The vast majority of students stop playing before the end of high school. The students that keep playing do so because they find learning and playing music fun and enjoyable. This intrinsic motivation to play music grows in these 5 stages of development:
Students in each of these stages are wildly different in so many ways. But they all share the same 3 internal needs -- to feel they are capable, that they are connected and that they have a choice. Each of these needs requires different amounts of attention as students move stage to stage. And, more importantly, no one person -- be it a teacher, parent or community member -- can meet these needs by his or herself. Let’s take a closer look at the 5 stages...
Students in the pre-Kindergarten age seek connection -- with parents and with other caring adults such as teachers and relatives. These young children are starting to develop a need for feeling capable and having a choice, but connection is by far the most important of the 3 needs.
As children enter the school years, the need for feeling capable takes off. Some kids become very motivated by being the ‘smartest’ or best. Students start to exert a growing desire for choice and independence -- such as not wanting their parents to play along with them on a song...or insisting on the songs that they want to play. Their desire for connection expands towards peers and mentors. They want to be with kids their own age as well as get positive attention from older students.
Kids in 6th-8th grade are changing quickly and dramatically. All 3 internal needs closely compete for attention. Students at this age have a strong need for feeling capable and look for opportunities to display it in academic competitiveness, sports, and talent shows. They desire to fit in with their peers and are hungry for validation from older kids. Their need for choice is seen in their persistent search for autonomy and differentiation from their family.
Students in high school are developing a more economical approach to how they want to invest their learning energies by allocating their scarce time and focus on things that align closely to their interests. The need for choice in how they spend their time is very strong. The need for connection with peers becomes increasingly more important relative to the need for connection with adults. The need to feel capable is strong, but exerts less importance than the need for choice.
After high school, students are predominantly focused on connection. Students seek authentic, deep relationships with people who share their interests. Their need to feel capable is important but the desire to demonstrate it declines. The absence of institutional structures like school orchestras, concerts and competitions requires students to exert choice about how they want to play music.
These 5 stages give a broad overview of how the 3 internal needs of a typical violin student changes over time. The next post will look at how the parent, teacher and community can work together to address these needs so that students can develop a healthy motivation for making music in all stages of life.