Effects of verbal praise on music students’ motivation

Effects of verbal praise on music students’ motivation

Droe (2013) considered the effects of different types of verbal praise on students motivation and performance attribution. Praise for effort does not function in the same way as praise for ability. In fact, they elicit differing functions of goal orientation, attribution and motivation in music. Praise for ability or talent in music fosters an entity or fixed theory of intelligence whereas praise for effort supports the development of an incremental or growth theory of intelligence (Dweck, 2002).

Associated with these theories of intelligence are learning outcomes. Individuals who are praised for intelligence and ability and develop and entity theory of intelligence are more likely to lose interest in challenging activities, persist less, and have an overall decline in performance on a task (Mueller & Dweck, 1990). Success is defined by how well they did in comparison to others on the task by trying to outperform others to demonstrate competence.

Individuals who are praised for their effort and develop an incremental theory of intelligence, are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges, exhibit more enjoyment on tasks and seek out strategies to improve their learning on the task. Success is defined in their improvement on the task to demonstrate competence. Thus type of feedback given can affect motivation (Dweck & Elliott, 1983).

Droe (2013) conducted an investigation on the effects of different types of praise on music students’ rhythmic performance. The research questions covered the effects of praise on achievement goal orientation, performance, task enjoyment, task persistence, and attributions to musical failure. Three different types of verbal praise were used. An ability type praise, an effort types praise and a no praise control group. Goal orientation was also manipulated in the investigation with students choosing a performance goal or a learning goal. Students completed self-reports assessing their responses to the rhythmic performance, feedback, and goal manipulation.

Droe (2013) found that different types of verbal praise influenced goal orientations and task persistence of students. Students who were praised for their effort demonstrated more task persistence and positive attitude than students who were praised for their ability. Students who selected learning goals also displayed higher task persistence and enjoyment following failure than students who selected a performance goal.

Goals are expected to influence theories of intelligence, with a learning goal linked to incremental theory of intelligence and a performance goal linked to an entity theory of intelligence. One of the reasons suggested why students in the performance goal orientation showed less task persistence and enjoyment following failure is that performance goals are linked to ego and avoidance of failure. The student would much rather give up on a task than to demonstrate that they do not have the ability required to complete the task. Often, performance goal oriented students will select task they know they can d well on or easier tasks when the task is unfamiliar.

In terms of music and musical ability, Droe (2013) suggests that it is important for teachers to praise a student for their effort and not their ability for talent. Praise for ability can inhibit goal orientation and theory of intelligence to one that will avoid accepting new challenges. The inhibition of challenge-seeking behaviour is also linked to affect or feelings, and these have motivational links (Austin & Visopel, 1995), particularly in the face of failure.

Giving praise for effort rather than musical talent and ability is a more effective motivational strategy overall, but particularly on difficult tasks such as learning to play an instrument or a difficult piece of repertoire. Through the use of the right type of praise, music teachers can increase persistence and enjoyment of music learning in their students.


Austin, J. R., & Visopel, W. P. (1995). Success and failure in junior high school: a critical incident approach to understanding students’ attributional beliefs. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 377-412.

Droe, K. L. (2013). Effect of verbal praise on achievement goal orientation, motivation, and performance attribution. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 23(1), 63-78.

Dweck, C. S. (2002). The development of ability conceptions. In J. Eccles & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Development of achievement motivation (pp. 57-88). Burlington: Academic Press.

Dweck, C. S., & Elliott, E. S. (1983). Achievement motivation. In P. H. Mussen & E. M. Hetherington (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 4. Social and personality development, pp. 643-691). New York: Wiley.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1990). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52.

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