Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

young-musician

(Photo: Alenavlad/Shutterstock)

How to Motivate a Young Musician

• January 16, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: Alenavlad/Shutterstock)

Inspiring school and home environments help students develop a sense of themselves as musicians, which prompts them to keep practicing.

Given all the recent research into the benefits of learning a musical instrument, it makes sense that parents encourage their youngsters to give it a try. But what is it that motivates kids to take it seriously, and commit to the sort of practice that can turn them into skilled musicians?

According to newly published research that checked in with budding virtuosos as they started their studies, and again 10 years later, successful students tend to be those who have “a sense of where their future learning may take them, and whose personal identity includes a long-term perspective of themselves as musicians.”

While some of that long-range thinking no doubt emerges from an inner drive, the study finds it is strongly influenced by the role music plays in both their home and school environments.

Parents who either played music and/or listened to it at home created “images and experiences” for the children that gave them a “sense of what music entailed, and how useful or important it might be.”

In the journal Psychology of Music, Australian researchers Paul Evans of the University of New South Wales and Gary McPherson of the University of Melbourne describe a study featuring 157 young instrumentalists. The kids, ages seven to nine, were first approached in 1997, as they were “about to commence learning music in a primary school band program.”

The kids were interviewed as part of a broader study designed to measure what factors influenced their later learning. Among the questions they were asked was: “How long do you think you will continue playing an instrument?”

Their school music programs were rated as either “basic” or “enriched.” The latter ranking, which was earned by five of the eight schools the children attended, was reserved for schools “where the band was a prominent activity that was visible and well-integrated over a number of years into the culture of the school.”

The researchers checked in with the kids and their mothers periodically over the following three years, to determine how much they were practicing. They then re-established contact 10 years after those initial interviews, noting how long the children continued playing their instrument, what musical activities (if any) they were involved with in high school, and the highest they had scored on a standard test of musical ability.

“Striking differences were found between students who expressed a short-term view of themselves playing an instrument and those who expressed a long-term view,” they report. Those who envisioned themselves as adult musicians from a young age played better, and kept studying longer, than those who did not.

What’s more, those with only a short-term commitment to music “were not able to attain the same results, or sustain motivation, for as long as those with a long-term identity”—even if they practiced as much as their peers.

So how did that long-term focus emerge? The researchers point to two sources: home and school. Parents who either played music and/or listened to it at home created “images and experiences” for the children that gave them a “sense of what music entailed, and how useful or important it might be,” they write.

The extent to which their school valued music was also a big factor influencing their thinking. “The odds of students expressing a long-term identity were 2.6 times higher if they belonged to a school with an enriched, visible instrumental program,” the researchers write.

“The status of the music ensembles [in those schools] was particularly evident, such that the children reported being attracted to learn an instrument because others had said it was enjoyable, or because they saw the band as ‘special’ and wanted to be a part of it.”

These results suggest simply putting an instrument into a youngster’s hands isn’t good enough. The odds of he or she becoming a real musician, and reaping the benefits thereof, are greatly increased if their most important environments—home and school—are ones where music is honored and appreciated.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.