Learning music is no different from other activities and skills. Several internal and external factors can get in the way of children retaining their interest in learning the skill. However, their enthusiasm for music can be restored if parents approach these issues in the right way. Making a genuine effort to understand your child’s wavering commitment in order to support them with the right guidance and solutions is likely to change their attitude towards learning music.
We all struggle with commitment and focus. Children are usually fighting their own battles when it comes to staying on track with their dreams and goals. Here are some insights based on research from music experts and psychologists on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to motivating children to learn music.
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Assess Your Child’s Reasons for Learning Music
Research about the factors that motivate children to learn music consistently shows that children who learn music to achieve personal goals rather than peer pressure or following societal trends maintain lasting interest and motivation for the skill.1
For instance, sometimes children who start out with the need to achieve personal goals may lose their focus by comparing their progress or circumstances with their peers or their music idols. They may get sucked into the competitive mindset without realizing it. It helps to remind them why they chose to learn music in the first place and redirects their intentions towards the right reasons.
Acknowledging Effort to Nurture Commitment
Research has found that children who are praised for their effort instead of their abilities are more committed to learning music. Recognizing commitment makes showing up to learn the skill more important. In a way, children feel a sense of importance when their mere presence is appreciated, and it gives their role as learners more value. It creates a sense of accountability and naturally motivates them to show up to perform and complete their task as a learner.
Replacing Rewards with Support
According to research, external motivating strategies such as rewards and appreciation are ineffective in sustaining children’s consistent interest in learning music.2 On the other hand, such strategies can lead to a child making decisions based on external validation instead of what they are truly interested in.
For instance, children who are used to receiving praise and accolades for learning a skill may suddenly lose interest in learning the activity. They may jump from one activity to another often, as their desire to learn is tied to temporary factors (people) that they cannot control (validation).
Instead, it is important to replace or at least supplement rewards with encouragement and support. This can mean recognizing their efforts to stay committed and encouraging them to explore their skills further when they have achieved a milestone.
Making sure that they’re receiving this guidance at the right time and when they truly deserve it is important to develop a balanced sense of self and an accurate self-perception which can help them assess themselves as they reach adulthood without needing to constantly rely on others to tell them about their progress.
Using Accountability as a Motivating Factor
Allowing children to plan their schedules and set their own targets helps in keeping their motivation for music lessons alive. Discuss these details with your child and empower them to manage their time and tasks.
One way to approach this is to just let them know that you need them to plan their classes so that you can plan your time accordingly. Knowing that their actions can impact another person’s time will make them feel responsible and take their own time more seriously. Also, knowing that they may hinder their progress if they don’t work towards the goals they set for themselves will push them to be more dedicated to learning music and developing self-regulation.
Keep Believing in Them
If children falter on dedication or fail to meet their targets, discuss their challenges with them and help them find a solution. It is okay for children to take a break from learning a skill occasionally. Allow them the space to recalibrate for a while. In case you don’t see any signs of their interest resurfacing after a while, find out if there is anything else affecting their interest and focus, and work through the issue patiently.
Lastly, believe in yourself and trust yourself to guide them the right way without influencing their choices with your own. Their interest is likely to return if they are given the space, time, and support to figure out solutions that will help them continue with their music lessons.
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1. Megan M. Dray (2014). Motivation and Retention of Instrumental Music Students in a Suburban School District. https://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1013&context=multistudies_theses
2. Edward P. Asmus (2021). Motivation in Music Teaching and Learning. Visions of Research in Music Education: Vol. 16 , Article 31. https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1787&context=vrme