7 surprising ways to improve your music students – Intrinsic Rewards (part 4 of 8)

Starting out as a music teacher with only a handful of students, I thought it would be smart to reward the hardest working students to attract more of those students. In my first year, I gave out rewards all the time – student of the month and other prizes that showed them how much I care for their hard work.

More often then not, the student would instantly lose that drive once they got the reward and the learning momentum would disappear. Why?

A hundred hours of research later I found a tremendous amount of studies that show the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards (this is how it is referred to in mainstream discussion).

The queen bee in student motivation is Carol Dweck, Stanford professor of Psychology. I could talk about her work for hours, but one of the most valuable principles that she champions is that students must develop internal triggers for motivation.

This easily links back to piano and practice because kids get so much more from rewards when that reward is simple recognition. Teacher feedback like “You must have worked so hard on this.” And questions like “Are you proud of your work this week?” are incredibly powerful because they reward the student for their effort. They also show them that they have control over their outcomes.

If there is a monetary or other external reward for students they are no longer motivated by their desire to improve, but by an external force. Over time these constant internal rewards create a crazy momentum that propels students into a ridiculous pace of learning. I’ve seen students who were basically not improving at all jump into hyper speed in a matter of weeks and maintain that for years. In the long run, it produces exponential results to promote students internally.

Why isn’t this done all the time?

It takes more effort. Or does it?


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