Motivation and the Middle School Band Director

Chip De Stefano
DePaul University Student MENC Chapter Guest Lecture (February 6, 2002)
DePaul University Music Education Methods Guest Lecture (October 2002)
Park Ridge School District 64 Music In-service (November 2002)


  1. General Motivation for Students
    1. The single most motivating factor to student motivation is quality music played well.
    2. The atmosphere of your rehearsals and lessons will have a major effect on your methods of motivation and their effectiveness
    3. Grades
      1. Should there be grades at all?
    4. Performance tests
      1. Graded?
      2. Band placement
      3. Chair tests
  2. Getting students to join and stay in band
    1. Recruitment is a year long process
      1. Be visible in your school and community
      2. Be personable to the younger grades
      3. Always be on the lookout for potential band students
        1. Siblings
        2. Good students in other arts
    2. Positive peer pressure
  3. Getting Students to Practice
    1. Students need a reason to practice
      1. Music must be musically and technically challenging
      2. Schedule frequent performances
      3. Keep students active in area honor bands and solo and ensemble activities
      4. Use chamber music as a way for students to take ownership of their performances level
    2. Students must be held accountable for their performance level
      1. Listen to students individually as often as reasonable
      2. Don't let even one student slip through the cracks
      3. Students must take ownership of their own learning
    3. Insist (demand) that your students practice
      1. Communicate your practice expectations to students and parents before they sign up for band. Be consistent with these expectations.
      2. The works "that's okay" should never leave your mouth
      3. Do not tolerate joking about not practicing
    4. You either love them, or hate them: Practice Reports
      1. Require parent signatures
      2. Be consistent in checking and recording practice amounts
        Have a tier system of grading/minimum practice amount
        1. <180 minutes – unsatisfactory
        2. 180 minutes – satisfactory
        3. >210 minutes – excellent
      3. Use practice reports as a student tool, not a teacher tool
      4. Eliminate all motivation for lying on their practice reports
        1. Don't have practice reports count for anything
        2. Don't go over the top regarding a student's numbers for the week (positive or negative)
    5. Students must know how to practice
      1. Practice at the same time each day. Routine is good!
      2. Difficult material should be practiced slowly and in small chunks
      3. All aspects of performance should be practiced every day
    6. Generally speaking, students who receive private lessons practice more than others
      1. Parents become more demanding of their childs practice amount
      2. Students work at their own pace on material that is more suitable for them
  4. Motivating students to work hard
    1. Students are a reflection of their teacher
    2. Students must realize a correlation between effort and success
      1. Older students believe success in instrumental music is more a result of natural ability
      2. Remind them. Sometimes they forget.
    3. Push, push, push, push
      1. Be very demanding
      2. Have high standards
      3. Make sure your students have every resource at your disposal (especially your time) to help them meet these high standards
  5. Motivating students to take ownership of their own learning
    1. Have students set goals for their year
    2. Control the atmosphere
      1. It's "cool" to be good. Students must be rewarded for their effort and accomplishments, not for just being good kids
      2. Every student is important. The band is only as good as its weakest player
      3. There needs to be consequences when ownership is not taken
      4. It's okay to fail as long as you learn from that failure
  6. Motivating students to maintain high standards
    1. Students are a reflection of their teacher
    2. Students must hear only the highest quality performances
      1. Excellence becomes normal
      2. Professional musicians
      3. Student recitals
      4. Quality recordings
      5. Never pass up an opportunity for your students to listen to other school bands
      6. Do not model on an instrument on which you are not fully proficient
    3. Bring in the finest musicians you know to work with your students
  7. Motivating students to attend rehearsal and be punctual
    1. Make sure there is a reason for them to be there on time
      1. Have a rehearsal plan
      2. Never waste rehearsal time
      3. Do not use rehearsal time for anything other than rehearsing
    2. Respect your students' time
      1. Start on time
      2. End on time
      3. Don't waste rehearsal time on ANYTHING
      4. Be very prepared
      5. NEVER cancel rehearsals


  1. Getting their kids to practice
    1. Parents need to know that they are part of the process
    2. "I'm not going to force him to practice. He has to want to do this on his own."
      1. It's not unusual to have difficulty getting your child to practice, but it usually has to come from the parent first, before kids become self-motivated enough to practice.
      2. Your child will not succeed if they don't practice
    3. "How can I get my child to practice more?"
      1. For most kids, the desire to practice must be extrinsic before it becomes intrinsic
      2. Bribe them
      3. Sit with them while they practice. Make it a family activity
      4. Make sure that there is a positive home environment during practice time
      5. Set up a consistent time each night that your child can practice. Practicing must become routine
      6. Get them a private teacher
      7. Such and such is coming up...they'll need to work hard to do well at that, encourage them to work towards that goal
      8. Get to the source of why their kid is not practicing. Not practicing may be the symptom of a different problem. Attack that problem.
    4. Parents, at times, need to pick their battles. Be reasonably understanding of this.
    5. Purchasing quality instruments
      1. Personal conversation is a great tool
        1. Talk to your students' parents
        2. If their child has outgrown their instrument, they need to know
      2. Ask your private teachers to push quality instruments as well
      3. Have your music dealer organize upgrade instrument nights
      4. Always have a list of recommended instruments available.
      5. Make sure the music dealers you use only rent the best of the entry level instruments
        1. If that is the worst instrument the kids plays on then…
      6. Use the child's whine to your advantage
      7. Be aware of the demographics of your community
  2. Securing private lessons
    1. Push lessons from the very beginning
      1. Even if their child is just starting
      2. Especially if the child is talented
    2. Always have a list of recommended teachers available
      1. While the thought is in their heads, get the phone numbers in their hands!
    3. Parents need to see the advantage of private lessons
      1. Don't worry if only a few kids get private teachers at the beginning.
      2. Just get the ball rolling!
    4. My recommendation…don't require lessons
      1. Loosely require them, recommend the heavily
      2. People like choice
      3. You may face resentment for requiring them


  1. Recognize the importance of music education
    1. Be professional at all times
      1. Be prepared
      2. Be punctual
      3. Dress professionally
    2. Invite your administration to attend major conventions and conferences with you (Midwest, MENC, All-State)
      1. Let them see what the top schools in the state/nation are doing
      2. Let them see what your performance goals for the program are
      3. Let them see how important these conferences are for your professional development
    3. Perception is reality
      1. Call your rehearsals "class"
      2. Fight the propaganda war
      3. Fight the "extra-curricular" label
    4. Watch the ego trips/inflexibility
  2. Provide an adequate budget
    1. Make sure your administration knows what your needs are
      1. Keep a running "wish list" that is public knowledge
    2. Type your budget requests
      1. You are competing for funds against your colleagues
    3. Support your decisions
      1. Why is the $3500 Tenor Saxophone better than the $1500 Tenor Saxophone?
    4. Spend every penny of your budget each year


  1. Being "up" for every lesson and rehearsal
    1. Remember that your students reflect you
    2. For many kids your rehearsal will be their favorite class and time of the day
    3. If you're having a bad day, it's okay…let them know, and then forget about it
  2. Preventing burnout
    1. Maintain quality professional relationships
    2. Continue personal education
    3. Observe other schools and quality teachers
    4. Perform quality music
    5. Attend conventions, be active in music organizations
    6. Realize that this is a job…some things are more important
  3. Maintaining high standards
    1. Continue performing
    2. Attend concerts, purchase recordings
    3. Invite educators you admire to work with your students