Advice From the Experts: Motivation Part 2 – Motivation in the Music Classroom

Kansas is blessed with great music teachers from around the state who have a great deal of wisdom and advice they can share with peers. With experience, with specialized training in various areas, with shear hard work, and with an uncommon desire to continue to learn, they have honed their skills and made a great impact on their students. Therefore, we are asking teachers from around the state a new set of questions each month. It is our wish that this sharing of ideas will create a type of synergy among teachers throughout the state and elevate every program to new levels of learning.

This month’s topic was about motivation. We asked teachers to discuss how they motivate students to join their ensembles, how they retain them, and how they encourage students to “buy in” to their programs. The responses were so rich, we have split the articles into two parts. In Part Two, teachers were asked two questions. The first was, “How do you get ‘buy-in’ to your program so that students do their best in your class and take ownership of their learning? The second was, “What are some of the best motivational strategies you’ve used in your program?”


Gae Phillips is the director of bands at Columbus Unified School District and is the KMEA President-Elect.

It is imperative that music educators conduct and present their program with excellence. To assure buy-in and retention, students must view the music program as valuable to their future. The best way to assure that students view the music program as beneficial is to make sure that they are valued and successful.

It is essential that each student feel a connection to the program. A basic human instinct is to feel needed. Creating meaningful relationships with your students is one way to form long-lasting connections that will enhance student success. As educator’s, we have all heard the quote by Theodore Roosevelt that says, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Music educators must do their utmost to value each student’s time. Rehearsals must be organized, meaningful and purposeful. Instructors who waste students’ time by running unorganized rehearsals will struggle with retention. The student should be so immersed in making quality music in the rehearsal that they want to come back the next day. Participation in the program should leave the student with a feeling of accomplishment.

And finally, implore and teach your students to keep the zeal. Zeal is the eager desire and diligence that keeps us motivated and enthusiastic. All students had great zeal the moment they got their first instrument or participated in their first concert. Every endeavor that is worthwhile contains moments of hard work and struggle. Teach your students to be persistent. There is no giant step that does it—music is the sum of a lot of little steps. In the end, the reward is great for those who persevere.


Katie Topp is Sabetha Director of Bands in Prairie Hills USD 113 and was voted KBA Outstanding Young Band Director of 2016.

First, I make it clear that we all want to have fun in class and we want to sound good. I emphasize that sounding and being good is much more fun than goofing off and sounding bad because when you put some work into it, you can enjoy what you’re doing.

Once students have been in band for a couple years, I start to give them more of a say in what we do and how we do it. I will get their input on visuals and drill for marching band; I’ll ask for ideas for new pep music or concert themes. I’ll pull a bunch of songs that would work for a particular performance, we read through them, and they vote on what they want to do. I also work really hard to find music that will excite and challenge them and give them something to be proud of. MUSIC IS EVERYTHING. If they don’t like it, they will not work for you, they will not enjoy your class.


Maranda Wilson teaches band and is the band curriculum coach for Wichita Public Schools and is the 5-6 A All-State Band Chair.

One of the best ways to get students to buy in is to get to know them and take an interest in their lives. If they are an athlete, I ask how the last game went. If they look sad, I ask if everything is okay. I have had students say to me that when they have been struggling with something, I am the only adult in their lives who have asked if they are alright. We spend a lot of time with the students outside of school and it is easy to strike up a quick conversation and learn something interesting about each student. That connection means a lot to them. Also, I don’t try to just teach notes and rhythms in my classes. We spend a lot of time building personal skills like responsibility, teamwork, discipline, work ethic, kindness, etc. In my classes we are working toward a larger goal than any individual player. We are part of a special community. Music is this great thing that we share in common, but in addition to that we are all working to make the world a better place. The motto in our classroom is that you can’t be the best band without first being the best people.

One of the best motivational strategies I use in my program is enthusiasm. If I am excited about what we are doing, I can usually get the students excited about it too. Fear and intimidation don’t work. I hate the advice, “don’t smile until Christmas”. I can have a smile on my face every day and get positive results out of every rehearsal. I can also get very frustrated and pointed in my criticism, but my students know that I care about them above all else, so when I am pushing them it’s because I want them to get better. Without a relationship with the student, pushing just results in them pushing back.


Jamie Minneman is director of bands in Marysville and has been the NW region teacher of the year.

I feel like if they know you really care about them and want the best for them, they will “buy in” to you. Consistency helps. The more time and work you put in for them, the more you’ll get in return.


Julie Linville teaches music at Wheatland Elementary in Andover.

For students to “buy in” to your music program or class, you must first “buy in” yourself.  You have to be passionate about your students and the impact of music education in their lives.  You have to demonstrate that you are invested in the program as well.

Maintaining motivation is keeping balance.  Balance between the music they want to play and learn and the music you want them to play and learn.  Balance between familiar and novel.  Balance between challenging enough but not too much.  Balance of the standards (which may vary from course to course).

Find ways to have students develop those soft skills today’s employers are looking for.  Give them leadership opportunities.  Model constant reflection for evaluating and refining both individually and in collaboration with others. Let your students know they matter!


Kris Brenzikofer teaches music in Pomona-West Franklin and is KMEA Special Needs Co-Chair.

This is a building process of which my program is in the infant stages.  We elected a band council and I took those students to Dr. Tim’s Leadership Conference at Blue Valley HS.   They helped choose the t-shirt design for this year as well as giving input for the marching show.   We are also trying to schedule some fun activities with the band such as playing laser tag and video games after marching at KU Band Day.  I have them do section pictures and last year I blew those up to poster size and hung them up out in the hallway.  For football season, we made signs for all the sports that the band kids are involved in and we hang those up in the band section of the bleachers.  We will do the same for the winter sports season.  During basketball season, students will have the opportunity to apply to be a student director and I will take their place in their section to give them some time in front of the ensemble and the responsibility of working with not only the band but the cheer squad for an evening.


Jane Vanderhoff recently retired as the choir director at Garden City High School and was the 2014 KMEA Music Teacher of the Year

Obtaining “buy-in” and motivation are related – students have a sense of ownership when they are actively involved. They need to know that something won’t get done if they aren’t there; or that what they are doing together matters.

One great way is to start a Tri-M chapter in your school; this allows students to be involved not just musically but in leadership roles.  Having class officers sometimes helps; meeting with the seniors to set goals is an eye-opener; they are quick to pinpoint areas of development and are sometimes tougher than I would be! This of course takes guidance from the director to make goals positive and realistic.

IF students are comfortable and capable, they can help with sectionals. Have section leaders help with handing out/collecting paperwork and notifying the director about spots in the music that need attention, music library help and uniform check-in and out. Give them chances to be a student conductor…

Get help!  Invite other musicians to be a guest in your room to listen, clinic, give support, and let your students (and you) know that they are on the right track.


Damian Johnson is the director of bands in Eudora and President of the Kansas Bandmasters Association.

The best way for the kids to “buy-in” is to have a say in the class.  My kids have a say in the theme for the marching band show, and will sometimes help write the drill.  The kids in my class will also help to evaluate and pick concert and contest music to perform.  When the kids have a say, the “buy-in” will occur.

I believe setting up weekly objectives and goals help with motivation.  If the kids are able to see accomplishments on a weekly basis, then the motivation to get better will begin. Just work on kids on an individual basis.  Get the classroom atmosphere working in your favor and the motivation part will occur in due time.


Nina Kindt teaches music at OK Elementary in Wichita.

When I present activities in a very inviting and friendly manner, it draws students in quickly.  If I have a reluctant student, it’s usually because they don’t feel comfortable in my classroom yet.  I give them time to watch and observe, without pressuring, and typically they will be involved within a class period or two.  At the K-1 level, I break up the lesson with movement activities, which quickly draws students in.  Occasionally, I’ll have a student balk about taking a turn at a task by themselves. In this case, I give them a chance to do the task with my help, or let them choose a friend.  Infrequently I will pull them aside while the class is lining up and give them a chance to perform the task “in private”.  I am also very careful about not sounding too “judging” to my kindergarten or new students.  As long as they are participating and trying, I don’t correct them, other than occasionally saying “try it like this” and demonstrating in a way that they can just copy me.  This builds that sense of trust as they are starting their musical journey with me.

For the intermediate grades, I find I have more buy in when I choose engaging and challenging songs and activities.  I mix my lessons up so I’m not just doing singing activities, but give diverse opportunities for music making and purposeful listening.  When I choose songs for a performance, I make sure I give enough “story behind the song” that the students can connect to the song personally.  I also work very hard to choose material that meets the students’ ability and interests.


Brett Martinez is the director of bands at Butler Community College and is Past-President of the Kansas Bandmasters Association.

To me, buy-in comes down to modeling the behavior you expect from your students. If you want them to be early to class, you should be early to class, not always coming in when the bell rings (or after). If you want them to make the ensemble a priority, you need to make it a priority and make it visible to the students. Not in a martyr complex way of “poor me, I never get to do anything but work,” but rather, “this is what it takes for me to be effective, and to make the ensemble effective, so this is what I’m doing.” If you want to see them marking their music, they should see you mark yours. If you need to mark something, do it during rehearsal.

Also, there’s always going to be a couple of “passengers” in a group; those who just aren’t working as hard as everyone else. It’s easy to focus on those students and get distracted by their lack of attendance/participation. I’m sure there’s a more diplomatic way to put this, but one of the things I remind myself of is that I’m working hard for the students who are working hard for the ensemble.

Finally, it is important to remember to say “thank you” to the students. Bands don’t function because people are doing the minimum, even if it is the minimum to get an “A”. The great bands are great because they don’t focus “down” to a minimum. They focus “up” to their potential. This creates a group of highly dedicated, hard-working kids, who routinely surpass any “minimum.” It’s a good idea to acknowledge that, let the students know you see it, and honor it.

Along this same line, I believe it is important to remember that the reward for hard work is not a rating. The reward for hard work is an outstanding performance, the reward for consistent outstanding performances is a positive reputation for your program, which in turn often provides more opportunities for outstanding performances. As one of my mentors told me, “It’s good to have fun. It’s more fun to be good.”


Summer Miller teaches orchestra in Garden City and is the KMEA All-State Orchestra Chair

When I see improvements from year to year within each class of students I make sure to share these positive things with my kids.  Positivity is a GREAT motivator.  When our high school transitioned from Block scheduling to 7 period day last year, I saw HUGE gains in our performances.  I made sure to tell the kids how much they had improved, which in turn made them want to improve even more.


Holly Taylor recently retired as the Wichita Public Schools Vocal Curriculum Coach and serves as KMEA Mentoring Co-Chair.

The teacher is the BEST motivator and the class is always a reflection of what the teacher is bringing every day to class.  Some days are better than others but you need to keep the end in mind each and every day. I have known too many teachers that take their personal issues to the classroom- that is not what your job is about. No matter how you feel- you “fake” it.  You are there for the kids and it is not about you.  I believe that teachers can and do make a difference each and every day. It is not easy but as I reflect on this side of my career- I can’t think of anything else I ever could have done.


Erik Stone is Director of Bands at Comanche Middle School in Dodge City and was the 2017 KBA Outstanding Band Director of the Year.

Most recently, our school has been focusing on growth mindsets and I have been trying to implement these studies them into my classroom but adding “yet” or “for now” to the end of their statements: I can’t do this…yet, or this is hard…for now. While in rehearsal I try to make sure use humor on the podium and perform with students. Once students have a concept we’ve really been pushing, I try to take a few moments to point out how far they have come.


Janelle Brower is the Performing Arts Coordinator for Blue Valley Public Schools and is KMEA Mentoring Co-Chair

I think “buy-in” happens in music programs when teachers build positive relationships with their students and provide every student in the program with the opportunity to be successful and grow musically. Early in my career, I think I was so focused on the quality of our upcoming performances that I didn’t always take the time to consider the experience that I was creating for my students.  Over time, I came to realize that while the product is important – it really is the process that matters the most.

If I could travel back in time, I would ask my younger self the following questions:

  • Are you selecting quality music that that students can perform well in the time available?
  • Are you flexible with your students? Life happens.  Giving students grace goes a long way in building a relationship with them.
  • Do you make a point to give every student some individual attention every day? This could be a greeting, providing feedback and encouragement in rehearsal, or helping them get better at a skill.
  • Do you ask students to listen critically and help make decisions to create an excellent musical performance? For me, this is the secret to giving them ownership of their learning.
  • And finally, does every student in your class know that you admire and respect them?

As I began to focus on improving in these areas, I saw my effort reflected in the relationships I developed with students and the ownership they had in their own learning. “Buy-in” happens one student at a time.

Our Sponsors