How to motivate the demotivated student

Guest Post  by Amy Wakefield Taylor

Lack of motivation in our students is a problem that all teachers of piano can expect to encounter at some point in their practice, so it seems important to develop strategies for tackling it…

Where has all the motivation gone?

First of all I think it is important to consider – what is the root of the problem? Why does this pupil appear to lack motivation?

Of course, there can be many factors in a pupil’s life that can affect their performance. For example, when a pupil doesn’t seem to be applying themselves with enthusiasm in the lesson, one should always consider ‘what could have happened in this individual’s day?’

I have personally experienced a number of situations where pupils have been bullied at school, or are suffering from difficult circumstances at home; or even (I find this only too regularly!) feeling pressured and ‘over worked’ by statutory examinations or demanding extra-curricular activities.

In tandem with this, it is worth reflecting on whether they decided to learn the piano themselves or, alternatively, did so under duress, perhaps as a consequence of parental whim or ambition.

Being a piano teacher requires a great deal of understanding, and above all I always make it very clear to the pupil that their decision to study the instrument should be exactly that – their own.

Moving Forward

Mutatis mutandis, I find that if all is well with the pupil’s lifestyle and general motivation, then this will also be reflected in their playing.

If that is not happening, I have to ask myself – what could I be doing differently?

Clear long term and short term goals, and at the very least a conversation with pupils (if appropriate, parents too) should occur regularly to find out what it is that they want to achieve on the piano, enabling teacher and student to formulate short and realistic targets.

I also feel that it isn’t enough to simply ask them what kind of music they wish to play. Rather, one should also seek to educate pupils about different musical styles.

Sometimes it can be highly effective to say,

‘How about we play one piece of music which I choose and one that you choose?’

This means that pupils feel they are learning something that they have themselves selected, and are thereby in charge of their learning. While at the same time, we as professionals can guide them by choosing pieces which we know will develop them as a musician. 

Sometimes, maybe in the case of a transfer pupil, the student’s prior knowledge is not thorough enough; it may well be that they have not completed enough music theory along the way, or they are not connecting their sight-reading skills with the performative aspect of the learning process, and this can mean that mastering their pieces takes a long time!

It is up to us to diagnose these problems and find a way to help pupils make links between the different components of learning so that they can progress at a pleasing rate. Of course this may take time, patience and lots of encouragement.

Luckily, in my experience these are qualities most piano teachers have in great abundance!


EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.6 (March 2019)

This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:

pdf-logo   Piano Teacher Talk No.6.

Special Thanks to Murray McLachlan, Karen Marshall, and Carole Booth.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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