My job is to help students get better at guitar. But how does a student actually GET better at guitar?
A student can only improve when he or she engages in a rapid process of physical trial-and-error over long periods of time, ingraining what works and actively seeking to improve or dispose of what doesn't. "Practice" is the best word we have for this, but for many students this word conjures up feelings of dread. To this point, I liken true practice to the sensations one experiences balancing on a rola bola and the many internal stimuli must be paid attention to in order to simply avoid falling off. You can't think about how to balance on this device, at least not too much - you simply have to do it. Repeatedly. The more this intuition is exercised, the better it gets. Guitar is the same.
Practice requires three things: Resources, time, and motivation. As a teacher, I have effectively no influence on the resources my students possess. I have some influence in helping the student structure their time most efficiently and helping them understand how guitar fits into their priorities, but no influence on their actual schedule. I have the most influence over motivation, and ergo motivation is where I must focus my time and energy.
How can I reinforce motivation as a teacher? To understand this, it helps me to first ask: What motivates students to play guitar at all? There could be many reasons, but I believe they all ultimately fall into one of three categories.
Intellectual/Artistic: Students practice for the intrinsic satisfaction playing music brings.
Without the fundamental desire to play music there will never be any progress, so this aspect of motivation is particularly key. As a teacher, I reinforce this motivation by 1) allowing students to play the music they love, 2) showing how students can play the music they love even better, 3) introducing music that is specifically relevant to their growth and interests, and 4) assigning music is appropriate to their skill level.
Social: Students practice for feelings of acceptance and approval.
The desire to be accepted by a teacher can be a powerful motivator. In this regard, it can be tempting to either deliberately overpraise a student to build up their confidence or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, teach by intimidation. I believe these mental tactics actually take away from motivation as they erode the most fundamental element of the relationship: Trust. Instead, I believe that feedback, whether positive or negative, must be given as an honest reflection of the student's preparation and in proportion with the size of the challenge. While it is in my personal nature to emotionally lead with kindness and optimism, I also want students to understand that my affirmation of their performance is in direct correlation to the level of effort they invest in practicing.
Career-related/Financial: Students practice to be competitive for placement in advanced studies or in the job-market.
As a teacher, I reinforce this motivation by being clear and intentional about long-term goal-setting and guiding lessons to follow this path. Ironically, motivation in this arena is easily detracted by focusing too much on it and thereby neglecting intellectual/artistic desires.
If practice is the engine of progress, motivation is certainly its fuel. My metric for success is not if a student leaves their lessons a better guitar player than before they came in, but if they leave with the desire to be a better guitar player next week, next month, next year, and long after lessons have finished.