Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I haven't been writing many blog posts lately, probably simply due to writer's block. However, to keep Rachel happy, I'll try to be more consistent. 

Lately I've been thinking about motivation. Not just motivation to write in my blog (although that's part of it), but mostly in connection with music and practicing. Our string program has its biannual recital time coming up this weekend--starting with a 7-hour marathon of solo recitals on Sunday (yes, everyone has to play a solo), and the group class concert Monday evening--so I've been trying to prepare my students. They are all playing pieces that they've worked on previously, so they are fortunately not rushing to learn them at the last minute (well, most of them). Some of them, though, still haven't practiced much the last few weeks coming up to the recital, so this just makes me think about day-to-day motivators to practice. 

What motivates a child to practice an instrument? Their parents? Hopefully, at least in the beginning. I love working with parents who are creative and work with their children to help make practicing fun instead of just telling them to "do it" while they're at work. Eventually, though, teenage years set in, and they need a new form of motivation. Prizes and rewards? They really don't have anything to do with the end result--making music. My wish is for my students to be motivated by the music itself: to listen to Wieniawski's second violin concerto or an album of a famous young violinist's showpieces and say, "I want to play that someday, so I'd better go practice." Is this too idealistic? I felt that way when I was growing up, so it must be possible, but it seems to be rare. (Perhaps partly because not too many of my students actually listen to Wieniawski. Those who do seem to do better.)

Another form of motivation comes from peers. I guess this is one of the strongest motivators of teenagers. When I was growing up I had a good friend, Charles, who was so excited about violin that he shared that excitement with the rest of us, and was constantly introducing me to new pieces ("Here, you have to listen to this!"). (Charles, by the way, is now the concertmaster of the Portland [Maine] Symphony.) This kind of thing doesn't work as well coming from adults, even parents and cool violin teachers like me. We don't seem to have any kids like that in our program right now. Most of them will do their bare minimum of practice because they have to, or else. 

Well, these are just a few of my thoughts and dreams for my students. Any great suggestions are appreciated. And, come to think of it, I haven't gotten my violin out of its case yet today, either...time to get to work.


Anonymous said...

I just read a great book called Raising a Musical Child, by the dean of USC's music department. He has some excellent chapters on motivation, and disusses the value of being musical, versus merely knowing how to play an instrument. You might enjoy looking at the book.

Gweipo said...

interesting question, and one that i really am trying to work on to motivate my little kids playing and hoping they will love music... let me know any resources you have