On Motivation

By Rebecca Gu

Last semester, I took a career development class at Rice called “Advanced Mental Training,” taught by Dr. Elizabeth Slator. In spite of its somewhat imposing name, the class was an open forum for a small group of music students to share the ups and downs of our weeks and to discuss aspects of the various psychological skills affecting musical performance.

I felt so moved by the class that I thought it worthwhile to share one of the topics we discussed: motivation. As music students, we derive our motivation from a very personal, but vulnerable place—a love of music-making and perhaps a desire to be acknowledged for the expressions of our deepest selves. But how do we maintain that motivation and channel it in the face of setbacks, competition, and day-to-day stressors? What do we do when we are confronted with an external obstacle that tells us “no”?

Our class discussions helped me see that motivation is more a matter of managing emotional response than exercising sheer willpower (as Ivo always tells me in lessons…  “don’t try!”). We watched a videotaped interview with Dan Goleman, the author who coined the term emotional intelligence. He explained that at the root of every emotion is an impulse, and ultimately it’s our emotions that move us toward our goals in life. I need to always be conscious what motivates me to become a better musician and keep those impulses alive.

To probe at these impulses and increase our awareness of them, we broke into small groups and discussed the following questions (many are Dr. Slator’s, and I’ve added a few here):

• How did you start playing your instrument? When were you first introduced to playing the viola . . . Who introduced you?

• Who are and/or were your role models and mentors? How did they nurture and inspire you?

• Who are some of your favorite violists and why? What about their playing or their personalities excites you?

• What was “the moment” you knew you wanted to build a career in music? Was there a moment you fell in love with playing?

• What is your favorite thing about playing the viola?

• What is one of the most inspiring performances you’ve seen? What about it moved you? (Do you have any favorite recordings or pieces… why?)

• Tell a story about an experience you had while playing that you feel epitomizes your feelings about/relationship with your instrument.

• What would you miss most about playing if music/your instrument were taken from you?

• Does the social fabric of music-making mean something to you? What do you like about playing with others? Does the experience reveal something about yourself to you?

Taking the time to really think through these questions can only strengthen your connection to the viola. In addition, for me, discussing them with friends and (eventually) journaling about them forced me to verbalize my responses in a way that reminded me of their importance to me.

One final motivation tip is to write a blog entry about motivation! It’s time to go practice…

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