Deliberate or self-determined: Motivation for music student practice

Deliberate or self-determined: Motivation for music student practice


Deliberate or self-determined: Motivation for music student practice. Ever wondered how to motivate your music students to practice? What should you say, what should you do? Importantly, what does current research say about music student motivation? Lay theories of motivation which guide some of us in our teaching practice make intuitive sense, however, they often lead to maladaptive practice strategies. The use of tangible rewards is one such lay theory. It has a demonstrable, immediate and seemingly positive effect. However, tangible rewards lead to maladaptive learning strategies and extrinsic forms of motivation.

Musical practice is mostly unguided and ill-defined (Barry & McArthur, 1994). Students attend lessons, follow the instructions of the teacher and are expected to return home and practice according to these instructions. However, little of this practice time is devoted to how to practice or how to stay motivated during practice.

In the one-to-one studio teaching context, the teacher has all the control, directing the student to complete various tasks (Creech, 2009). According to self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), this type of controlling teacher style is makes it difficult for students to develop autonomy and intrinsic motivation for the activity.

Additionally, deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993) is often used as a way to describe the type and quality of practice needed to acquire expertise. Deliberate practice is effortful, strategic, and conscious practice. However, it is difficult to maintain such high levels practice as it is not inherently enjoyable (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993). Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that deliberate practice does not account for the variance in performance ability that it claims to posses (Bonneville-Roussy & Bouffard, 2015). There is the missing element of intrinsic motivation needed to sustain such large amounts of deliberate practice.

Evans and Bonneville-Roussy (2015) investigated the fulfilment of psychological needs and its effect on the instrumental music practice of university performance students. Their results found that the satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness explained practice frequency, practice quality, and preference for challenge. In particular, fulfilment of the need for autonomy explained 6% of the variance in practice frequency, 11% of the variance of quality of practice and 9% of the variance in preference for challenge. The primary point is students who feel their psychological needs are satisfied have more autonomous motivation towards music. Autonomous motivation was found to predict practice frequency, quality practice, and preference for challenge.

The power of these findings is they are predictive, meaning that changes in teaching style to be more autonomy supportive, less controlling in guidance and use of directives, and allowing students more choice, leads to improvement student motivation, greater engagement. Ultimately there are improvements in performance outcomes for music students as they approach their deliberate practice with more intrinsic motivation.


Barry, N. H., & McArthur, V. (1994). Teacher practice strategies in the music studio: A survey of applied music teachers. Psychology of Music, 22(1), 44-55.

Bonneville-Roussy, A., & Bouffard, T. (2015). When quality is not enough: Disentangeling the roles of practice time, self-regulation and deliberate practice in music achievement. Psychology of Music, 45(5), 686-704.

Creech, A. (2009). Teacher-pupil-parent triads: A typology of interpersonal interaction in the context of learning a musical instrument. Musicae Scientiae, 13(2), 387-413.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Evans, P., & Bonneville-Roussy, A. (2015). Self-determined motivation for practice in university music students. Psychology of Music, 1-16.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67.


Deliberate or self-determined: Motivation for music student practice

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