This post is the last in a series about inspiring and motivating students through lessons and practice. You can read the other posts here: Overview, Seeing Progress & Feeling Capable.
Learning to enjoy the process is a critical part of helping our children and students stay motivated and inspired. Of any of the aspects of motivation we have discussed in this series, it has the most long-lasting effects on them as people and musicians. It is easy to get too focused on outcomes and results and kill the joy of learning in the process. Let’s find ways to help both students and ourselves (as teachers and parents) enjoy this process together!
If learning something new is a daunting and dreaded task then why would anyone want to keep doing it?
I often tell parents that games and rewards can be very useful for very young students until they start to see learning music (and enjoying that process) as the reward. How do we develop this in our children and students?
Below are 5 great ways to help students develop the ability to enjoy the process of learning music. I was inspired for this post by a great article on the website Parents.com (click here to read) . The points in the article really echo what I see in my teaching and I expanded on some of them to fit our experiences as Suzuki parents and teachers.
- Understand how your child learns – Young students learn very differently from teens (or how we learn as adults). Within each age group there are variations in the style of learning that works best for each individual student as well.
Does your child learn best by seeing something done? If so ask your teacher if you can take a video of a new concept being learned in the lesson.
Does your child learn best by hearing something played? Listen to the piece you are working on as part of practice in addition to your regular listening habit.
Does your child learn best by physically doing something? Practice motions in the air without the instrument to get a feel for what muscles will be doing.
Once you start to understand what helps your child learn best use it to make practice more productive and make sure as your child gets older that they understand it too.
Understanding how we learn and using that understand to get great results is an important part of learning to enjoy the process.
2. Build on your child’s natural interests – If your child loves a particular animal, activity or movie you can use that to help make practice motivating.
For example: You can make up lyrics to your newest Suzuki piece that incorporates your child’s favorite animal to help them feel more connected to the song. A regular blog reader says her child loves dinosaurs so they use them like this all the time in practice to keep things engaging.
Perhaps there is a particular movie that your child would love to learn a song from on their instrument – this can be good motivation to keep practicing and improve playing skills enough to be able to learn it.
Your child may be interested in totally different things – great! Figure out what that is and leave a comment below if you’d like help thinking of how to incorporate that into practice.
3. Let your child make mistakes and figure things out independently. There is a sense of pride and ownership in figuring out something through our own efforts that just isn’t the same if someone whispers the answer to us.
Sometimes as adults we want to rescue students and offer them the answer – especially when there is a long uncomfortable pause as they process how to figure something out.
Give them time to think and to make mistakes. If you’re tempted to jump in consider asking questions like this first:
“Would you like help with remembering how that goes?” “Are you still thinking, or would you like me to tell you?”
Jumping in with the answer or with instructions can take the joy out of learning and actually may make students stop trying to figure things out on their own.
We all mean well but a little struggle to figure things out is a good thing – as long as they are working at it, let them try.
4. Ask lots of questions – this is related to the last point. Enjoying the process for children often involves them having the freedom to think for themselves and also the ability to take ownership over what they are doing.
“What do you think we should practice first on this piece?” you might say after your child plays it in practice.
“How do you think you did focusing on __?” (whatever your teacher is having you focus on). “What do you think we can do to make it easier?”
I know as a parent and teacher that this kind of approach is less efficient at getting through practice quickly.
It is MORE efficient, though, at developing an independent thinker who enjoys the process of learning. It’s important to keep this bigger picture in mind. Over time our children will know to ask themselves these questions because of the time you spend doing this now.
5. Focus on the Process as the Teacher & Practice Parent – we cannot expect our children and students to enjoy the process if we make it obvious that we don’t enjoy it.
If we are impatient to move ahead and become overly results focused, it will be hard for students to not develop the same attitude.Try to enjoy figuring out how your child learns and how to incorporate their interests into practice.
Celebrate their efforts to develop critical thinking skills and learn to work hard and gain competence at something. If you can find ways to enjoy the process, even if they are more about your child than the music, you can teach your child to enjoy the process as well.
To sum up: being efficient can sometimes be the enemy of learning to enjoy the process. The above suggestions do take being thoughtful about practice and they do take extra time and effort. Remember that we are planting the seeds for young adults who love the process of learning and can practice well independently. If they can develop these things over time it is worth the extra time and effort.
Thanks for reading this series on Motivation – in my next bi-weekly newsletter I will be sending out a resource sheet about motivation that can be used as a quick reference guide for parents and teachers. Join my email list below to receive your copy when it comes out!