Do some of your students struggle to find their motivation? Can lesson after lesson go past without any worthwhile practice happening? In the worst case scenario, do some students stop having lessons completely?
So often learning the piano starts so well; beaming and joyful students with heaps of motivation and so eager and willing to play and practice. So where does all that motivation disappear to?
Well, motivation doesn’t disappear anywhere, but it does get blocked. According to Eric Jensen all learners (and that means all humans) are highly motivated to learn because it’s what the brain loves doing. However, as teachers we have to be mindful and he suggests that:
‘the secret is to remove the de-motivating conditions’. 
So in this blog post I’m going to share with you three easy ways that will help you to unblock motivation.
#1 ENCOURAGE A SENSE OF OWNERSHIP
Who’s learning the piano? Who’s lesson is it? In our eagerness to pass on our love for music it’s too easy to forget who has to take ownership of the learning. The research shows that all ages of students will move happily and purposefully towards goals they think they will succeed at. Giving them something that is too hard however, is a surefire way of blocking motivation. Here’s two ideas for you to try out in your lessons.
- Do your students have enough of a voice in their piano lessons? A fun activity to help is to set a timer for up to 5 minutes where you can only speak in reply to questions from the pupil. You are allowed to communicate through the piano however.
- Are the lesson goals based on what the pupil wants and are realistic? I find that students who have been learning a couple of years really begin to find their musical voice and bring along to lessons suggestions of pieces they would like to learn. Give your pupils the Pupil Motivation Questionnaire (see below).
#2 SHARE INSPIRATIONAL STORIES
Sharing success stories with our pupils is so motivating for our pupils. This can be very simply done. For example if Pupil A played a piece particularly beautifully share the excitement with the next pupil – Pupil B – and get the performer to play it again. It becomes even more powerful if you spend a couple of minutes explaining to Pupil B what kind of piece it was and how long it will be before they are able to play like that.
Recently, I’ve sharing with a lot of my pupils the YouTube videos of the Piano Gal. Seeing a student, who is just like them, having loads of fun and playing the piano backwards can be hugely inspiring and motivating!
#3 KEEP MOVING THROUGH THE REPERTOIRE
It’s so easy for pupils to get stuck on certain pieces of music. It’s also common for us, the teachers, to keep a student on a certain piece, especially exam or festival pieces, for months or even a year. At the lower levels of learning this is bound to block motivation and is a sign to us that the student isn’t able to play at this level – yet.
So here’s my top tips for this:
- Don’t spend too long on any one piece of music (even exam pieces)
- Be confident enough to move on from a piece if a pupil gets seriously stuck on it
- Always celebrate what has been learnt and ask the A.W.E. question (and what else could you do….?)
- Consider starting the 30 or 40 Pieces Challenge in your studio
#4 MIX IT UP
Do your lessons follow the same pattern and sequence each week? Do your students spend the entire length of the lesson on the piano bench?
Mixing up the order of lessons and using a variety of teaching styles can bring both energy and an opportunity to refocus.
- Check that each lesson has at least one pupil-directed activity: what would you like to do next? What do you need my help with the most this week?
- Both you and the pupil move position away from the piano: get away from the keyboard to look at and discuss the music or practice a rhythm or fingering pattern.
- Vary the difficulty level of the pieces that are being learnt. Something that is achievable in a week can sit alongside something that is longer term work.
#5 ASK YOUR STUDENTS
Finally, finding out from your students what they enjoy about playing the piano and their piano lessons will give you a real insight into what is motivating them – or not!
As part of our Teacher Success Toolkit we created a Motivation Questionnaire for students that will help you to do this. Just click on the link below to receive to find out more.
This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers.
 Eric Jensen, 1995. Super Teaching 3rd edition. p. 274.