Recordings. Play one per day. Play the best quality ensembles you can find. Play tunes that are on their level. Focus on appeal — tunes that will jump out at them either because of their rhythmic energy, beautiful melody, relatable theme, or whatever gets their attention and makes them say, “we want to play that.” Then get the music for that piece and start working.
Role models. Whatever grade level you’re working at, find players who are 1-2 years older. Bring them in to demonstrate skills. Have them tell their story of how they selected their instrument, why they love paying music, how they go about practicing, and what their favorite experiences have been in music. Feature a different person for each instrument and spread them out throughout the year. College players, professional players, and private teachers (as guests) can also be great role models.
Teach simply, but make demands. My own teaching was transformed by reading the opening of the Trevor Wye Flute Series Book 1 that talks about the importance of beautiful tone quality. Imagine spending half a class period just working on the elements of producing a good tone quality. When you zero in on an element like that and make it a major topic for exploration — versus trying to cover a portion of a book or a tune, or keep moving to new things — it focuses the brain. It becomes a kind of competition with themselves to play the best they can, and that’s much more motivating that trying to compete against someone else. You can zero in on many elements of musical work, like a specific articulation, tuning a particular chord, rhythmic accuracy . . . and this really helps students who have learning disabilities or other learning issues not to be bombarded all at once with playing right notes, right rhythm, good tone, good tuning, good phrasing, etc.
I’ve found that the best motivator for all students is playing music that charms their ears while urging them toward a higher understanding of art. There is so much cheap music that’s easy to play, that has some instant appeal but no long-term appeal. That junk is to be avoided. It is a de-motivator. Go for the good stuff, starting with the 2-3 pieces that they are drawn towards.