I have learned over the years that these are some of the main things that motivate students to play their instruments.
- Interpreting things on a page correctly.
- Playing music that they have heard before.
- Playing together with others.
- Making fun and interesting sounds with their instrument (this usually leads to composing).
- Playing music games - either games played together interactively or games on the iPad.
- Music theory and analysis.
Each student will have these motivations in some combination together. There are some students who really only get a personal reward out of playing music that they have heard before, and some students who don't care what the song sounds like - they get a personal reward from interpreting the music correctly. These are both 2 extremes, but I have had a few students with those extremes. Student motivations will also change periodically and I have found it is good to check in with both the students and the parents to make sure they are not losing motivation with the current balance of activities.
One of the main challenges to balancing these factors is when the student is a young beginner. They usually do not know what their motivations are, and it may take a while for the teacher to recognize them as they are focusing on the basics of the instrument. I usually include interactive games with the alphabet letters and have recently introduced the Piano Maestro app as the game element. I will also include songs written out with the letter names for the songs they have heard before element - often at Christmas we will play "Jingle Bells." For the music theory part I usually focus on the alphabet, music terms, recognizing patterns in the music and understanding their instrument's mechanics.
As the student progresses, there will be a natural gravitation towards one or two of the motivation factors. Students and/or parents will often alert the teacher to these changes - sometimes before the teacher has noticed them. It is so wonderful to know how to motivate a student, and we as teachers are always wanting to know what we can do differently or better!