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Motivation in Secondary Music Education.

As an aspiring teacher, the topic of motivation and theories around student motivation have been interesting to me. I often wonder what my future students will need to feel motivated in my music classroom, and what appropriate motivational strategies I will need to employ to meet the needs of very different students. How to motivate students in the classroom is an important topic for me and for my perspective students! From this research, I hope to gain deeper insights into the complexities around motivation, and at the same time start to develop some guiding principles and practices that will underpin my own teaching. My goal is to have the knowledge and strategies ready to use to inspire and motivate my students. Students come to music classes with heavily laden schedules, competing pressures, and demands. I want to engage them in ways that are meaningful and respectful to them as they learn music, and help them develop a love of music that evolves from meaningful engagement and learning. There are several purposes to motivating students. Some of these include creating independent learners, to encourage continual growth and development as musicians, to keep practicing, and to strive for their full potential.

Student motivation is a topic commonly discussed among educators and psychologists. As West (2013) notes, motivation is a complex term that many psychologists and educators have researched and written about. Lumsden (1994) states that motivation as "students' desire to participate in the learning process". "All students are motivated by some activities; in school, student motivation is deeply affected by what happens in classrooms" (Canadian Education Association, 2011, para. 1). According to Anthony Mazzocchi's (2015) post on his website, "students begin an instrument through their school's music program" and "one or two years later, more than 50% of students quit; unable to enjoy all that music education has to offer ...". Anthony and commenters on this post agree that motivation is one factor that impacts students losing interest. These examples point out the complexity behind student motivation.

Through personal experiences and my course work throughout my undergraduate degrees, I have been introduced to the work of Carol Dweck (b. 1946) and Daniel Pink (b. 1964). Both are well-known researchers and theorists in the field of motivation. In this essay, I provide practical applications of these theories for me and possibly other music educators to use in their various secondary music classrooms.

A Personal Story

When I was introduced to the theories of Dweck and Pink in recent years, as part of my university undergraduate studies, my life began to change. The way I approached learning shifted to a meaningful and engaging experience and I noticed significant improvements in my personal performance on clarinet. I felt more motivated to put time and effort into my studies and practicing. I experienced success more quickly than I ever had before in my studies, which motivated me to work even harder and strive to reach my full potential. When I reflect back to my earlier high school years, I remember that if I received a good grade then I would receive a monetary reward. This process worked for me at that time, but once the extrinsic rewards stopped (after high school), I noticed a decrease in my motivation to achieve high grades and practice. I realize now that while the extrinsic motivation of monetary rewards worked for me in the short term, this type of motivation was not long lasting. My goal now, at this stage in my music and teaching career as a pre-service music educator, is to understand motivation at a deeper level so I can derive motivational strategies for my students that have strength and meaning in relation to both immediate and lifelong learning and enjoyment of music.

Why is there a lack of motivation?

One of the leading problems for teachers today is the "lack of motivation toward academic activities" (Green-Demers, Legault, & Pelletier, 2006, p. 1). These authors state that some factors affecting student motivation include students' ability beliefs, effort beliefs, and value placed on the task. Ability belief is the "theory that people hold expectations about their ability to apply appropriate strategies in order to execute a task " (p.2). The next concept of effort belief is "the student's desire and capacity to invest the energy or effort" (p. 2). The final concept is the value that is placed on the task which is critical in that the student has meaningful learning experiences so that it is seen as important to them (p.2).

Anthony Mazzocchi (2015) a Grammy nominated music educator, believes that there are several reasons why students lose interest. Some of his reasons include that students believe that they are not musically talented, that they are too busy with other activities, and that they hate practising. He goes more in depth to discover the real reasons why students quit music. Some ideas that he came up with are that parents do not treat music as an important subject, students are not given the right tools and habits to improve their playing, and there are not enough performance opportunities. These are believed to be factors that affect the students' interest in music and their motivation to keep practicing and exploring music.

Two Theories of Motivation

Opportunities for students and teachers to improve motivation in their music classroom can be examined through the theories of Carol Dweck (2006) and Daniel Pink (2009). In this section, I examine each of these two theorists' work, and explore motivational strategies that may be used in secondary music classrooms.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and an author known for her research with 'mindset'. In her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" (2006), she explores the difference between a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. One's mindset is evident with his or her reaction to failure and how he or she deals with challenges. Students may not be aware of their mindset or that they can change it. Mindset plays an important role in fostering motivation in students so that they experience success.

Dweck (2006) explains a fixed mindset as "people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success- without effort. They're wrong" (p. 1). For a growth mindset, she states "people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work-brains and talent are just the starting point This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment" (p.1).

To recognize these two mindsets in students, it is important to be able to recognize characteristics of both. In a fixed mindset students avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as worse, ignore negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, they may not reach their full potential. In a growth mindset students embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. This mindset sets students up to reach high levels of their potential. (Dweck, 2006).

According to Dweck (2006), teachers can integrate growth mindset learning processes into their classroom to help motivate their students. A shift in mindset sets students up for meaningful and engaging learning. The shift shows students that they have a choice in the way they approach learning and are not limited by their abilities. To encourage students to alter their beliefs and mindset, teachers can help students set micro goals so that students are experiencing success and not being overwhelmed with long term goals. By establishing smaller, challenging, but attainable objectives, they will achieve success and have a sense of empowerment.

Educators may praise their students' efforts and strategies as opposed to praising their intelligence (Dweck, 2006). An example of praise is saying "you must have worked really hard and I liked the strategies you used to figure the problem out", instead of "you must be really smart". Another suggestion is to help students focus on the process of learning. There is a lot of focus on what the end product should look like but sometimes students may not know what strategies and steps to take in between. In the music classroom, instead of telling students to go practice, teachers can give specific practicing methods that they can use while they practice. As a visual aid in the classroom that encourages a growth mindset, teachers can create a bulletin board to guide students' words and the choice of mindset they use to approach learning (Finley, 2014). It may display common fixed mindset sayings such as "I give up", "I don't understand", and "I'll never be as smart as her". To encourage a growth mindset, it can show what sayings they can say instead to promote a growth mindset such as "I'll use some of the strategies I've learned", "What am I missing", and "I'm going to figure out what she does and try it". (Dweck, 2006). These phrases allow for students to realize that they have a choice and can shift the way they think and approach learning.

This growth mindset concept can be applied to music classrooms because it is an environment where many students may experience challenges such as when they are learning a new instrument or new concept. Practising can be a very frustrating process for some students and adapting a growth mindset can be an effective strategy for them. Competing to be the best on the instrument or competing in music festivals may create a negative atmosphere for some students, but embracing a growth mindset may be a solution to keep motivated.

The music classroom is a perfect environment to adapt the growth mindset because it shows how practice can lead to the result the students and teachers are striving for. Encouraging students to strategize and figure out solutions to harder parts of music and promoting reflective practice are other suggestions to promote the growth mindset in the music classroom. For example, if a student is having trouble with a 16th note passage, instead of simply telling them to go home and practice, it may be more effective to give them specific exercises to improve working on 16th notes.

On a cautionary note, teachers need to be careful that they are not creating a false growth mindset in their students. This idea of the false growth mindset stems from teachers misunderstanding the true meaning of the growth mindset. When teachers simply praise their students for effort, they need to ensure that they aren't giving empty praise. Empty praise refers to the teacher not just telling the student that they put a lot of effort in and tried hard just to make them feel good, when the student knows that they didn't make any actual progress. The mindset and use of praise was formed to promote a focus in the learning process and to encourage the use of strategies that lead to success when the effort is put in.

It is also important to note that students and teachers are not going to have a growth mindset view all the time. It is a long process of understanding triggers that leads one into a fixed mindset. In music classrooms, triggers may be evident when students are watching their peers play for them and they automatically think that they will never be as good as them. In a recent interview with Dweck (2006), she states that "I think a lot of what happened is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said 'Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset' because either they know it's the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy" (Gross-Loh, 2016, p.1). It is hard to stay in a growth mindset all the time and it is something which is going to take time to develop.

One strategy used to promote Carol Dweck's growth mindset was the use of praise to reflect students' efforts rather than intelligence. Researcher Daniel Pink further explores this concept with his own theory.

Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink is an author and researcher, who has several published books on work, management, and behaviourial sciences. In his book, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" (2009) and his TED talk, "The puzzle of motivation" (2014), Pink argues that motivation is primarily intrinsic. He opposes the extrinsic methods of rewards and fear of punishments. Pink recognizes that external rewards are frequently used by teachers and parents to get kids motivated to complete a task. Extrinsic motivators tell students that if they do this, then you get that. This approach has proven to be effective for a short-term solution. One challenge in schools today is that educators can come to rely on this method of rewards for everything rather than contextualizing the need and ways of motivating.

Pink (2009) splits the concept of motivation into three categories of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy "is the desire to direct our own lives" (p.1). This idea can be found in music classroom by letting students have a say in decisions and promoting student-centered learning so that they become more independent learners. Music educators can promote autonomy by questioning their students on their music taste and see if those songs or genres can be incorporated in the curriculum.

Mastery "is the desire to continually improve at something that matters" (Pink, 2009, p.1). In music, students are constantly striving to develop and grow on their instruments. This concept can be accomplished "through deep learning and engagement" (Amaro, 2016, p.1). This idea links directly to Carol Dweck's growth mindset theory that students strive to reach their full potential.

Pink's (2009) third category of motivation is purpose, which is "the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves" (p.1). To make the student feel important and valued in school, teachers can assign responsibilities. In a music classroom, if there is a student that seems like they are finding it difficult to stay engaged, give them leadership tasks to give them some responsibility and make them feel important. Some examples of responsibilities that I think are suitable for the music classroom are to organize cases, arrange the stands, or help give out music.

Pink (2009) states that praise is commonly given to students when parents or teachers tell them that they are intelligent or talented (p.1). Like Carol Dweck, Pink believes that instead of praising their intelligence it is suggested that their efforts be praised. Teachers need to be aware if their students' basic desires are being met for them to stay engaged and motivated to learn. Teachers can incorporate Pink's ideas to help motivate their students for effective long-term learning.


In conclusion, motivation is a key element in creating meaningful and possibly lifelong learning experiences for students. Music teachers are often faced with struggles to engage students in music and retain their attention and commitment long term. Carol Dweck's (2006) mindset theory and Daniel Pink's (2009) motivational theory and theory on praise, provides teachers with background and guiding principles and practices they may use in their classrooms to implement effective motivational strategies. Students need to be engaged in the learning process to be motivated. All students present with different levels of motivation and learning differences, which makes it hard to ensure every student is achieving success. However, the strategies provided hold the potential to be effective and ways to ensure that students are motivated in relevant and meaningful ways.

As a future music educator, I plan to utilize the concepts of mindset, autonomy, mastery, and purpose in my classroom. I believe that with these strategies I can strive to effectively set up my music classroom for success. A critical component of this success will be my ability to provide motivational strategies and techniques for my music students. Theories of motivation by American researchers Carol Dweck and Daniel Pink provide possible solutions to increase student engagement and motivation in secondary music classrooms.


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Canadian Education Association. (2011, April 19). The facts on education: How best to motivate students? Retrieved from

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books. Green-Demers, I., Legault, L., & Pelletier, L. (2006). Why do high school students lack motivation in the classroom? Toward an undemanding of academic amotivation and the role of social support. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 567-582. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.3.567

Gross-Loh, C. (2016, December 16th). How praise became a consolation prize. The Atlantic. Retrieved February 3rd, 2017, from praise-became-a-consola- tion-prize/510845/

Lumsden, L. (1994). Student motivation to learn. Eric digests, 92. Retrieved from

Mazzocchi, A. (2015, February 17). Why students really quit their musical instrument (and how parents can prevent it) [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Pink, D. (2009, February). The puzzle of motivation [Video file]. Retrieved February 3, 2017, from

West, C. (2013). Motivating music students: a review of the literature. National Association for Music Education 31 (2), 11-19. doi: 10,1177/8755123312473611

McKenzie Squires, originally from Corner Brook, Newfoundland, is a student at Memorial University in St. John's Newfoundland. She holds a Bachelor of Music and is currently completing a Bachelor of Music Education. She has studied under Professor Paul Bendzsa and Dr. Christine Carter. During the summer breaks, McKenzie teaches music at cadet camps in Nova Scotia. Music has always been an important part of her life and is eager to soon start as a music educator.

Kenneth Bray Undergraduate Essay Competition--2nd Place Faculty Advisor--Dr. Andrea Rose (Memorial University)
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Title Annotation:recurring motifs
Author:Squires, McKenzie
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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