One of the early fathers of the "self-help" book genre, Robert Collier, may not have been right about everything he wrote, but I think he pretty much nailed this one on the head: People are (mostly) self-fulfilled prophesies. It makes perfect sense. Your commitment level to something has everything to do with how closely you identify with that thing. As a teacher, I see this first-hand every day. I've learned that I am truly incapable of making any of my students learn anything. Rather, all I can do is present the material to them and hope that they choose to learn what I am offering.
So pretend you're a piano teacher with two private piano students. They share all of the same characteristics (age, ability, work-ethic, etc.) except for one: They both identify with music differently. One student thinks of herself as a music student and treats music as a hobby, and the other thinks of herself as a growing musician and thinks of music as a part of life. Guess which student is going to be the one choosing to learn the material and concepts you present to them time and again: the one who views herself not just as a music student, but as a musician.
I've had very smart, capable, naturally-gifted students quit private lessons after awhile because they refused to see their practice as anything but another homework assignment to check off the daily agenda. But I've also seen the opposite too. I've witnessed music students flourish who, frankly, I didn't initially think "had what it takes" to be a musician. And, after years of students of all ages, abilities, and commitment levels, I've noticed a trend...
Students who view themselves as musicians - at least in part - maintain a continual involvement in music. And students who don't...quit.
That's why we at Vibe Music Academy call ourselves "a community of musicians making musicians," because our central focus is helping our students identify with music. And we've noticed tremendous results! Here are some important ways to help your student identify themselves as growing musicians...
Let them play music they like.
The best way to learn music is to enjoy it. And the only way to enjoy music is to connect with it. Let your student experience the enjoyment that music has to offer by having them play some of their favorite songs, even if the compositions may not be quite on par with Mozart or Beethoven. Students should play the "classics" when they are already self-motivated to develop their musical craft.
Encourage them to express themselves via music.
Focus on helping students relate music to their lives. At Vibe, we do this by helping them write original compositions, encouraging them to listen to and play music that interests them, and giving them the chance to learn from the pros at our learning events.
Give them opportunities to perform.
Though practice makes perfect, the richest musical experiences take place on the bandstand, not in a class or a practice room. Make sure your student is given plenty of opportunities to perform!
"But, what if my student has stage fright?"
Great question. Check out a different blog post I wrote about this exact topic.
Get them playing music with their peers.
When students play in ensembles with their peers, they learn what it takes to set a goal and achieve it as a group, they develop communication skills both verbally and musically, they discover how to fulfill the different roles of a soloist and an accompanist, and most of all they gain invaluable experience contributing to something bigger than themselves.
So, think about using some of these strategies, and check out all of the musical experiences that we offer at Vibe that will encourage your student to see themselves not just as participants in music as a hobby, but as growing musicians.
- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy, Fishers, Indiana.