Musical aspirations: The development of expertise

Music Education Research

Musical aspirations: The development of expertise

Hallam, et al. (2016) have recently released results of a large-scale study of adolescent musicians, researching links between musical motivation, aspirations, and the development of expertise.

Musical Aspirations

Musical Aspirations: The development of Expertise

Human Motivation

Human motivation is complex and relies on the development of interactions on many levels such as social, educational, cognitive, and affective. Motivation is also acknowledged to change over time in relation to these factors. What is least understood is how these changes in motivation over time affect the musical development of young musicians and their musical aspirations for the future.

There are a range of factors considered relevant to musical motivation. Music is a very satisfying endeavor and has the ability to lead to considerable personal fulfillment. Personal fulfillment is considered important to human motivation as it allows us to pursue and succeed in activities of interest, such as music.

Music making contributes to the development a positive musical identity and self-belief as a musician. Over time, these aspects of music contribute enormously to musical motivation. It allows us to set high standards in music and work towards achieving them, contributing to overall positive self-concept as a musician.

Music is a long-haul activity and take many years to acquire professional level skills. This aspect of music education means that those who are able to negotiate the challenges of music learning with positive mind sets towards obstacles and challenges are the most likely to succeed. Research has demonstrated that music learners who demonstrate a growth mind set (Dweck, 1999) or appropriate attributions for success and failure in music (Asmus, 1986; Legette, 1998; Weiner, 1986) are the most likely to sustain their motivation is times of difficulty and challenge and are most likely to succeed in instrumental music learning.

Social interactions, particularly from family and peers, have been shown to a significant factor in the musical success of young musicians (Creech, 2010; McPherson, Davidson, & Faulkner, 2012). The support of teachers is also important as they serve as role models for young music students (Creech & Hallam, 2010; Manturzewska, 1990).

Research demonstrates these areas are considered to be important to the development of musical motivation and acquisition of musical skills. Without motivation, it would be very hard to successfully develop high level musical skills.

Different Motivation

Hallam, et al. (2016) explain musical motivation is due to many reasons. For children it is no different form the pursuit of other activities. However for some, there is the factor of career planning and the desire to become an accomplished musician which compels these individuals to higher levels of motivation. The authors point out that there is little research in which motivational factors best predict the musical aspirations of young children. Importantly, the current research identifies different elements of motivation affecting the development of musical expertise.

Researching musical aspirations

3,325 children ranging in musical expertise from Preliminary Grade through to Grade 8 participated in the survey research. The age range was from 6-19 years of age and instruments ranged from piano and violin through to bassoon and harp.

The survey was comprised of questions ranging from support of family and friends through to enjoyment of playing and practicing an instrument, and self-beliefs about musical ability.

An exploratory factor analysis revealed five factors which were significantly related to musical aspirations:

  1. Social support and affirmation
  2. Social life and the value of playing an instrument
  3. Enjoyment of performing
  4. Self-belief in musical ability
  5. Enjoyment of instrumental and musical activities

The research results found that all of these factors were significant in the musical aspirations of the young musicians. Furthermore, the relationship on these factors was in most cases found to be linear, meaning the greater the level of expertise (i.e.: grade level achieved) the higher the level of musical aspiration. The only contrary finding for this was for social support and affirmation, where slight declines were found between grades 3 and 5.

The most significant predictors accounting for most of variance in scores for musical aspiration and commitment to music were social support and enjoyment of performance. This is not unusual, as prior research has revealed that social connections and enjoyment support from family and friends is an important factor in the musical life of students and professional musicians (McPherson, Davidson, & Faulkner, 2012).

Although there is a relationship between musical expertise and aspirations, what is not clear is whether higher levels of expertise drive motivation or if aspirations increase to justify the amount of time spent on practicing challenging repertoire when at higher levels. What is clear are as levels of expertise increase, as identified via Grade level achievement, there are changes in musical motivation.



Asmus, E. P. (1986). Student Beliefs about the Causes of Success and Failure in Music: A Study of Achievement Motivation. Journal of Research in Music Education, 34(4), 262-278.

Creech, A. (2010). Learning a musical instrument: the case for parental support. Music Education Research, 12(1), 13-32.

Creech, A., & Hallam, S. (2010). Interpersonal interaction within the violin teaching studio: The influence of interpersonal dynamics on outcomes for teachers. Psychology of Music, 38(4), 403-421.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Philidelphia: Psychology Press.

Hallam, S., Creech, A., Papageorgi, I., Gomes, T., Rinta, T., Varvarigou, M., et al. (2016). Changes in motivation as expertise develops: Relationships with musical aspirations. Musicae Scientiae.

Legette, R. M. (1998). Causal Beliefs of Public School Students about Success and Failure in Music. Journal of Research in Music Education, 46(1), 102-111.

Manturzewska, M. (1990). A biographical study of the life-span development of professional musicians. Psychology of Music, 18(2), 112-139.

McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. A., & Faulkner, R. (2012). Music in our lives: rethinking musical ability, development and identity. Oxford ; New York: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.


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