We all know about the importance of goals. Having a goal keeps you going. It’s common sense, really. Determine your goal and work out the steps you need to reach that goal.
But the umbrella over goals is motivation. Motivation is the reason we have goals and without it, those ambitions can have little purpose. However, the perceived value of the motivation has an immense impact on the way the target is achieved and even whether the goal is met at all.
Motivation is an integral part of learning. It creates the adaptive behaviours that assist students in achieving their personal goals. Over the past 20 years an enormous amount of research has been conducted to answer the fundamental question, “When faced with difficulty or challenges, why do some children seek the challenge and persist in the face of difficulty, while others (with equal potential and ability) sidestep the challenge and stop trying when faced with difficulties?”
One of the theories that can help to answer this is the Expectancy-Value Theory, which outlines how the expectation of future reward plays an enormous role in motivation (and therefore goals). The four factors applicable to valuing an activity are:
- Attainment value – how important they believe it is to do well on a task
- Intrinsic motivation – the pleasure of making music (or performing)
- Extrinsic utility value – learning an instrument according to its usefulness to future goals
- Perceived cost – perceived negative aspects, such as amount of practise required to improve
Kids bring with them all of these factors in varying degrees and combinations when they start music lessons and these values and expectations shape their development. A very important factor is the extrinsic utility value, particularly the distance of the future goal. Students1 who see themselves still playing the piano for enjoyment when they are adults are more likely to progress faster than those who see themselves only playing for a few years, or with a short-term goal (e.g. playing just to pass an exam). The students who express a long-term commitment to playing are more likely to have intrinsic reasons for playing; they love music, enjoy playing, like creating etc.
Throughout the first week of this term, all the existing, school-aged, non-beginner students participated in motivation and goal-setting exercises. We talked about how they saw the role of music in their lives and different things they can do with it. We then drilled down a little deeper and looked at what aspects of playing and practising they thought needed work and where they felt they were already doing a good job. The final step was for them to come up with some goals, which may have been a result of aspects previously identified, or could be totally unrelated. Goals included such aims as playing a particular piece, composing, learning more theory and practising more often (this one was nearly universal). Most pleasing for me was that all but two students easily saw themselves still playing “when I’m old”.
An external motivation agreed on by all, that will help in some areas of goal achievement, is the completion of the 40 Piece Challenge. Started by an Australian teacher, this Challenge has now taken off internationally and is being completed in various forms by piano students all over the world. The simple premise is that students will play 40 new pieces in the calendar year; this roughly equates to one piece each teaching week. Pieces can be of varying difficulty and do not need to all be provided by me. Compositions also count. The idea is to play a big variety of styles and improve sight reading and overall musicianship. A studio-wide achievement sheet is keeping them all accountable and they love seeing where they sit on the progress list.
Goals matter. Finding the motivation behind the goals matters even more.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.
1Study by McPherson (2002)