5 Tips to Motivate Your Music Students & Teachers


Are you continually experiencing “dead end” lessons with your students? Are you finding yourself always having to push your students to practise or to do homework?

I should mention here that my class teaching experience is both geographically and culturally broad – from 3 Girls’ Boarding Schools with established music programs and culture, Head of Music in a Co-Ed Boarding/Day school in Far North QLD and now as a Teacher Educator designing and implementing music programs across a system of 78 schools in Western Sydney.

 In all of these experiences where the students have an extremely wide cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, I adjusted and improved my resources and learned something about what students look for in their teaching and learning:

  • Despite some of the educational theory and strategies that I was taught at College, students want to learn new skills and have new experiences – my training emphasized that we had to subdue and control the class, then pound the knowledge and skills into them – a poor teacher was one that could not ‘control’ their class, but I maintain that a good teacher should ‘motivate’ their class and introduce them to new experiences and a new purpose in their learning.
  • Students want to see a purpose to their learning – it might just be aiming for that HSC mark or ATAR score, though I have found that students are in fact looking for much deeper meaning to their learning than just attaining a simple score.
  • Students want to be heard and understood – a part of this is the teacher living in and being a part of the community and then carefully selecting learning material and learning experiences that connects to the students’ culture.

Cutting to the chase; here are 5 ways I have found in all of this experience of over 20 years of teaching in a very wide range of cultural communities to excite your students about their learning:

  • Sit down and listen to your students in conversation – learn something about them, where they live, what they like to do, what music they listen to. This sounds very basic, but these days when teachers are being required to continually update their professional learning, we often forget the basics of connecting to our students. Understanding where your students are coming from will help you to choose the best resources and learning experiences for them.
  • Try giving them exciting experiences of music performance – especially musical styles and genres they have not previously heard of, such as a string quartet or a Jazz combo – if you yourself are a professional musician, then don’t be afraid to perform for your students, or if you are a part of a community orchestra or band, then see if they can come and perform for your students. There are the tried and true performing groups that go around to schools but you might discover a parent in your community that has a surprising talent and background. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your students won’t like Classical or Jazz music – they might protest a little at first but well presented quality music will always be well received. This experience could well be the turning point for your students.
  • Try playing some interesting and varied music of different styles and cultures as a ‘quiet listening’ activity at the beginning of every class. I have found for many students that though they didn’t show much reaction at the time, years later they have reported to me that this was a part of the lesson that they would often look forward to.  It can really set the tone for the rest of the lesson.
  • If it is going to be a ‘practical’ or performance lesson – which all instrumental instruction always is – then make certain you choose activities and skills that are easily understood and attainable. Many teachers – and I have fallen into this trap myself – make the mistake of thinking that they are better teachers for attempting to teach a very difficult concept or skill – make certain that each skill or concept each lesson is easily attained and leads into the skill or concept for the next lesson – no child should feel they have failed.
  • Use the feedback from the students with all the previous points to choose resources and learning experiences to plan lessons that both you and the students look forward to. A sense of excitement and anticipation about each upcoming lesson is vital to a vibrant and growing program. Plus, if students can sense the enthusiasm and excitement in the teacher, then they WILL respond.

On the 23rd July, 2012 at Parramatta Marist High School and on the 24th July at Bethany Primary School at Glenmore Park, we will be welcoming Michael Griffin, an international music educator with a great interest in “Intrinsic Motivation”. Some of our very talented teachers will be teaching demonstration lessons and then we will evaluate and unpack this term of “Intrinsic Motivation”. It will be a very exciting few days.

In the meantime, please click here to enjoy this snippet of a recent Captivate String Orchestra Rehearsal with a “guest conductor”. I believe her name is Barbara 




About captivatestrings

Phil Rooke is a Teacher Educator, specializing in Music Education for the Catholic Education Office - Diocese of Parramatta, authoring & implementing teaching programs and leading music learning across a system of 78 schools in Western Sydney. "I am on a learning journey to find and invent better ways to motivate students and teachers in music making."
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