The Magic of Motivation: Practical Implications from Research

By Madsen, Clifford K. | American Music Teacher, October-November 2003 | Go to article overview

The Magic of Motivation: Practical Implications from Research


Madsen, Clifford K., American Music Teacher


The difficulties of trying to "motivate" a lethargic or belligerent student weigh heavily on every teacher. While the excited and enthusiastic student is very reinforcing to the teacher, the exact ingredients of motivation continue to be highly elusive. Motivation often appears to be magical because of the many varieties of student responses, both good and bad. Exacerbating the problem is that sometimes an outstanding student reaches a certain plateau, then becomes unmotivated. Indeed, teaching and learning are both complex processes, but continuing research can help clarify what is involved in good teaching and learning. While much has been written concerning learning, motivation and student/teacher interaction, this paper draws on the research of the author and colleagues who, for more than four decades, have been investigating these issues in relationship to music learning.

This article is based on several assumptions: 1) Teachers enter the profession sincerely wanting to be good teachers--when they experience difficulties it is not because of bad intentions; it is because their intentions do not function for the students. 2) Values, both musical and social, are extremely important and need to be separated from techniques and specified into measurable behaviors in order to be taught effectively. And 3) Results from research, defined as systematic inquiry, are both important and capable of improving music teaching practices, even if results sometimes are counterintuitive or go against "traditional wisdom."

There are numerous theories concerning motivation in general--I suggest the motivation that underpins activities people engage in to keep alive or that might be effective in other disciplines should be separated from those having to do with music study. A necessary start is to define our terms: learning is defined as change of behavior, behavior is defined as any overt or covert response that is observable--directly or indirectly, and teaching is any process of purposeful intervention either by teacher, parent, peers, computer or textbook/music book that is intended to bring about learning.

Research in music teaching/learning is no small undertaking for many reasons, not the least of which concerns how and in what ways students develop. One apparent aspect of formal evaluation concerns the assessment of subject matter mastery and delivery. Yet another aspect concerns the musical skills and attitudes students bring with them when they enter the curriculum or begin private lessons. Sometimes there is an important subject matter variable, as in the case of music (Forsythe, 1975), where students have been involved for many years, listening and/or participating in the subject while developing music skills throughout their lives. Often, there is a strong teacher variable that transcends or enhances this subject matter; sometimes there does not seem to be any specific aspect to which one might assign the ingredient(s) causing a person to be a good learner or good teacher.

During the past forty years, we have attempted to provide the methodology for investigating those aspects of student/teacher variables that contribute to music teaching effectiveness (Brown & Alley, 1983; Duke, 1994; Madsen, 1965; Madsen, Greer & Madsen, 1975; Madsen & Madsen, 1978). Findings from some of the earliest work have endured the test of repeated research, especially those findings relating to student time on task (Madsen, 1971; Madsen & Geringer, 1981). Indeed, time on task is now recognized as one of the most important aspects contributing to any student learning. This issue has spawned a related research thrust concerning research on focus of attention (Flowers, 1983; Geringer & Madsen, 1995/1996; Madsen, 1997; Madsen & Coggiola, 2001; Madsen & Geringer 1990; 2000/2001).

However, other ingredients, especially relating to how music teachers should interact with students, have remained more elusive and have necessitated continuing investigation. …

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