I taught school for three years in a very small, parochial elementary school. The first two years, I had a combined classroom with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. But the next year, I was told I would be teaching the combined 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classroom.  OH. MY. GOODNESS.

First problem, I couldn’t use any of the materials I had developed that worked so well with the sweet middle graders. Second problem, they were TEENagers. Third problem, I needed to come up with some lessons and activities that worked with all 3 grades, to cut down on the number of presentations I needed to get through in a day. At its worst, my normal day consisted of preparing for 3 reading/grammar lessons, 3 math lessons, 3 science lessons. Then I combined the three grades for music, religion, art, and physical education (yep, that was me too!). I needed to cut down on my workload. I needed to get creative.

One weekend, I worked in my classroom a few extra hours, and papered the classroom walls with colorful posters featuring inspirational quotes. On Monday morning, I had everyone do a “poster walk” around the room to read the posters (yay, they’re reading!), and they were instructed to choose their favorite poster. Then the assignment was to write about their choice - explain why they liked it and how it might have an impact on their lives. Then I could grade their papers according to grade level. Win, win.

I really don’t remember which poster got the most votes. But I remember my personal favorite quote by Albert Einstein.

With my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, creativity was a given. Their minds and hands were naturally drawn to build, craft, problem-solve, and play learning games. My 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, well ... they were creative too, but TOO often not exactly in the way that worked well within the classroom environment. Today I work with adults and I believe creativity is a must to staying motivated. All y’all need to be creative with your music so you can unlock your inner artist. So here are some thoughts I had.

  • Do something new. Practice a new tune. Buy a new instrument. Make a new arrangement of an old familiar song. Create a new tune. Sign up for a dulcimer workshop.

  • Get out of the house. There’s nothing like a social gathering with other musicians (even if they don’t play dulcimer) to spark creativity – whether you simply listen, jam, or practice together.

  • Maintain a balanced lifestyle. Now some creative people are highly driven. When the creative juices are flowing, they are “in the zone” and accomplish a lot. But some put too much pressure on themselves and eventually burn out. Maybe you know someone like that. If that's you, cut back on your practice time – just do a short burst of 20 minutes and then take a break.

  • Change your routine or schedule. That can jumpstart a new flow of motivation and ideas.

  • Exercise your curiosity muscle. Look at areas of interest outside the dulcimer world ... such as travel, art or cooking. When you return to your dulcimer, you’ll feel a new spark of interest.

  • Accept the frustrations that go along with playing an instrument. There will always be another piece of music that is a bit beyond your reach. Understand that everyone gets stuck now and then, but that can be the best place to start again.

And here's one last thought from Maya Angelou.



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