How to kill natural interest and curiosity in music students

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How to kill natural interest and curiosity in music students: Use ineffective praise

This is an attention-grabbing heading and deliberately so.

The hunger for approval is strong in all of us. Positive comments, through the use of praise, are supportive. This positive feedback comes in many forms. The feedback is meant to encourage us, tell us how well we have done on a task, and to motivate us even further particularly when there are increases in complexity which we find challenging.

Praise, as a form of feedback can also be discouraging, particularly when it is attached to a controlling message. Our value suddenly becomes dependent on the praise or  approval of another. This is an extrinsic form of motivation.

For example, you praise a student for learning a new scale during the week and they play it well for you during the lesson. Effective praise would be to point out to the students that they played the scale correctly, at a good tempo, played the notes evenly and at a consistent volume over the range of the scale. This is effective praise as it points out how the student did well—it is task-specific.

Poor Praise

Poor praise would be to say “you are a good boy Johnny, you played that really well.” Does playing the scale make Johnny a good boy??, really??

Following on, you say to the student because they played that scale so well, the student can choose the next new piece to learn. This praise is now not so effective as has been attached it to a reward. The praise is controlling and possibly sends a confusing message. Did the student get to choose their new piece because they played their scale well or because Johnny is a good boy? 

This praise could be considered counterproductive. Instead of the student feeling proud of their effort in the development of a new skill, they feel controlled as their efforts only amount to being allowed to do someone novel. In effect, a verbal reward has been given. Praise needs to be specific and to the task.

Some tips on how to use praise effectively.

1. Praise the behaviour, not the person.

2. Be specific with the praise

3. Be genuine in giving of praise.

4. Don’t use praise to set up competition among other students.


© iteachpiano 2018

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