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Motivation: 23 ideas to help build motivation in the music studio

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

According to research (see Cogdill (2015)), identifying as a musician is a crucial component of whether students will have the motivation to persist with music. When a student identifies themselves as a musician, they are more likely to persist to overcome difficulties, and therefore make progress.

A study of 8 to 11-year-olds by Yoon (1997) found that a belief in their competence as a musician influenced their choice to take music lessons, and also increased practice time. Furthermore, McPherson and McCormick (1999) showed that this self belief in competence as a musician also determined exam marks.

"I am a musician!"


  1. Parents and teachers can comment positively from the students first sounds on their instrument and tell them how much they enjoy hearing the student play. Let students know that their music brings you joy, and that you appreciate their efforts.

  2. Celebrate becoming a musician with a certificate, or other item such as a studio badge.

Download a free musician certificate here:

musician certificate
Download PDF • 301KB

What is motivation?

Motivation refers to the internal or external factors that drive and direct our behaviour towards achieving a particular goal or satisfying a specific need. It is the psychological process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented actions.

Motivation can arise from a variety of sources, including intrinsic factors, such as personal interests, values, and the desire for personal growth, as well as extrinsic factors, such as rewards, recognition, and external pressures. Different people are motivated by different things, and the same individual's motivation can vary depending on the situation and the task at hand.

Motivation plays a crucial role in determining the level of effort and persistence individuals put into their activities. It influences the choices we make, the energy we invest, and the level of commitment we demonstrate towards achieving our goals. Motivation is closely linked to a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and the belief that our actions can lead to desired outcomes.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its inherent satisfaction or enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves engaging in an activity to obtain external rewards or to avoid punishment. Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation tends to lead to more sustained and self-determined behaviour.

There are various theories of motivation that attempt to explain why and how individuals are motivated. Let's look at how we can use these to help develop motivation.

Theory: Self-determination theory (SDT)

SDT proposes that individuals have three basic psychological needs: autonomy (the need for control and choice), competence (the need to feel capable and effective), and relatedness (the need for social connection and belonging). When these three needs are satisfied, individuals tend to be more motivated and engaged.


Offer choices and opportunities for self-direction. When we allow students to have a say in their goals, projects, or tasks, and link them to their personal interests, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.

  1. Give students limited choices: "Would you like to play this first, or this?" Plan the lesson cut out cards also give students a sense of control and choice.

  2. Have older students take on mentoring roles - for example helping teach younger students in a group class.

  3. Be the teacher activity - younger students role play being the teacher and teach their parents, or teacher.

  4. Group classes build a sense of community and belonging.

  5. Studio parties! If you can, it is a wonderful chance to connect with others and feel part of a community when you have a studio party, for example after a studio concert.

  6. Studio t-shirts, bags, key-rings etc can help to make students feel like they are part of a group.

  7. Encourage curiosity and exploration by asking questions instead of telling the answers straight away. Ask the student what they think will happen, or what they think something means. You could also have a studio challenge such as solving a riddle, or finding out about a famous musician or composer.

Theory: Expectancy-value theory

This theory suggests that motivation is influenced by two factors: expectancy (the belief that effort will lead to desired outcomes) and value (the importance or desirability of the outcome). When individuals have a high expectancy and perceive high value in the outcome, they are more likely to be motivated.


  1. Cultivate a growth mindset by emphasising effort, learning, and resilience. Encourage individuals to view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as obstacles. Teach them to embrace mistakes and setbacks as valuable learning experiences. A growth mindset helps maintain intrinsic motivation by focusing on the process of learning and improvement.

  2. Celebrate student achievements in a studio newsletter and on charts/posters at the studio. Achievements can range from exam/audition results to memorising a piece of music or scales, composing a song, or practising diligently.

  3. Studio wide challenges that focus on effort rather than achievement. For example, 100 days of practice challenge (or 21 days of practice challenge!) and high repetition challenges such as: "How many times can you play this scale/tricky passage in one minute?" or points towards a certificate for 5, 10, 20 or 30 repetitions!

Theory: Goal-setting theory

This theory emphasises the importance of setting specific, challenging, and attainable goals. Clear goals provide a sense of direction and focus, enhance motivation, and improve performance. Additionally, feedback and monitoring progress toward goals can further enhance motivation.


  1. Student wish list - ask them what they would like to get better at!

  2. Goal planning: Set short, medium and long term goals. Help students break down larger goals into smaller, achievable milestones to maintain a sense of progress and accomplishment.

  3. Having a chart where they can tick off small goals along the way helps monitor progress and builds motivation.

  4. Studio wide challenges such as "100 days of practice" or "how many studies can you learn in a term" can also help provide goals.

  5. Exams, auditions and concerts all provide great opportunities for goal planning.

Theory: Achievement motivation

Achievement motivation refers to the drive to excel, accomplish tasks, and reach goals. It involves a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, such as the desire to master skills, the need for recognition, and the drive to outperform others.


  1. Studio concerts.

  2. Exams.

  3. Competitions.

  4. Studio wide challenges.

  5. Leadership roles within the studio, for example helping with younger children, or helping to organise a studio concert or party.

  6. Chamber music - being selected to perform in a small group is an honour and very desirable to many students.

  7. Studio clubs with specific entry requirements that is an honour to be accepted into. For example, a scale club or study club. Entry into the club can be celebrated in the studio newsletter.

  8. Inspire with role models - going to concerts, meeting musicians and composers can have an extremely positive effect on motivation.

Lastly, be a role model by demonstrating your own intrinsic motivation and passion for your work or activities. Share your enthusiasm, joy, and dedication. When individuals see others genuinely engaged and motivated, it can inspire and influence their own intrinsic motivation.

Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different approaches will work better with different students. When you get to know your students and build a rapport with them, you can adapt your strategies to their individual needs. By creating a positive and engaging learning environment, you can inspire and motivate your music students to reach their full potential.

Download a free PDF list: Motivation in the music studio.

Motivation in the music studio: Ideas to help motivate music students

Motivation in the music studio
Download PDF • 39KB

Download "Plan the lesson cut out cards" (customisable designs included):

Plan the lesson cards
Download ZIP • 956KB


Cogdill, S. H. (2015). Applying research in motivation and learning to music education: what the experts say. Update Appl. Res. Music Educ. 33, 49–57. doi: 10.1177/8755123314547909

McPherson, G. E., and McCormick, J. (1999). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of musical practice. In: Bulletin for the Council of Research in Music Education. (141/Summer 1999 Special Issue) Pp. 98-102.

Yoon, K. S. (1997, April). Exploring children’s motivation for instrumental music. Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of The Society for Research in Child Development, Washington D. C.

Hargreaves, J. Motivation for Music Students.

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