Using extrinsic rewards in the music studio

What predicts level of expertise attained

Using extrinsic rewards in the music studio

Studio teachers may employ a variety of techniques to motivate students. These may involve stickers, games, and other incentives to improve the motivation and engagement of the student during the lesson and for practice over the coming week. In essence, teachers are trying to motivate via reward. This seems like a logical process, however, it is primarily based on behaviourism principles and neglects the needs of the students such as interest and enjoyment.

Using extrinsic rewards in studio teaching

Motivating music students

Ask yourself, why is the student taking lessons? They enjoy music and learning an instrument. These are intrinsic reasons. When a reward or an external contingency is added to motivate an already intrinsically motivated behaviour, it changes the ownership or the reason for the activity to something which is not controlled or owned by the student. In self-determination theory this is referred to as locus of causality (deCharms, 1968; Deci & Ryan, 1985).

In effect, extrinsic rewards undermine intrinsic motivation because the reward moves the locus of causality and the underlying reason for doing the activity, away from the student to an extrinsic cause. The student now has decreased perception of autonomy in relation to the activity (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2012).

Why try to motivate a student to do something they would have done anyway? If you constantly need to motivate a student through rewards or external contingencies, then try to ascertain the underlying reason why the student is taking lessons. As you are probably aware, not all students in music studios are there because they want to be. They are sometimes there due to their parents wishes, therefore, the student does not have a pure intrinsic motivational interest in the activity. In self-determination theory, this type of motivation would be classed as introjected motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000a) which is an external motivation based on pressure or an external contingency. It is a poor quality of motivation and has detrimental effects on task persistence (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973), creativity (Amabile, 1985), and quality (Deci, Ryan, & Koestner, 1999).

There is more to rewards. Rewards often convey meaning. This meaning is its functional significance (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000a, 2000b). Functional significance is how an individual determines whether an external event, such as a reward, is informational or controlling. In this way, rewards convey competency information. Competency is very important for subsequent motivation at a task (Deci, Ryan, & Williams, 1996). If the external event has a functional significance which is perceived as informational, then the event conveys positive competence information and results in subsequent increases in motivation. If the functional significance of the external event is perceived as controlling, then it conveys that the individual is being controlled and decreases subsequent motivation.

When working with instrumental students, one needs to carefully think through the value of using rewards. What happens if you stop using rewards to motivate students? Rewards tend to be contingent, in that the desired behaviour only occurs when the reward is offered. No reward = no desired behaviour. In essence, rewards are a poor quality motivator.

There is, however, one type of reward which is effective in the motivation of students. It is the unexpected verbal reward (Henderlong & Lepper, 2002). When a reward is unexpected, it is not contingent on any specific behaviour therefore, its functional significance is not perceived as controlling but rather informational. To make the reward informational it must convey positive competence information such as the acquisition of a new skill or the completion of a challenging task. Broad verbal rewards such as “you’re a good student” are not appropriate, as being good does not convey specific competence information relevant to the activity or task.

It is unfortunate that in the current climate, the world revolves around the “token economy” (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000) in which behaviour is controlled by rewards. Use of extrinsic rewards to motivate students interferes with intrinsic motivation to learn.


Amabile, T. M. (1985). Motivation and creativity: Effects of motivational orientation on creative writers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(2), 393-399.

deCharms, R. (1968). Personal causation. New York: Academic Press.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation in education: reconsidered once again. Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 1-27.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behaviour. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., & Koestner, R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological bulletin, 125(6), 627-668.

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., & Williams, G. C. (1996). Need satisfaction and the self-regulation of learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 8(3), 165-183.

Henderlong, J., & Lepper, M. R. (2002). The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 774-795.

Lepper, M., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28(1), 129-137.

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

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). 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.

Sansone, C., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (Eds.). (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. SanDiego, California: Academic Press.

Leave a Reply