We recently had eight conducting students from the University of Houston School of Music come and observe our rehearsal. One of the many questions they ask me, was how do you motivate all these boys to keep coming and successfully doing what they do?
Here, in part is what I told them.
Some qualities that lead to success are: persistence, self-control, curiosity, optimism and grit (perseverance, passion, courage, resolve, strength of character and self-confidence). These can be taught, as they rarely appear magically as a result of good genes!
Have meaningful conversations. I call this ‘family talk’ . . . that which is shared honestly, openly and sincerely, knowing that it is done out of respect for each member of our ‘family’.
I regularly have one-to-one talks with individual boys too. I try and make the result of these talks a life lesson, like ‘hard work pays off now and later on too’.
Embrace their imperfections. Making mistakes is the way we learn. Rather than harshly saying, “why can’t you guys get that part right?”, I say, “you guys did better on that part; let’s see if you can do it one more time and really make some improvement”. Boys need to experience the process of making mistakes and failing and then bouncing back to recover small successes!
Consider their capabilities. They are boys first and singers second. I try to always remember that fact! Rewards and punishments are irrelevant if the boys can’t do what I’m asking them to do. But, the feeling of mastery is profoundly motivating!
Express appreciation and reinforce the positive. When the singing is well done, I tell them so. I also use humor to inspire and engage them. Rather than saying, “Bobby, please stand straighter and taller”, I say, ”great posture Jimmy”. . . hopefully Bobby is listening! Boys are eager to please and (accordingly) receive praise for it. And, I always want the pleasure to be theirs and not just mine.
Lead by example. Monkey see – monkey do. Do what I say, not what I do, rarely has the desired effect I am looking for. By my actions, I give permission (or not) for any and every behavior. If I want them to do something . . . saying what you mean and meaning what you say can be highly encouraging indeed!
Boys are often motivated by what I call the three “F’s” : friends, freedom and fun. They want to feel connected and accepted within their peer group. They want the freedom to make decisions, even though they may lack the skills to do so. Lastly and most importantly, boys want to have a good time! Above all else . . . it must be fun!