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Recorder Karate and Extrinsic Motivation: Why it just doesn't work

In the fall of 2002 when I was in third grade, my music teacher gave us all a recorder. We were given a simple red book and told that if we played certain songs correctly for her, we would earn a ribbon for the bottom of our recorders. This was great motivation for some of us to practice at home, learn tunes, and earn the ribbons in class. I remember being excited when I earned ribbons but not practicing at home or being motivated by the earning of the ribbons.

Motivation can be different for different students in different situations; not every student will be as unmotivated as I was by the ribbons and then wind up a music teacher. That being said, teachers must take a closer look at what motivates students to learn. This has lead me to question one of the fundamental elements of the "Recorder Karate" method.

"Recorder Karate" relies solely on the concept of extrinsic motivation. The student is motivated to practice the recorder and focus in class because they want to earn a colorful addition to their instrument. This method severely lacks in the intrinsic motivation of music making; students do what is asked because they want to be given something, not because they are intrinsically motivated by the music they can create either alone, with a friend, or as a class.

Musicians perform best when they are intrinsically motivated to do so. Even if I'm performing a church service or wedding where I'm paid to perform, I perform because it makes me feel uplifted and happy; if I'm not intrinsically motived to make great music, my performance suffers. I most often do not make music simply to earn the money. The feeling of flow or oneness with music making comes when I'm intrinsically motivated. So why would I teach my students to work hard to learn a song to earn a ribbon and be done. I instead ask myself, "How do I make this a meaningful music making experience for my students? How do I make they feel like musicians and experience the joy of making music?" This is what being a musician is about and what I strive for every day.

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