Verbal praise pitfalls in instrumental lessons
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. It is used to motivate us even further particularly when there are increases in complexity which we find challenging.
However, verbal praise can have some pitfalls in instrumental music lessons.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 for of motivation.
Using verbal praise during a lesson
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 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??
Next, you say to the student because you played that scale so well, they can choose the next new piece to learn. This is now not so effective praise as you have just attached it to a reward. The praise is controlling in the sense that you will allow the student some leeway in repertoire choice based on their performance.
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, you have given them a verbal reward.
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.