People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
–Andrew Carnegie (The Musician’s Way, p. 105)
We all know that musical excellence takes persistent practice. Still, motivating ourselves to practice isn’t always easy.
I’ve found that knowing a simple formula helps me and my students fuel our drive to practice. I hope that you find it useful too.
V x E = M
In On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, author Skip Downing points to an equation used by motivation theorists:
Value x Expectation = Motivation (V x E = M).
That is, the more we value our work – both in terms of the outcome and our experience doing it – and the greater our expectation that we’ll succeed at it, the higher our level of motivation.
For instance, let’s say that when we start on a new piece:
a. We’re in love with the music, so we deem the value of learning it to be 10 out of 10.
b. We could master the piece in a week, so our expectation of success is also a 10.
c. Multiplying V x E, our motivation score totals 100, so we’ll be keen to practice.
In a different circumstance, suppose that we pick up another composition that we value at a 10, but we realize that it outstrips our ability, so our expectation of success is a 2.
With a total motivation score of 20 out of 100, we might be inspired initially, but our urge to practice will probably fade because we know that we won’t be able to perform the music acceptably.
Likewise, with repertoire that’s easy (E=10) but unappealing (V=2), our motivation ebbs.
In sum, to motivate ourselves, we have to choose goals we value and know that we can attain.
Raising the Value Factor
Have you identified what you value about making music?
If not, I encourage you to write down why being a musician is important to you and what you dream of achieving (see my post Artistic Vision for an exercise).
Then, share what you’ve written with teachers, peers, and family members so that they can support you. Read accounts of other artists’ missions, too.
With your values clear, it also becomes easier for you to find meaning in routine practice tasks.
For example, when you connect working on technical exercises to your larger aim of contributing beauty to the world, your practice resonates with value, and your V number rises.
Such big-picture values ignite our devotion to practice and enable us to persist despite life’s ups and downs.
In the words of Luciano Pavarotti, “People think I am disciplined. It is not discipline, it is devotion. There is a great difference.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 106)
Boosting the Expectation Factor
Whether you strive to perform professionally or not, here are some tips that will help you succeed as a performer and thereby feed your gusto for practice:
© 2012 Gerald KlicksteinTweet
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