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What strategies would you employ for rekindling enthusiasm

What strategies would you employ for rekindling enthusiasm in a pupil whose interest in lessons is starting to wane?

The strategies I employ for rekindling enthusiasm in a learner whose interest in lessons is starting to wane can be summarised in the development of intrinsic motivation through the use of extrinsic motivational stimuli.

Intrinsic motivation is the stimulus that causes you to complete an action because the benefit to you in the long term outweighs the immediate preference not to complete the task. In life the simplest version is to exercise or not, in some time the results, and therefore the quantity of intrinsic motivation applied to the decision is obvious for all to see. The same observation may be applied to music however the evidence of a successful intrinsic motivation is audible rather than visual. A learner who has not sought motivation by taking action themselves, or being encouraged by individuals in the family support network to complete the practice may lack the extrinsic motivational factors to wish to continue playing the instrument. Without sufficient intrinsic motivation or external motivational factors, the learner may eventually cease lessons. This lack of interest can occur when they are practising one piece which does not hold sufficient challenge or offers too much presents too many requirements and therefore a teacher needs to be alert, ready to apply actions to prevent exacerbation of the problem.

“Extrinsic motivation is defined as a motivation to participate in an activity based on meeting an external goal, garnering praise and approval, winning a competition, or receiving an award or payment.”

The response to extrinsic motivational factors, repeated in time, enables a habit to be established, typically this is recognised to be around twelve weeks; although if the purpose or an increase in the amount of work required changes, the process may cause the cycle to recommence from its origination point.

A learner who is experiencing a lack of intrinsic motivation will demonstrate a lack of interest and a decreasing amount of practice. This may lead to reduced progress, increased reluctance to practice effectively and ultimately the cessation of lessons. The careful use of a number of extrinsic motivational stratagems will enable this intrinsic motivation to become re-established through incremental achievements.

These extrinsic motivational factors can take the form of pieces that may be achieved over a sufficient number of lessons that the learner deems acceptable. Each piece chosen requires a clear learning objective that may be achieved within the allotted time frame.

“An individual's capacity to learn is influenced strongly by their neuro-physiological `state' (e.g. a state of curiosity rather than a state of boredom), and by their beliefs about learning and about themselves as learners (rather obviously, beliefs that one is capable of learning and that learning is worthwhile and fun are considered more useful than their opposites). Such states and beliefs are also learnt and susceptible to change.”

I have discovered in my tenure as a music educator and a facilitator for learning that “there is little point in saying something if the person you are speaking to is not ready to listen. They can hear, but if the mind is not ready to process the information, what is heard is not understood.” When a learner is showing an decreasing interest in practising an instrument it is vital to reactivate this enthusiasm.

When re-motivating a learner I find it useful to compose or utilise pieces selected for the learner specifically. Occasionally it can be an arrangement of a well known song to an appropriate standard to provide motivation

As an alternative method I use a series of motivational concepts including specially composed music, small concerts, reward programs, small steps and the ability to say “I Can” to fun achievement programs, challenges and events that I have used in my teaching practise over the decades, and continue to use today.

Appropriate motivation, by definition, will move learners forward in their musical skills; inappropriate or no motivation will ultimately lead to a cessation of interest in the instrument.

“But in education, as in religion, it is the motive that counts; and the boy who reads his lesson for a good mark becomes word perfect but does not know”

What is motivation?

My personal definition could be expressed as “motivating learners as an action, or series of actions, that encourages a learner to move forward, or continue to improve their musical knowledge during any given situation, either directly related to the lessons, or caused by external factors.”

In modern psychology motivation has been divided into two categories, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, when the ultimate aim of the former is to produce the latter. Without self motivation ultimately the interest in a topic cannot exist.

The value of the extrinsic reward offered must be fundamentally of value to the learner to facilitate the reignition of the sense of achievement, therefore different awards are required for each individual student. A gold star award certificate is most likely to be of little value to most adults, whilst making a regular progress video over a specific amount of time could be considerably more motivating as it demonstrates an increase in ability and skill to the learner themselves.

Correct Use of Rewards

“If you give children an extrinsic motivator for something they are intrinsically motivated to do you tend to deprive them of the intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, there are times when material rewards can be valuable”

Educators can proffer rewards too frequently decreasing the value of this strategy through excessive use. During the first few years of my experience as a teacher I learned many new strategies in order to retain and reignite motivation but I discovered the overuse of one particular goal-orientated approach, for two learners, instead achieved the opposite result.

This remoulded my opinion of rewards as I became aware that the ultimate goal of all extrinsic motivators is to build intrinsic motivation based upon the individual's perception of any strategies.

“It would nonetheless seem to be true that the concept of extrinsic value, in all its varieties, is to be understood in terms of the concept of intrinsic value”

If a learner shows signs of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic awards have little effect unless they are given as milestones of achievement from a source recognised as an authority (such as the London College of Music). The teacher must consider what value any extrinsic reward will have on the intrinsic motivational force.

A young and gifted learner received a ‘in house’ certificate for course completion. The individual had already proven that she had a high intrinsic motivation and this reward, as it was given to everyone who attended the course, she considered that it devalued individual achievement in favour of group learning. Reflecting on this, I withdrew the rewards for her, and in time she attended the future events.

Intrinsic Desire in Subadult Individuals

The intrinsic desire to succeed is considered to be innate in the child but many children have the intrinsic motivation slowly extinguished due to the excessive rewards given to them by teachers and parents trying to encourage with the best intentions.

“Suzuki does not believe the correct way is to force the child to practice everyday ... The highest degree of ingenuity and creative imagination must be brought into play to create the most favourable environment for the child.”

The most favourable and motivational environment for preschool children usually includes toys. Through reflection of experiential practice I have discovered that if a child, between the ages of four and six, is losing interest it is most likely to be insufficient utilisation of applied imagination, at this age life is full of characters and stories. The Alfred system Music for Little Mozart’s using Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear and their companions is specifically targeted to instigate and retain a multifunctional approach including games, soft toys, easily played music, bright colours and colouring books in order to encourage the child's progression with characters enjoying the journey into music and therefore promoting further sales of later books to the learner and their sponsor. I have noticed through my career that certain learners of grade one and two standard will request to take their favourite teddy in the examination room, sometimes for comfort, and sometimes because teddy has experienced every lesson and the child may believe will help them to succeed at this test of their skill and ability.

The joint extrinsic and intrinsic motivational force is enjoying the story as they follow it with toys, by using games and stories the pure enjoyment in learning at this young age is guaranteed.

“Learners hardly realise they are learning because they have so much fun”

An adolescent pupil has greater pressure applied from peers and family therefore the music teacher needs to apply greater creativity in the reward system initiated. Adult learners have a more complex motivational structure which may involve mental health factors including personal and family based expectations and considerations.

Practice Motivational Program

The requirement to practice daily is fundamental to my teaching, to motivate learners to achieve this an accumulator challenge was created.

After 100 hours was undertaken on the ‘Practice Record Card’ (see in Appendix 3) an appropriate rosette is awarded. Each 100 hours has a different colour, a full spectrum of 10 colours was completed after 1000 hours practise when a sew-on badge was awarded.

We discovered that one adult learner revealed that, to her, such a system of extrinsic rewards helped her to organise and regulate her daily practice as she had a personal goal that she could see herself achieving. Following this experience we always offer this reward structure to adult and teenage learners, it is detrimental to assume that individual learners would be demotivated by this system, however it must be considered in the light of the individual learners evident external motivational factors.

Learner Example

Jane has been having piano lessons with our program for a year and has proven very motivated in achieving and maintaining her practise. She was using the “Practice Record Card” and the “Beads to Party” program when her father read on the card about the 1000 hours challenge. Given sufficient motivation to attain a standard rarely achieved Jane practised every day until she had achieved her target. Having achieved this standard she has continued to maintain her practise time and is achieving great success as this motivational factor was accurately matched to this goal-driven student. At our September event she received a 1000 hours practice badge.

Learner Example

Isabel achieved a Grade 1 Distinction in her last examination. During the pre-examination preparations she challenged herself to achieve one more bead everyday, this equated to a considerable amount of practice. After every lesson she insists on counting the minutes out finding every sparkly bead in the jar. In the “Beads to Party” program learners add beads to a large jar according to the amount of practice time they have accrued. When it is full we have a party for all the primary age learners, with games and free pizza & cake!

The sister program to the Practice Challenge is the “Most Holiday Practice” rosette. This is a short-term target which originated from a joke with a learner who was about to go on holiday overseas. It was commented that he should not forget to practice as an examination was pending on his return. Unbeknownst to me they arranged for him to practice on the hotel piano everyday. Using the same challenge I have a learner who annually goes on an entire 6 weeks summer holiday to India, after accepting the challenge arranged to practice on a keyboard which they purchased over there to enable her to participate in the challenge and teach her cousins.

These challenges have no winners or losers and are designed for enjoyment and personal improvement.

Rosettes are used to reward the highest distinction, merit and pass marks. The theory exams and practical exams are awarded using different colours, the categories of marks, and therefore ability, give everyone an equal opportunity in achieving the reward.

The choice of this external motivational device has achieved great success when the learners are selected according to their personal requirements. An adult learner had repeatedly aimed for full marks to attain a trophy and succeeded in the three consecutive theory exams and achieved the highest mark of 98% for the fourth. Following his time with our teaching programs he entered the RNCM.

An alternate award structure was found to be beneficial in those families who had a sporting individual. In addition to the sport trophies lined up on the windowsill, our achievement trophies provided a viable alternative for the musical sibling; a piano has ample display room trophies alongside the metronome.

“the benefits for both a lifetime of musical foundation and increased spatial-temporal IQ scores are available without undue pressure, so any lessons at this age should emphasize enjoyment... not simply performance and competition”

I have discovered through reflection on my teaching practice that irrespective of the rewards offered, whether material, mental or spiritual the core that is central to them all offers enjoyment and the love of music making.

Preparatory Program

One of the places relatively new learners suffer a lack of motivation is on the approach to grade one practical. Whilst the new pre-preparatory program, and step one and two examinations assist, some parents do not understand the requirement for small achievable goals and still push for the grade one before the learner is sufficiently practised to achieve. The lack of a clear indicator as to the technical skills and requirements used in the pieces for grade one practical, and the playground politics at school, ensure that the pressure applied by some parents actually, and unfortunately, dissuade the young learners from achieving and maintaining progression. To support and provide the learners with a positive and motivational alternative the Sycamore Preparatory Program was created.

This program is based on extrinsic motivational rewards alongside quantifiable and achievable stepping stones. These micro stages act as visible and attainable goals for the learners irrespective of whether the parents have musical knowledge. Four stepping stones require completion before the examination music is considered. Each of the steps provides a developing level of abilities predisposing the learner to approach the grade examination standard often without the learners awareness that they are achieving targets required by the grading syllabus. These short term goals allow for a feeling of progression through assessment.

The first version of this program was published in 1997 in book form. A sample of the completed pages is in Appendix 1. Following this publication I retired from full time teaching to raise my family. The program was updated in 2019, see Appendix 2 and is being expanded to cover the syllabus up to diploma level.

Learner Example

Lisa, after one year of lessons, was a little way from a grade 1 exam. One week she attended her lesson with her parents who were concerned that her best friend had achieved grade three flute and Lisa had not yet taken grade one piano and she was beginning to not want to practice. After a long discussion about the comparative standards and requirements of the examination system they expressed the desire for a written pathway from the current position to grade one ability. They believed, correctly, that this would help Lisa's progress and rekindle her enthusiasm. I set to work and offered the first draught of the pathway at the next lesson. The steps on the written pathway allowed her to hone her practice and progress was made, the results increased as her focus level improved, she maintained it week to week. In the next examination period a grade one distinction was achieved.

Tangible Rewards for Personal Progress

Utilising and understanding the extrinsic motivating factors of each individual learner is vital in order to achieve building, or in some cases restoring, their intrinsic motivation to succeed.

Through experience, discussion and research a set of achievement charts, certificates, reports and rosettes may be selected from based upon knowledge gained from each individual. The stepping stones can then be tailored to each individual's requirements irrespective of their personal learning styles and incorporating achievable targets according to their progression parameters. These make up my motivational program.

The Sycamore Preparatory Program cut the required guided teaching time of learners by up to 50%, proving the value of micro-steps to certain individuals..

Following the introduction of the program to suitable learners it was noted by parents and sponsors that exam marks significantly increased at the grade one practical exam. The initial pathway consisted of five short-term milestones mapping the skill development from the very first lesson to successful completion of grade one practical and theory. The next milestone was designed to be easily completed once the previous had been achieved, giving a learner the confidence and willingness to continue.

“always make sure that the pupil completes a task and completes them to the best of their ability, this will lead to confidence which in turn will motivate them to their next challenge”

Learner Example

Student 1 and Student 2 came from UAE, having studied the piano for nearly a year, they were unable to play even the simplest piece and could not independently read the music. The sisters were placed on the Sycamore Preparatory Program, this gave them both the ability to excel quickly at their personal ability and in their individual learning style.

The younger child, Student 1, was assessed and the Sycamore Preparatory Program tailored to her unique learning requirements. With the ability to see each step's progression she gained confidence in not only her ability but also her comprehension of musicality.

While Student 2, the older sister, had different and more complex issues relating to self-confidence and self-worth the ability to achieve new goals in each lesson granted her increased self confidence and ability to motivate her through the weekly achievable milestones.

The parents mentioned how much the girls enjoyed playing at home now and were exploring new music and a new piano was purchased and both girls passed grade 1 practical and theory with high marks.

After a stage milestone has been completed the learner has an option to complete a small assessment and receives a music assessment award rosette and report card.

“by giving children feedback on their performance we are tapping into their intrinsic motivation to succeed”

Parents are encouraged to support appropriate practise at home. The parent may require advice to encourage the child in a positive manner. Parents can dissuade a learner through the utilisation of negative encouragement. The parent is encouraged to use emotionally intelligent motivation, casual encouragement may be beneficial to learners with certain issues where they do not want parents listening as they fear making a mistake. Utilisation of other family members, such as grandparents, may be beneficial in encouraging the learner to play in front of an audience.

The primary difference between my milestones of the Sycamore Preparatory Program and the official graded examination system is the parents' comprehension regarding what is required to achieve the targets set and to support and assist in motivating the child to practise effectively at home. In order to achieve the micro stages characteristic of the Program the parent can take the role of a home teacher and provide the support to achieve the current goal. Parents who assist the learner at home on a daily basis have accumulated considerable musical knowledge. The learner, with a competitive streak, may be motivated by a parent and young person challenge at the grade 1 theory examination. I have modified the cycle diagram for the music teachers companion to suit my preparatory program.

Program Extension

The examination process has undergone many changes since the Sycamore Preparatory Program was first developed, some changes were absorbed and some needed additional consideration to make them work. The independent examinations have risen to become equal with the national and international standards.

The new terms of “Guided Learning Hours” and “Total Qualification Time” and the inclusion of the Ofqual and EQF levels have guaranteed the same standard between the three primary colleges, London College of Music, Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity Guildhall, allowing for the unique differences in syllabuses to be appreciated.

According to the evidence provided between GLH & TQT only 20% of the time taken for the qualification should be spent in lesson with 80% of the work required to be undertaken outside of the formal lesson. The time spent in the lesson requires the investment of four times as much home study if the examination standard is to be attained. Parents, without guidance, can potentially demotivate their young person by telling them to “practice” without awareness or comprehension of exactly what the learner needs to achieve. The chart system that has been developed allows the educator to pinpoint the item to be learnt during the week, and to ensure that the parental figure is aware of what is required. With sufficient suitable learning aids such as audible files for those with an auditory learning style, or videos for the visual learner, this almost removes the requirement for the word practice.

The current usage of the phrases ‘Learning Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment Criteria’ assists the ability to pass the exams with a good mark. Technical requirement breakdowns available for ear training, viva voce and sight reading allow the learner to hone the required skills.

The lack of specification for the specific technical demands of each grade leaves a certain amount of flexibility in the pieces. To this end we have compared pieces from the decades of 1940, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 to ascertain the exact parameters that we can use as guides for learners to assess their readiness for examination. Awareness of which parameters require completion ensures a learner is prepared with the required skills before attempting the pieces.

Looking at these parameters has enabled the preparatory program to be expanded to cover the rest of the syllabi.


It can be said that there can be no extrinsic value without intrinsic value.

No amount of extrinsic motivation in music education can reignite the intrinsic requirement to work on the skills daily, if there is no desire to excel at it.

Positively motivated learners will use the extrinsic rewards gained for progress milestones to increase their innate intrinsic motivational factors. Negatively motivated learners can appear bored or lethargic. Should they reflect on their lack of achievements and realise they have completed another year and still don't really know the required work, they may find their motivation for the following year lacking or even absent.

This adapted and evolved program with its small steps and milestones grants the ability to assist in assessing and utilising extrinsic motivational factors in order to ensure that graded learners whilst at the same time building, or in some cases restoring, their intrinsic motivation have a greater potential to succeed.

The title of this essay is “What strategies would you employ for rekindling enthusiasm in a learner whose interest in lessons is starting to wane?” The key word in this title is starting; however it is for the teacher and the parent to accept that sometimes the motivation required is a total break from lessons, even for a learner who appears skilled for which great things were once forecast. For some individuals, the intrinsic motivation can only be reawakened when all parentally planned lessons and learning have been removed. The motivational strategy used here is the provision of choice for the individual learner to begin again when and how they would like to. It should also be considered that during stressful times the learners mental health must be taken into consideration including GCSE examination times, SATs, puberty, transitioning between educational establishments and other incidents that may have repercussions in the learners life.


Dean, S. (2018). Here’s How Long It Really Takes to Break a Habit, According to Science. [online] ScienceAlert. Available at:

Elias, M.J., Friedlander, B.S. and Tobias, S.E. (2000). Raising emotionally intelligent teenagers : parenting with love, laughter, and limits. New York (N.Y.): Harmony Books, p.96.

Jackson, K. (2015). Dealing With People Who Don’t Listen! » Mind Tools Blog. [online] Mind Tools Blog. Available at: [Accessed 26 May 2020].

Mason, C.M. (1989). A philosophy of education. Quarryville, Pa: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply, p.32.

Starr, W.J. and Starr, C. (1992). To learn with love : a companion for Suzuki parents. Summy-Birchard ; Miami, p.110.

Thomson, P. and Jaque, S.V. (2017). 12 - Personality and motivation. [online] ScienceDirect. Available at: [Accessed 26 May 2020].

University of Leeds (2019). University of Leeds. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2019].

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