I have had an experience recently that has made me think again about motivation – a subject I have been obliged to consider many times as a student, teacher, trainer and methodology writer.
It’s all to do with the tuba. I know, I know, I have blogged about this before so if you know the next bit, you can skip the next two paragraphs! But if you don’t…I have recently taken part in a Grade-one-athon to raise money for the Spinal Injuries association. The task? To have just one lesson on a musical instrument we (140 musicians) had never tried before and then, 8 weeks later, take the Associated Boards Grade 1 exam.
To put this into perspective: the Associated Board has 8 grades. Once you have got a distinction at Grade 8 you MAY be ale to continue on to music college. In other words, Grade 1 is no big deal.
Except that it was! For all of us (and the vast majority of the others are far better – even professional – on their main instruments than I am as a rather poor amateur viola player).
But on the day of the exam we were all in a high state of nerves, and we were all desperate to do well. You’ve never seen anything quite like it! Incredibly experienced musicians (the others, I mean, not me) seriously challenged to pass a beginner’s music exam. It was almost comical.
I won’t keep you in suspense!! I passed. But then so did everyone else. Which just goes to show, perhaps, how easy it was. But it didn’t feel like that. It felt like a real challenge, and getting to that point took effort and commitment on all our parts. When we met up in the weeks leading up to the test, conversation frequently turned to the difficulties, how we were getting on etc.
What interests me now is what motivated us all to do this Grade-one-athon and what kept us going for eight weeks and what we are going to do about it next.
The first part is easy, I think. We were raising money for a good cause and the person in whose name we were doing it (a young horn player called Guy Llewellyn who has ended up in a wheelchair because of a fall) is universally popular – and despite his injury is still the same amazing performer as he was before it happened. Plus we all relished the challenge of learning a new instrument and since lots of people were doing it too it was fun to be part of the group.
But once we’d started it all got a bit more serious. There was the excitement of discovering a new instrument. But there was also the terrible prospect of failure in front of our peers. We all wanted so much, oh so much, to do well and pretty soon (however much anyone denied it) a sense of competition crept in. Will I do better than her? Will he do better than me?
And there was an exam in just a few weeks. So we practised and struggled every day, far more, perhaps, than we do normally do. We had an exam to take! The goal was clear, immediate and reachable.
So is that it? When we study are we only motivated to do something when there is a future goal just around the corner? Are exams and tests actually the best motivators? Are we far more motivated when our sense of pride (I don’t want to make a fool of myself) is involved? Is self-esteem the main motivator? Did the whole thing only work because we all thought we could probably achieve it – and had ‘music’ to back us up?
What lessons are there here for teachers whose students are there because they have to be (rather than want to be)?
Three more things: (1) I had to give my borrowed tuba back, and I can’t decide whether to get hold of another one. Is there any point? Will my new love for the tuba be enough tomake me get a tuba of my own and keep me motivated without a particular goal in sight? (2) You could if you wanted still – until March 27 – contribute to the charity fundraising, and (c) as an antidote to the idea of someone playing a tuba at Grade 1 standard, listen to this amazing virtuoso showing where years of real study can get you!
So that’s it, I guess. I don’t think I’ll be blogging about tubas again. But my question to you is what gets you motivated – what, if anything, are you motivated to study, and how tdo you keep that motivation going?