This is a guest post written by Aeyons drum teacher Magesh.
I was teaching instrumental drum lessons at a private school for over 15 years. One day my boss called me into his office a few minutes after my lunch break. He told me that a student that I had taught for over 3 years was requesting another drum teacher. Obviously, I was disappointed. When I asked my boss why the student wanted to change teachers, he said quite simply. 'He feels you aren't motivating him'. This was the first time this had ever happened to me. On the drive home, I thought about all the things I taught this student and what factors contributed to him losing motivation to play a musical instrument. I would like to share the things I learned from this experience.
When I teach a student now, I always try and put myself in their position. The first question I ask myself is, 'Are they having fun during their lesson?' This is an interesting question because everybody has a different version of what 'fun' is. For some people, performing on a musical instrument in front of 500 people would be the pinnacle of fun. Although another person may view this same situation as their worst nightmare. (I once had a student say to me that the equivalent of him performing at the school concert would be the same as someone giving him anxiety in a bottle.)
I have an easy way to tell if a student is having fun. They are either laughing or smiling during the lesson. If a person is having fun during their lesson, they view it as a positive experience. This is a major factor in them being motivated to practice.
The next question I ask myself is 'Is this student engaged during their lesson?'. I found a simple way to do this is by asking them questions. 'If this bar starts with 3 quarter note rests, how many notes can I fit in the rest of the bar?' When I start teaching a new student, I purposely ask easy questions. The questions get more difficult as the lessons go on, and the student is more engaged. This helps me build rapport quickly. I try to teach the opposite way my high school teacher taught me about Shakespeare. I couldn't have been less engaged in those classes.
If a student wants to learn how to play songs from their favourite heavy metal band but all I give them is jazz beats, there is more than a slight chance they will lose motivation. I have found half the battle for a student being motivated to practice really boils down to what material they learn. I've had students come to me saying they were really excited to learn an instrument, then had their feelings of hope and optimism crushed by an inflexible teacher.
Obviously, if you learn an instrument you will have to learn basic techniques like scales, rudiments and how to breathe correctly. I have found out that, if I ask a student what music they love and what their musical goals are, I can set up lessons with a clear path of action. I can also include milestones along the way.
I've never seen an enthusiastic student lose motivation quicker than when someone mentions they should do exams. When a parent tells me they want their child to do exams I always ask them 'Why?'. A lot of the time they have difficulty answering this question. I do understand that if they tell their neighbours that their son completed the 'Grade 8 exams for classical piano' they feel some kind of satisfaction. They also probably feel more proud than saying their son can play 'Smoke on the water' on the guitar in their garage with his buddies who recently dropped out of school.
This is why exams obliterate a student's motivation. A student usually had a moment where music profoundly affected them. Maybe they saw a master pianist playing at a concert hall or a trumpet virtuoso playing in an orchestra. Or maybe it wasn't that advanced, maybe they just saw some older kids from the neighbourhood playing 'Smoke on the water' in their garage. Whatever it was, it made them want to pick up an instrument. Having to practice for hours to play music they might not care about is a guaranteed motivation killer.
In my experience of teaching music for over 20 years, I have noticed the students that are practising the most and are highly motivated are the ones that are having fun. I also feel there is less chance of a student losing motivation if they are engaged in their lessons and playing material that they enjoy.