The effect of self-regulation strategy instruction on music performance achievement

Deliberate or self-determined

The effect of self-regulation strategy instruction on music performance achievement

Self-regulation has been revealed as an important aspect of the development of skills in a variety of areas. One such area under investigation is the development of music performance skills, particularly how one effectively practices to achieve advanced levels of performance ability and overall mastery of a musical instrument. The inclusion of self-regulation strategy instruction as part of instrumental lessons can assist in musical achievement, particularly for novice and intermediate students.

The effect of self-regulation instruction strategy on performance achievement

Prior research has revealed quantity of practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993) is usually associated with advanced levels of skill attainment though it is not entirely predictive of attainment of expert or advanced musician status. Quality of practice has also been shown as an important determinant of musical achievement (Williamon & Valentine, 2000). Although instrumental teachers can advise students to do more practice to achieve higher levels and better results, it needs to be associated with the right practice strategies to enhance the quality of practice undertaken by students. This can be an overlooked area of musical instruction.

Expert performers develop their skills through large amounts of practice but they have also developed self-regulatory skills to make their practice more effective. The processes by which these performers developed and applied these self-regulatory skills are often not salient or documented. This can mean those skills are often not taught. Teachers may assume their students will  develop these self-regulatory practice skills as well, perhaps thinking that learning a musical instrument includes inherent self-regulatory skill acquisition. Research (Hallam, et al., 2012; Leon-Guerrero, 2008) has shown novice or beginner students have a very limited catalogue of practice strategies to choose from and therefore will only engage in simple forms of self-regulatory behaviours.

A framework for self-regulated music learning, developed by McPherson and Zimmerman (McPherson & Zimmerman, 2002; 2011) characterises the self-regulated learner in instrumental music. Such a learner is able to “plan, execute, and evaluate learning activities while maintaining a productive motivational state”. Six psychological dimensions required are motive (goals, efficacy), method (practice strategies), time (planing, management), behaviour (self-evaluation skills), social influences (help-seeking), and environment (space, concentration).

Self-regulatory strategies of expert performers have been identified as strategic and analytic thinking, such as stopping as difficulties arise and starting at difficult sections (Hallam, 1997, 2001a). Metacognitive strategies include the use of monitoring, self-evaluating, and analysing musical structure (Hallam, 2001b). Other self-regulatory strategies include slowing down, writing on music, and playing larger chunks of music (Miksza, 2007).

Practice strategies most often used by novice students are repetition and used in a non-strategic and unsophisticated fashion (Leon-Guerrero, 2008; McPherson & Renwick, 2001). Telling novice and intermediate students to do more practice without qualifying what they should do during their practice, can lead to ineffectual, repetitious practising, characterised by simply playing through a piece without strategic thought on how or what to improve.

A recent intervention study by Miksza (2013) investigated the difference between two groups of instrumental music students. One group was a control group and the other an intervention group in which self-regulatory strategy instruction was used and applied to their practice.

The results showed that the instrumental music students in the intervention group made more progress on their post-test instrumental achievement than the control group. Although both groups made performance gains, the intervention group made significantly greater gains. In addition, the intervention group used more discrete practice behaviours and used them more frequently that the control group.

Other strategies shown to be beneficial to self-regulation of practice behaviour include use of a metronome, mental practice, singing or whistling sections, chunking (less than and more than 4 beat sections), repeating small then larger sections  (whole-part-whole repetition) and chaining sections together (systematic forward or reverse addition or musical material).

The use of self-regulation instruction appears to have helped the intervention group students develop more efficient practice behaviours. They made better use of their time and applied more nuance practice objectives such as attention to articulation, dynamics, and interpretation. They were able to prioritise goals, apply practice behaviours in a strategic manner, manage challenges more effectively, and manage their time and effort.

These findings suggest that presenting students with explicit instruction on how to practice and given together with demonstrations on how to carry out these practice strategies is a valuable pedagogical approach. Instructional time for novice to intermediate musicians should include demonstrations of effective practice strategies. Musicians spend large amounts of time in individual practice (Jorgensen, 2002; Sosniak, 1985) in which the development of self-regulatory practice skills makes significant contributions of the quality of practice and overall progress.


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Sosniak, L. A. (1985). Learning to be a concert pianist. In B. S. Bloom (Ed.), Developing talent in young people (pp. 19-67). New York: Ballantyne.

Williamon, A., & Valentine, E. (2000). Quantity and quality of musical practice as predictors of performance quality. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 353-376.

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