Student Engagement

Fostering Intrinsic Motivation in Students

As a teacher, one of my goals is that my students find joy and engagement in the process of learning music. The process of learning an instrument is a lengthy one, and finding ways to keep students motivated is one of teaching’s many challenges. When discussing motivation, two main styles or approaches are usually considered: intrinsic and extrinsic. As author Daniel Pink details in his book Drive, environments dependent on if/then rewards reinforce extrinsic motivation and are effective in the short-term. Environments which value autonomy, mastery, and purpose can lead to students developing a sense of intrinsic motivation and finding long-term success. As learning music is a long-term endeavor, it’s important to consider how the learning environment influences student motivation, and actively structure student learning to help promote long-term, intrinsic motivation.

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Museum Music

In the US, jazz is revered for its rich past and its great early innovators and personalities. These iconic musicians, mostly active from the 1920s-60s, are still the face of jazz today. Our jazz education system devotes great effort to teaching the music of these greats, but in doing so often neglects the music and contributions of the musicians, composers, and innovators of the more recent past and today. Combine this with jazz radio’s similar focus on the music’s early greats and the songbook of jazz standards, and jazz unsurprisingly declines in popularity with younger demographics. By overfocusing on the music’s early years and neglecting the present, educators are failing students by presenting jazz as museum music, something curious from the past to admire but which has little relevance to our lives today.

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What to Do When It’s Not Working

As a teacher and musician, one of my beliefs is that there should be a balance between developing technique and finding joy in playing. I had a recent experience in which my teaching failed to align with this philosophy, necessitating a change in my current trajectory with a student. Upon this realization, I knew it was important to realign my teaching practice with my teaching values.

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