I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation. How to motivate those that don’t want to be motivated. How to kindle the fire within those students that already have some level of motivation.

To get some ideas, I contacted some of my favorite people in the business; a few of my former teachers.

I asked each of them the age old questions, “You’ve been doing this a while and have always had great success. How do you do it? Are they things you do with every group? Are there things you develop for each group?”

Of course they each had insightful responses. Shilo Stroman talked about the importance of ownership the students have within the program and their individual develop. That if it all comes from the staff shouting things for the students to react to, then those students aren’t actually learning much…other than how to get really great at reacting. He talked about the importance of incentives. That students feel as though there’s always a goal and expectation. When they know what they’re seeking, they’re more likely to accomplish it.

Jaye Ingram talked about the importance of the teacher as the example. Always play alongside the kids. Show them what’s possible. In drumline rehearsal, take the time during a long water break to drum with the center snare player, but be sure to do it in front of the group. There may be some of the weaker students that get inspired to learn to “do that”, as will the stronger players. And the stronger players that are playing alongside the instructor will feel challenged to keep up and learn new licks. Jaye’s word was to “inspire” them by showing them. Jaye also mentioned the importance of empathy. It’s important the students know you’re human and you can feel what they do. Jaye says it’s important to “cut up” sometimes and balance that with a serious approach.

Sometimes when we’re really working hard and the kids start to get frustrated or lose clear thinking, that’s when I change the tone of the rehearsal and start cracking jokes. Drumming has to be fun for them to be inspired to want more. So I pick on them, they pick on me. And when it comes time to play, we play. They like the dynamic and respond really well.

Matthew Jones talked about perhaps the most personal and impactful concept: family.

Matthew was my teacher from 7th grade through high school. I even taught alongside him at my student teaching placement. He had an unbelievable way of turning timpani lessons into life lessons that happen to include some timpani playing. Matthew was always asking how everything was going in school, in life, with girls, and so on. And he’d always sit back and listen. And you knew he was listening because he never lost eye contact. And his follow up questions always led us down another path. Essentially, he was a  bit of a therapist for each of his students. Always gaining our trust by investing his time with us as people and not paychecks. And I know I consciously appreciated it, and so did all my classmates and students. He knew that we trusted him and we knew that he trusted us. If he asked us to do something- like playing a lick, picking up chairs, or completing some assignment- he knew we would do it. We knew those tasks were important and had meaning simply because we all had that trust.

Breaking down any barriers and learning to trust Matthew wasn’t difficult, but it was necessary. Students natural come equipped with walls. And its our jobs to help dismantle anything that gets in the way of student pride and success. In our recent discussion, Matthew mentioned that he is currently working with some students that need a little extra bond. They aren’t working well together and there’s a little loss of productivity. So he’s been working hard to instill the idea of family. He takes time during rehearsal to talk about that…

Isn’t this wonderful? What a beautiful family we have here as percussionists within the big band family. Take care of each other. We always have each other’s backs. Upperclassmen, if the younger people need help, be there. Always take care of each other.

All three responses have a way of linking to the concept of family. If students are going tho get anywhere as an individual or a group, they must trust each other. They have to be family. The ride can’t happen alone. And in the words of my favorite drum corps instructor when I marched Carolina Crown: “Take care of each other, because that’s what we do.” – Ian Hale