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Peps Mccrea has written a fantastic wee book called Motivated Teaching. It’s readable in a single afternoon. I really enjoyed it – it gives plenty of information and advice on motivating learners. I thought I’d reflect on my own learning journey as (very) novice pianist, and determine whether I’m doing all the right things to keep myself motivated.

In the book, Peps Mccrea lists 5 core drivers for motivation:

Secure success (achieving success is likely to motivate to achieve more success)

Run routines (get into a habit; make it easy to ‘show up’)

Nudge norms (get into a community of people doing the same thing; )

Build belonging (get to know others doing something similar and share experiences)

Boost buy-in (create opportunities to clarify why I’m doing this and publicly declare my intentions)

I’ll look at each in turn:

Secure Success

I make sure that whenever a practice the piano, I do tasks that are achievable but not easy. I make sure that I finish every practice session with success – whether it’s playing a scale with no mistakes, or playing a song from start to finish with no mistakes, or playing a little chord progression with no mistakes. This means that I’m avoiding frustration but also getting a sense of achievement, as I’m not finishing on a task that’s easy, I’m finishing on a task that’s tricky but achievable. As Shaun Allison would say (in Making Every Science Lesson Count), I’m working in the struggle zone but making sure I finish with a win.

Run Routines

I’m in a habit of practicing at the same times most days. Either at the end of the working day for 30 mins, and/or after dinner for 30 mins. It definitely helps me to have this routine (I’ve just discovered Line of Duty so my routines may change…)

Nudge Norms

This is where I’m struggling – I don’t know anyone who is also learning the piano. I’ve signed up for Pianote, which has an online community, so this could be a nudge in the right direction.

Build Belonging

I’ve not made a secret of my new wee hobby. This means that I often get asked how my piano playing is improving, and this is actually making me think of myself as a piano player. I’m not quite there yet, but the more people ask me about my piano playing the more I definitely feel like a piano player.

Boost Buy-in

If you’ve got this far, you’ll know I’m blogging about my piano learning journey.

I’ve been playing for about 3 weeks now, I’m definitely improving and I’m definitely motivated. The biggest influence on me has been Securing Success. If I was continually trying to learn songs I couldn’t play etc, I’d have given up long ago. Definitely something to remember with learners – if we provide scaffolds/support but also challenge, and let them experience success at something that is challenging, then there will be a sense of achievement that will motivate to achieve a wee bit more.

My Musical Learning Journey

Recently, I decided to buy myself an electronic keyboard and teach myself to play the keyboard/piano. I can play a little bit of guitar but decided on a new challenge. I’ve narrowed the reasons for this down to:

  1. To give me something to do during lockdown
  2. To get me away from staring at a screen
  3. Midlife crisis driven dreams of being a musician

I thought this learning journey would be a great opportunity to reflect on the process of my learning, and how it relates to learning in a classroom, and maybe a bit about the similarities/differences in learning a musical instrument vs chemistry/science. Already I find myself sitting down at the keyboard and thinking about what my success criteria are for my lesson, how my prior knowledge impacts on my learning, what is the best way for me to learn, how to keep myself motivated, the balance between knowledge/skills, how I assess my progress etc. The blog posts won’t be very long, as everyone is busy and there are much, much better blogs out there worth reading.

This first post is about success criteria.

It only took me a few times of sitting at the keyboard and aimlessly hitting some keys, or trying to copy something from YouTube, to realise the importance of employing learning intentions and success criteria when I sit down to play. Without them, my time at the keyboard is completely unstructured and I don’t make much progress. Now, when I sit down to play, I decide what it is I want to learn, and I set myself some success criteria, e.g. “I’m learning to play an easy version of ‘Ode To Joy’, and my success criteria might be “I can play the fiddly wee bit in the middle that I always struggle with, at half the tempo but with no mistakes”. This totally focusses my learning and I practice, practice, practice that bit until I get it right. When I eventually get it (don’t worry – I won’t share any audio files), I know I’ve had a successful lesson which improves my motivation to learn more (but I’ll blether about success and motivation another day). If I don’t meet the success criteria, then I think about what I can do to scaffold my learning to help me improve, e.g. try it at a slower tempo, or concentrate on playing with only my right hand before trying with my left hand. Setting myself LI/SC really helps to focus my learning and is definitely making each time I sit down at the keyboard more enjoyable and successful (don’t worry – I don’t write the LI/SC down in a jotter so inspectors can see them).

Bruce Robertson has written a great blog post on writing learning intentions and success criteria.