Music teacher assumptions and beliefs about student motivation

How do teachers stay motivated?

Music teacher assumptions and beliefs about student motivation


Teachers come to teaching with assumptions and beliefs about student motivation and engagement. These beliefs are most likely developed during the teachers’ own education and are firmly fixed. Music teachers have particular beliefs regarding student motivation and engagement due to the education process from which they themselves have come (Mark, 1998; Scheib, 2006).

Music teacher beliefs

Music education today is still quite traditional. It often comes in the form of the one-to-one studio tuition system, performance mostly for evaluation such as graded exams. For example, in the Australian exam system, there is a prerequisite theory or musicianship level required to receive the performance grade certificate. Most professional music teachers would have progressed through a similar music educational requirement. It is in this process that strong beliefs regarding music education and student motivation and engagement are formed.

These beliefs may be in part, responsible for the ‘praxis shock’ (Ballantyne, 2007) that many early career classroom music teachers experience. It may also be a similar situation in studio teaching where some students do not display the same level of motivation, enthusiasm and commitment to exams and practice that we did. This is because we were intrinsically motivated. The hardest part about teaching is come to realisation that not all students are intrinsically motivated like I was. My intrinsic motivation assisted me in overcoming challenges, through the pure joy and interest that learning a musical instrument brought for me. No amount of cajoling, rewards, contingent rewards, or some form of conditional regard will be of benefit to student motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In fact, it will have the opposite effect.

Not all students experience the same levels of motivation and therefore, their application to musical instrument learning and music education will be qualitatively different for them. The outcomes the student hopes to achieve and the outcomes demonstrated and observed will be different to our expectations, the expectations based on our beliefs.

I’m not advocating lowering of expectations. What I am advocating is a greater understanding of student motivation and engagement (Cogdill, 2014). When teachers have an appropriate level of understanding motivation from the students’ perspective, then I believe other learning expectations begin to fall into place.

So a student doesn’t want to do the traditional classical repertoire and exams. Great! This is the first clue their motivation is different to ours and our understanding. Their expectations will be different to ours. Their outcomes will be different to ours. Tailor the learning to satisfy their needs. The more we bring bring to students a music education which meets their needs, the greater the chance these students will continue to be involved in music currently and later in life. Insisting that student learn a certain way and with certain materials because of our beliefs surrounding motivation, engagement, and subsequent achievement in music is not always appropriate for all students.


Music teacher assumptions and beliefs about student motivation


Ballantyne, J. (2007). Documenting praxis shock in early-career Australian music teachers: The impact of pre-service teacher education. International Journal of Music Education, 25(3), 181-191.

Cogdill, S. H. (2014). Applying research in motivation and learning to music education: What the experts say. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 33(2), 49-57.

Mark, D. (1998). The music teachers’ dilemma: Musician or teacher? International Journal of Music Education, 32(1), 3-23.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). When rewards compete with nature: The undermining of intrinsic motivation and self-regulation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for motivation and optimal performance (pp. 14-54). San Diego: Academic Press.

Scheib, J. W. (2006). Tension in the life of the school music teacher: A conflict of ideologies. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education(Spring), 6-13.

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