good for student morale and feels really nice as teacher to deliver it in that way too. Smiles all round!

Ask questions, don’t bark instructions

Well, you can give instructions, and obviously they’re needed at certain points. However, when you ask them a question (“Was that phrase how you wanted it to sound?” for example) it really engages the students, gets them thinking for themselves, gets them involved, gets them really owning their learning and accessing their own internal resources (and embedding the patterns of critical thinking, questioning and problem solving, ready for the day when they no longer need you – yes, this day has to come!).

Have fun!

I find that this is so very important and so very simple – if it ain’t fun your students are not going to want to come to lessons, to work or to practice. Yes, that simple! As a teacher one should always strive to be kind, loving and fun to be with in the first instance. If you can do this then the rest will pretty much take care of itself.

Motivating Yourself for Practice

Well, one would like to think that as you, as an adult, have actively chosen to pick up and play the classical guitar that there’s a high level of intrinsic motivation there.

English: Classical Guitar
Photo credit: Wikipedia

What do I mean by intrinsic motivation? I mean that you’re driven by the desire to play the guitar in itself; playing the guitar is something that you really want to do, to improve at, to master. It’s an end in itself.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is an outside pressure or force driving you, or indeed forcing you, to be motivated to do something – an exam date looming, parents pushing a child into learning or doing something, monetary or some other kind of reward, being in competition with someone else to achieve something faster or better than they do, someone giving you a big ol’ whack with a stick if you don’t play something correctly! Hah hah! Must remember that one…..only kidding students!

So, yes, it’s probably fairly reasonable to think that most adult students are intrinsically motivated – there’s a real true desire there to learn, play and improve on the classical guitar.

Sometimes though that motivation can do with a little helping hand – and that’s totally fine. Sometimes we’re plugging away at learning a piece, or a particular section of a piece, or a new technical skill and seems to be taking forever, or perhaps more challenging than initially thought. We’re really being tested. Perhaps we’re not practicing as much as we should, could or would like to.

In times like these we need to remind ourselves of the reason why it is that we love the classical guitar and why we decided to pick it up in the first place. We also need to remind ourselves that, yes, sometimes it will be challenging, it will be tough. If it were that easy everyone would be doing it and there would be nothing particularly special about the ability to play classical guitar, at whatever level you’re currently are.

So if your intrinsic motivation is waning a little, you’re thinking “meh, perhaps I don’t have to practice today” remind yourself of why it is that you picked up the guitar in the first instance.

You could also remind yourself of this quote from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Also remember that repetition is the mother of skill. Well, to a point. Please don’t go repeating the same phrase 50 million times over playing the same mistake in the same way! Iron out the issue first and then repeat and embed!

Now go practice!!