Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Fostering a sense of intrinsic motivation in your students

Below is part of a paper I submitted with a presentation on Motivation within the studio. I hope you gain a few new ideas or different perspectives on the teacher’s role in motivating the student, and how this may be achieved.

Vroom’s expectancy theory states that there are three components to motivation – a feeling of success, connection, and value. All three are needed in order for motivation to take place. This paper will look at the definition of intrinsic motivation, and how teachers can help to foster these three components within their students.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. As Clark states, it is “subtle and elusive” (Clark, 1992, p. 165), as it is not tangible. It is made up of a student’s internal desire to understand, their enthusiasm, self-esteem, and a student’s own personal sense of achievement. In the case of playing an instrument, the excitement and satisfaction of music-making and a love of music is the motivation of the student. So how can teachers help to foster the three elements of motivation along these lines?

To cultivate feeling of success, practice at home can be used to reinforce what they have learned, rather than to learn something new, because as Chronister explains, “a student cannot practice what he does not know” (Darling, 2005, p. 32). This is especially relevant for younger students. By having practice as reinforcement, students are able to feel confident and successful each time they sit at the piano. They also need to have a way to know what to do at home, and clear guidelines in a home assignment book is an easy way to achieve this.

A feeling of success can be undermined by too many overwhelming challenges, which as Uszler states can instil tension and fear (2000, p. 249). This makes the student feel set up to fail. This isn’t to say that challenges are a bad thing, but it is up to the teacher to monitor how each student copes with different levels of challenges, and to always accompany them with several instances to succeed.

It is also important to make music at every lesson, so the student feels like an accomplished musician, regardless of their level (Tollefson, 2000, p.26). This could be as simple as the student playing a loved nursery-rhyme by rote, while the teacher provides a musical accompaniment.

An easy trap to fall into as a piano teacher is to have lessons turning into mistake-correcting exercises. All this succeeds in doing is highlighting a student’s shortcomings. It is important for a good teacher to “ensure the reward of self-satisfaction for his students” (Lyke & Enoch, 1987, p. 6). Having students repeat beautifully-played sections as well as those that require attention could be one way of doing this, as well as letting a student complete a piece before making any comments – whether positive or negative.

The next part of the expectancy theory equation is connection. Tasks need to be relevant and interesting to the student in order for them to see the connection between their success and the reward – in this case the reward being satisfaction, a boost to their self-esteem, and a feeling of achievement. Chronister’s principles of teaching and learning (Darling, 2005), are relevant here, which say that it is important that students furnish their own motivations (p. 19), and a musical purpose is a good purpose (p. 25). Rather than having a student repeat a passage eigth times, for example, why not ask the student to repeat it while experimenting with dynamics, or trying it at different octaves? In this way, a laborious and tedious task becomes exciting and creative.

Connection ties in with value, in the respect that both relate to students’ perspective towards their musical journey. One way of having students value their lessons and practice time is to give them choice. Within a music lesson examples of this are giving them choices over which piece to learn, or what activity they would like to do first in the lesson. This helps to give students a sense of ownership over their pieces, therefore encouraging them to practice them at home.

Of course, the primary thing that anybody values is fun. According to Hisey (2002, p. 25), fun involves have an engaging environment to actively participate in. It almost always incorporates something new, and gives the students a sense of success. Rather than having the student sit for the entire lesson, why not try activities away from the instrument? A studio could have several stations set up around the room with different activities at each station so that a student is stimulated and kept active and involved.

We also have to remember that we live in a technological age, and by utilising computer programs, such as Musical Ace, or Midisaurus, musical activities automatically become more relevant and fun for the student. Through the use of the internet, technology can used at home, allowing students to continue their theory and aural training online, such as through, without the need to purchase software.

Future blogs will delve deeper into different aspects of a student’s motivation, as without motivation, we are left with very few – and no willing – students.

About the Author

Brandon Pearce
Brandon Pearce is the founder and CEO of Music Teacher's Helper, a web-based software program to help music teachers manage the business aspects of teaching music lessons.

A piano teacher and computer programmer himself, he created Music Teacher's Helper as a side project to manage his own students, and in 2004, made it available for music teachers worldwide.

Since then, it has grown to supp... [Read more]


  1. Ed Pearlman

    I look forward to reading more of your article. I think you’d agree that too often, schools, and music teachers too, substitute external discipline for internal discipline — control instead of motivation.

  2. Michelle Baldwin

    I, too, am interested in reading more of this paper. Would you mind sharing your bibliography? If not in the blog or comments section, perhaps an email?

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  5. dofus kama

    nice post.your bolg is too useful to the teachers.
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