With any endeavor that brings life-long skills and enrichment, there are barriers to overcome. Music study has plenty of obstacles, but one overarching solution - commitment.
If there is a panacea to overcoming obstacles, it is instilling within the learner him/herself the character trait of commitment. Commitment will overcome all obstacles, if strongly instilled and supported, and is what we at SFLCM consider a life skill. There is no growth without struggle, hence commitment is the key to success.
Although no approach to building commitment will fit every individual learner, as all have several elements of personality, age, and environment to account for, here are some basics for how to create committed learners:
Investigate Intrinsic Motivation
Look into Self-Determination Theory (see link button below to learn more). Essentially, one of the main points of this theory is to allow the student to guide their own learning, with teacher guidance and support. Involvement in their own path creates ownership of their future and how they can be the masters of their future. One well-known adage:
Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I remember,
involve me and I learn.
-adapted from the writings of Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher
Focus on Teaching the Character of Commitment
One of the greatest lessons in life is the Law of the Harvest. We only reap what we sow. Anything of value takes effort, lots of it. But along the way can be found and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment. But, the fruits cannot come before the planting and pruning. This is a principle that must be practiced to be seen as true in life. Give students the chance to see how true the principle is... by teaching them work and them showing them the reward.
Perhaps famous educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki has captured it best:
"Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart."
Teach them What Committed Effort Looks Like
There are associated principles that come with being a committed learner - things like consistent practice schedules, how to work little by little, when to try new approaches and how to keep a positive attitude when barriers arise. All these skills that come with commitment must be taught age-appropriately.
We are trying to teach them to believe in their ability to overcome barriers and also to work with parents to help them learn the skill and develop the character to never give up. It is HOW to continue beyond weaknesses, courage to keep at it, find alternative learning techniques, and unlock latent potential in every student. Teachers set the example by being committed to the student’s progress first and foremost. Teachers must set an example.
Commitment is Learned by Example
As with any principle, commitment is learned by watching their teachers, parents, and other leaders. Teachers and parents must be committed to the student's learning and finding positive ways to make music a priority effort. When students sense the parent lets them cut corners and have less discipline, they will follow that example. The teacher must have a willingness to see beyond a student’s obstacles and current realities. When parents and teachers share how they overcame an obstacle - this is powerful - the best teaching is by example.
The WORST thing we can do for the student is to reinforce that when things are tough, we try a little and then quit. If we give up on them, they will learn to give up on themselves. That will never be a recipe for a successful life.
Everything they wish to accomplish will come with trial and some error. What is the intended outcome - to teach them how to attain that musical skill or teach them how to attain ANY skill they set their heart and mind to accomplish. Both would be great - but what is the higher principle? We must teach them that struggle is part of learning.
We love this quote:
Teach the student first, the music second, and the piano third.
-Frances Elliott Clark
Show Them the Progress
When mountain climbers begin their steep hike, they feel the struggle of the uphill climb. But they also take time to turn around and take in the magnificent view they have earned through their effort. Students feel much more accomplished and empowered when they look back and see all that they have achieved, which is a great life lesson. We must remind them to do this from time to time… otherwise, it is all effort and no reward.
Part of the beauty of the Law of the Harvest is enjoying the sweetness of the fruit that was earned by the planting and nourishing along the way.
Higher principles should always be the goal. Commitment is a skill that must be taught and modeled for the learners. Musical skills are great to achieve, but a higher achievement is to fully teach how those skills were attained in the first place. The learner must be shown this higher view. The learner must be given the chance to participate in that construction of skill - their own skill. Students CAN learn commitment and the great benefits of never giving up on their goals. We develop character first - music second. South Florida Conservatory is invested in this approach - to build this life skill of commitment.