“Where am I going?”: Motivation and Learning

"Where am I going?": Motivation and Learning

This is a slightly adapted version of an article which appeared in my end-of-term newsletter.

DSC_0003 (2)2One of the questions learners frequently ponder is ‘Where am I going?’ Everyone wants their lessons to be fun, and indeed, the majority of pupils learn ‘for fun’, or as a ‘hobby’. When people start learning an instrument, their aims are understandably limited; after all, they have little experience of learning an instrument, and therefore aims are reasonably restricted to ‘I’d like to be able play well’.

The problem is that before too long, a lot of learners wonder whether this is sufficient: is the motivation of simply being able to ‘play well’ enough? Learning an instrument is, effectively, a never-ending process; it’s also a lengthy process, and potentially lonely one. Motivating oneself is fine…to a point…but we all go through periods where we run low on motivation. Sometimes you need something else to boost your motivation: if you like, another dimension to your learning.

There are a surprisingly wide range of options, not all immediately obvious, and, contrary to popular belief, they’re not all exam-based.


The music itself is always at the heart of the learning process, but a surprising number of learners have had little, if any exposure to live music. Whatever instrument you’re learning, going to enjoy hearing others play provides a welcome injection of inspiration.

In the next year, why not aim to go at least one concert? If you’re learning the piano, it might be a piano recital, if you’re a singer, it might be a choral concert. It doesn’t matter though, and it’s the music that’s most important. Be inspired by others.

Meet other learners

Why not start by getting to know the person who comes before or after you? Why not introduce yourselves and maybe one week you could overlap by five minutes and play or sing something to each other?

Exams and assessments

Of course, exams and assessments have traditionally been the way to keep the momentum up, but understandably, they’re not for everyone. That said, in my experience, at some time or another, learners do like an independent assessment of their progress. These days we are so lucky to have such a wide range on offer.

As well as the traditional graded exams, we have recital grades, leisure play, performance awards and certificate exams; in addition, we also have non-graded assessments such as the ABRSM Performance Assessment. The latter can be a good starting point as it is not a pass or fail exam. You simply have 15 minutes with the examiner where you can play or sing a programme of your own choosing; you receive a written report and certificate at the end of the assessment.

Make a recording

Recording is a great way of emulating performance conditions; in other words, it requires you to ‘deliver’ on ‘the day’, though of course, you can keep rerecording until you get it right! Learners in the past have made short CDs to give as presents; another way of sharing your music with others.

Play or sing with others

Playing or singing with others is one of the great joys of learning an instrument. Many learners will belong to choirs and ensembles outside their lessons. There is also the opportunity to play duets, to accompany, and to make music with friends and family. Your teacher may provide opportunities or you may know other learners who you could work with.

As you can see, there are lots of options out there. Learning an instrument doesn’t have to be a solitary activity; sharing your music with others will add a whole new dimension to your learning.