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What Motivates Students?


By Victoria Lanier, Executive Director of Education Through Music-Los Angeles

On August 16, 2018, violinist and educator Leo Kitajima and I co-led the Strings Educator Workshop hosted by Education Through Music-LA and ASTA which focused on two main threads – 1) keeping the “fun” in teaching fundamentals and 2) keeping improvisation and listening as a core part of strings education. We worked with a wide array of participants including strings teachers and educators from Education Through Music-LA’s partner public schools and other districts across Los Angeles County, conservatory programs, community-based ensembles, after-school organizations, private instruction, and other settings.

While each thread centered on varying levels of learners, common themes emerged from both, including the following:  student motivation drives success, repetition necessitates innovation, and relevance (repertoire, activities, exercises) maintains deep student interest.

Participants probed into why children are motivated to learn music, and in particular, a stringed instrument. For younger children, we agreed that fun, games, and social interactions must be present; furthermore, to the extent that a teacher can implement an eclectic approach in a beginning strings class, will each child be able to find their individual joy and connection to playing songs on their instruments (James Przygocki, August 1, 2004).  To that end, we experienced how Dalcroze-centric activities and movement-based exercises may help violin students to internalize rhythms before asking them to demonstrate those same patterns in their fingers (fine motor skills).

What about for older, more advanced student groups?  How can instructors genuinely tap into what their students care about?  For Kitajima, knowing what students are listening to (what is on their playlist?) – whether hip-hop, classical, jazz, rap, or electronic dance music (EDM) – gives him insight into what repertoire will capture their attention, thereby creating safe entry points for further musical analysis and improvisation.  Through basic listening and humming of notes in songs like “She” by Laura Mvula, Kitajima took participants on a journey in which they  inadvertently – and in an uninhibited manner – identified notes in complex chord progressions.  For participants who “had never improvised before” or for those whom such creative processes were suppressed during their own development, the workshop provided an empowering and welcoming alternative towards improvisation.

And all the while, we were having fun.