Essay about Piano Learning and Motivation

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Without a doubt, all arts manifest most precious qualities in humanity. It enriches our lives and elevates individuals to explore spiritual and aesthetic aspects of the world and ourselves. Music as one form of arts is extremely connected to our everyday life yet learning music faces many obstacles and difficulties. Therefore, my interpretation of being a musical educator essentially is to make the learning process as easy and enjoyable as possible for students. Through my teaching experience, I have seen many students who came to the piano lessons with different attitudes and behaviors, subsequently, various outcomes and I think motivation plays a significant role in their responses to learning the piano and affect learning outcomes. As a result, I will be focusing on piano learning and standing on the aspects of motivation to seek teaching approaches that facilitate successful learning and performance experiences in this essay.

Motivation and Interests

According to Brophy (as cited in McPherson, 2006, p.213), “Motivation is a theoretical construct and used to explain the initiation, direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior, especially goal-directed behavior”. This statement illustrates that motivation has substantial impact on human behaviors. In the context of piano learning, motivation can influence students’ decisions on whether they continue learning the piano or terminate it, also the learning process is spontaneous or passive.

For example, I have two female piano students and they are about the same age (9-11 years old). Student A claimed that learning the piano was never her intention but her mother’s will while student B showed a great enthusiasm on learning the piano without any interventions. Student A behaved passively during the lessons such as being reluctant to play the piano and showing frustration time to time while playing. Student B was well engaged and positively following my instructions. Even though they were using the same textbook, I made much more progress with student B than with student A during the same amount of time. Clearly, student A was not motivated to learn the piano as much as student B.

In McPherson’s book ‘The Child as Musician’ (2006, p.213), a process model from Connell (1990) is presented to depict relationships between “the self-system (perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, emotions), the social system (e.g., teachers, peer, parents and siblings), actions (motivated behaviors including learning investment and regulation), and outcomes (learning, achievement)”. This model demonstrates that motivation develops in a continuous way and these four elements continually influence and interact to each other. This model also explains the phenomenon from the example above. In that case, self-system (students’ perception and emotions of learning the piano) interacted with social system (students A’s mother) influences students’ actions (passive behavior from student A and positive behavior from student B) and learning outcomes (more progress made with student B).

Nevertheless, teachers as part of the social system have the power to influence students’ self-system and affect students’ actions and the learning outcomes. For most of music learners especially beginners to be motivated depends on whether or not what they are learning matches their interests. According to Austin, Renwick, and McPherson (2006, p. 234), interest can be divided into two categories— individual and situational interests. Individual interest is more long-lasting disposition of one’s response to learning in certain realms, whereas situational interest is initiated by a specific learning environment. Learning environment includes the atmosphere, content, and assignment of the class. Its effect is immediate but may or may not last. However, situational interest is exceedingly important when students are not displaying individual interest. Moreover, learning environment can enhance individual’s interest thus it facilitates situational interest to maintain and build up the transformation from situational interest into individual interest.

Furthermore, a case study, conducted by Austin, Renwick and McPherson (2000), showed that a 12-years-old student exhibited a higher level of concentration, endurance, and strategy use in the piece chosen by herself in the comparison of repertoire assigned by her teacher. Her choice was on the account of the situational interest yet an individual interest in jazz was arising.

This theory absolutely enlightens educators to reevaluate their teaching methods. Instructors ought to have assessments on their choices of textbooks, contents, approaches, and class design before presenting to students. Well organized and vivid materials combined with positive and enthusiastic teaching attitude entail instructors to inspire students and grab students’ attention immediately. This attention might be temporary but allows students to participate and be encouraged exploring more thereby, to identify and locate domains that they are interested in, in other words, a transformative process from situational interest to individual interest.

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Motivation and Self-Determination Theory

Numerous studies related to music learning and motivation have been conducted based on Deci and Ryan’s (2000) self-determination theory over the decades. This theory helps us to understand the relationship between social influence and motivation. To begin with, motivation is divided into two types of motivations—intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is that individuals take actions for their own satisfaction, enjoyment, and interests. It associates with autonomy and competence. However, individuals will be only motived by activities matched with their internal interests or “activities that have the appeal of novelty, challenge, or aesthetic value” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p.71). On the contrary, extrinsic motivation is social contexts related. It is initiated by external factors such as reward or punishment. Extrinsic motivation seems to be the opposite of self-determination. Nevertheless, self-determination theory addressed that external motivated behavior can be self-determination. For example, piano students who practice at home because she or he understands of which can help their career as a pianist in the future and students who only practice under the supervision from their parents or instructors are all motivated externally. However, the former is self-determined and it involves a sense of choice and personal affirmation while the latter involves obedience and external regulation.

Researches and studies (e.g., Deci, Nezlek, & Sheinman, 1981; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Grolnick, 1986; Flink, Boggiano, & Barrett, 1990 as cited in Deci & Ryan, 2000, p.71) have shown that acceptance of feelings, sense of choice, and opportunities for self-determination can promote enhancement on individuals’ intrinsic motivation. Autonomy supportive teachers and parents activate greater intrinsic motivation, aspiration of challenges, and thirst for knowledge in children comparing with controlling teachers and parents.

This theory reveals that a certain extent of liberty should be given back to students. This can spur students to engage with the lessons or classes autonomically. Taking repertoire selecting for piano students as an example, instructors can inquire students’ opinion about what pieces that they are interested in and encourage them to make a repertoire list. Subsequently, instructors can evaluate the list and select pieces that correlate with students’ current level both physical and comprehensive. In this way, students will have a sense of participation and connection with these pieces which enlarges their interests, boosts their sense of self-determination, and entails spontaneous practice.

Motivation and Self-Efficacy

According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy was defined as peoples’ confidence in their ability of accomplishing tasks and problems solving. He pointed out that individuals’ efficacy beliefs are variable. Some people believe that they are capable of accomplishing even the most complicated and challenging tasks while others believe that they are only able to achieve on easier tasks. Bandura also differentiated two types of expectancy beliefs—outcome expectations and efficacy expectations. Outcome expectation is beliefs that the certain outcome caused by particular behaviors. For example, a piano student practice spontaneously because he or she believes that practice is the way can lead to better performance. Efficacy expectation is the belief of whether or not the level of effectiveness that one endeavors can produce the certain outcome. For example, one student exerts himself /herself to practice in order to win a competition. Self-efficacy is close related with students’ motivation and persistence for achievement (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Students’ actual achievement can be somewhat predicted by their beliefs on their own ability (Austin, Renwick, & McPherson, 2000). Moreover, individuals’ interests on certain tasks might be undermined due to lack of confidence in their competence.

This concept can be well demonstrated in the context of piano learning, performance activities are inevitable for pianists. This theory reveals that psychological status of one during a performance might influence the performance result. One can be distracted by thoughts from self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity because of lack of sense of self-efficacy while performing. Thus, the performance is more likely ineffectual for cultivating the sense of self-efficacy rather undermining it. A couple of my colleagues including myself are also suffering from low sense of efficacy and while performing. Yet it is a common to all level of pianists and in a way even to all performers. A solid positive sense of self-efficacy is substantially important because it directly associates with the quality of the performances.

Thus, piano teachers ought to help students to build up their sense of self-efficacy as early as they can. There are a couple of approaches that I consider as possible way to boost students’ self-efficacy. Such as giving students tasks on a scale from easy to challenging and letting students start on the easiest tasks first. Each achievement in completing tasks can strengthen their sense of self-efficacy. Also, asking students’ opinion about performance opportunities and never force them to go on the stage. Only when they feel ready and confidence, the performance opportunity is virtuous to their learning experiences and sense of self-efficacy.

Conclusion and Possibilities

Teachers as one member of the social system have great influence on students’ self-system, actions, and outcomes (Austin, Renwick, & McPherson, 2000). Traditional music teaching environment that I grew up with was confined between the teacher, the student, and the music. In nowadays, technology advancements enable us to utilize more resources and to design an unconventional teaching approach which can help student to learn more effectively, engage better and cultivate their independent learning skill. For example, people all keep their smartphones close and a lot of instructors consider it as a threat to the class forbidding students to use it. However, students can use their phone to listening recordings of the piece they are working on, that helps students to give a quick sketch of the piece and conceive the music as a whole instead of reading note by note. Another thing that a smartphone can do is as a recorder. Students can record themselves and listen to what they just play right after that enables them to evaluate the performance immediately, subsequently, adjust and self-correct their playing. Moreover, there are plenty of other applications developed for aiding music learning such as metronome and music-slowdown.

Last but not the least, there are still left out so many undiscovered aspects that could help students making progress as well as enjoying the process. We as educators ought to feel obligated to create a personal, innovative, and encouraging learning environment to students and be always eager to update our teaching methods ceaselessly.

References

  1. Austin, J., Renwick, J., & McPherson, G. E. (2006). Developing Motivation (pp. 213-238). In G. E. McPherson (Ed.) ‘The Child as Musician: A Handbook of Musical Development’. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bandura A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.
  3. Connell, J. P. (1990). Context, Self, and Action: A Motivational Analysis of Self-System Processes Across the Life-Span. In D. Cicchetti (ed.), ‘The Self in Transition: Infancy to Childhood’. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  4. Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M., (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. The American Psychologist, 55 1, 68-78.
  5. Eccles, Jacquelynne S., & Wigfield, Allan. (2002). Motivational Beliefs, Values, and Goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 109-125.
  6. Mario Baez- Estradas. (2017). Training Strategies for Self-Regulating Motivation and Volition: Effect on Learning. Anales De Psicología, 33(2), 292-300.
  7. Ritchie, L., & Williamon, A. (2012). Self-Efficacy as a Predictor of Musical Performance Quality. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 6(4), 334-340.
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