Blog | Jun 10

Effort Creates Motivation – Part 3

Quality Music Lesson Practice


Effort Creates Motivation –

Ways to Inspire Joy and Creativity In Music Lessons 

Part three of a three-part series by Katherine Baird


Here I share with you part three of my three-series blog posting about this unforgettable phrase (taken from an Oprah Magazine article!), that has been so helpful to me: “Effort creates inspiration”.

In part one I shared how being part of a musical community and attending live performances can help inspire our daily practice.

Part two considered the value of listening to recordings and/or watching high quality YouTube performances and attending music and group lessons. In part three let’s explore the importance of attending workshops, camps, or institutes, setting manageable practice goals with an idea called SMART Goals, and making regular time for purely enjoyable music-making.

Attending workshops, camps or institutes is akin to being part of a musical community, although it’s short term, usually several days or a week. This experience creates profound motivation for music students, whether we’re talking about a high-level workshop such as Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood or Ravinia, a local music camp, national Suzuki institute or chamber music intensive. It’s a musical spa treatment, immersion in music, practicing, watching, and hearing live performances, and a chance to make new musical friends and bond in kinship with a sublime art form. We all have experienced feeling more motivated in an activity when we participate with others. (Exercise is a good example, or taking a class that stretches us, such as cooking or writing.) Children, especially, need this kind of peer support, and they learn so much from seeing others doing what they’re doing. It’s so touching to hear students talk about new friends they made at summer music camp, and in this age of Zoom, they can continue to foster these special musical relationships by practicing together virtually, or collaborating to make virtual concerts! When the entire family can go to a music camp, it reinforces the invaluable beauty and benefit that music lessons provide, helping remind everyone that the time and money spent on a musical journey is worth every penny.

Setting a manageable practice goal (daily, weekly, monthly, annual). While this is lower on the list, I think it is critically important. 

There have been periods of time in my life when I was not taking weekly music lessons but still strived to maintain a daily practice routine yet felt scattered and unfocused. I realized that I wasn’t clear on what I was trying to accomplish. 

For all of us practicing musicians, we need to be clear when we sit down every day what we plan to do. This means daily goals that lead to weekly goals (the next lesson or chamber/orchestra rehearsal), monthly goals (e.g., “I’ll have this piece [or section of this piece] ready for next month’s performance group”), and annual goals (“I want to finish this etude book by the end of this term so that I can begin the Haydn C Major Concerto”).

A colleague of mine, Jennifer Ellis, who is a harpist and harp instructor told me about SMART Goals: 

Timebound goal setting

An example would look something like this: 

My technical goal for the week (I’m a cellist) is to refine string crossings in the second movement of the Vivaldi E minor Sonata with minimal arm movement.
Specific Practice open string crossings using pivot motion with my elbow 20 x; practice mm. 3-6 under tempo with same pivot motion 5x 
Measurable The number of repetitions I choose, along with the narrow focus, make it measurable and applicable (open strings first, then put into the music) 
Attainable I’ve broken the steps into pieces I can do pretty easily (as opposed to “Play the movement through 5x, paying attention to elbow pivot”), so I know I can do it every day 
Relevant This is a specific work that will improve my technical (thus musical) performance, as well as be transferable to other repertoire
Timebound goal setting I believe I can do this routine on a daily basis for one week and achieve noticeable and transferable results that will stick

If you do take music lessons, be sure you know what your teacher’s expectations are for the next lesson, and if you are not taking lessons, take the time to construct your goals and how to achieve them.

Allowing regular time for freeform, enjoyable playing It was over twenty-five years ago, and I have never forgotten, that one of my teachers (Jennifer Culp, cello professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) told me to make sure I spend some time every day playing things purely for the enjoyment of them.

She stressed how important it is that we have fun playing music, and, especially for someone as perfectionistic and methodically minded as I am, that is really good advice, lest our practice sessions become marathons of grim determination, which leads me to another bit of closing advice another colleague (Lisa Pollard) shared: “We play the way we practice.” When we practice with curiosity and joy, we play with curiosity and joy, which will come through to the listener and be infinitely more enjoyable than grim determination. 

I wish everyone happy and successful practicing, and welcome your ideas, experiences, and insights!

Jennifer Ellis, Harp  
Lisa Pollard, Saxophone 

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