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Do music students achieve expertise because they are motivated, or are they motivated because they are achieving expertise? Are they motivated to achieve because of their musical aspirations? These questions were explored in a study titled: "Changes in motivation as expertise develops: Relationships with musical aspirations." (2)

The Method

A large sample of 3,325 music students who studied in a variety of settings participated in this survey. They ranged in age from 6 to 19, and played a wide array of instruments. The study took place in the United Kingdom, and their level of expertise was established by their most recent independent music exam, with nine levels of expertise ranging from beginning to conservatory entrance level. A series of statements (with a 7-point Likert scale for responses) was based on previously researched, well-established elements of motivation that included: "self-beliefs; enjoyment of musical activities; enjoyment of performance; level of support received from parents, friends and teachers; attitudes towards playing an instrument and perceptions of its value; and beliefs about the importance of musical ability. Participants were also asked to respond to statements about their long-term musical aspirations." (2)

The Results Included:

* "The findings support research which has stressed the importance of social support and affirmation particularly from parents and teachers. This was the only subscale which did not show a linear increase in scores as expertise developed." This level of support, however, appeared to be less in the beginning stage of learning, increasing at exam Grades 1 and 2 (perhaps as they became more competent on their instrument), and then were perceived to decline between Grades 3 and 5. (3)

* There was "a linear increase across levels of expertise on the sub-scale that focused on social life and the value of playing an instrument. This supports earlier research which indicated a strong relationship between motivation and the development of a musical identity.... A similar linear pattern emerged with regard to self-belief in musical ability.... Where there is repeated success as expertise develops the impact on self-belief is likely to be cumulative." (4)

* "The sub-scale which focused on enjoyment of playing, lessons, making music with others and practice not being boring was not enhanced by the inclusion of the statement 'I like practising'. This suggests that there is a subtle perceived difference between enjoying practice and practice being interesting (not boring). This reflects research findings on the importance of finding a balance between challenge and competence when setting work to be completed." (5)

* This study indicated "a linear relationship between aspirations and levels of expertise. Much previous research has shown that as the individual becomes more expert they need to make a greater commitment to music, spending more time practising as technical demands increase and the repertoire expands.... It is not surprising that there is a relationship between aspirations and level of expertise, either because aspirations drive motivation or because aspirations increase to justify the expended effort. Long term commitment to being involved in musical activities was the aspiration best predicted by the five sub-scales." (6)

* "The strongest predictors were music constituting an element of social life and enjoyment of performance."

The researchers concluded: "there is considerable evidence that there is much attrition from instrumental music lessons in the first few years of playing.... Models of musical motivation many need to take greater account of the extent to which musical activity, whether through listening or making music, is pleasurable and satisfies emotional needs." (7)


This study was a "snap-shot" of a sample population rather than a longitudinal look at how the responses of these students would change and develop over time (that would also be interesting). Did most of the findings surprise you? Me, neither. My attention was piqued, however, by the finding that perceived parental support was lower during beginning lessons. Perhaps this reflects the current appalling parental attitude of "We'll just try it for a while and see if Johnny likes it." (Apparently, all of the students in the study were motivated to stick with it for at least awhile, or they would not have filled out the survey--this probably skewed the results somewhat.) Then, once the student got a bit more competent (Grades 1-3), parental motivation was perceived to increase; however, it decreased again in Grades 3-5. Might this reflect the onset of middle school and the myriad other activities vying for the student's time and parent's wallet? My biggest "take-away" from this study is to wonder what we, as teachers, can do to encourage consistent parental support from the first lesson until the last.


(1.) Hallam, Susan, et. al., "Changes in motivation as expertise develops: Relationships with musical aspirations." Musicae Scientiae 20(4) 528-550.

(2.) Ibid., 529.

(3.) Ibid., 541.

(4.) Ibid., 543.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Ibid., 543-5.

(7.) Ibid., 545.

By Rebecca Grooms Johnson, NCTM


Rebecca Grooms Johnson, PhD, NCTM, is a nationally respected leader in the field of piano pedagogy. She is an independent piano teacher and has taught extensively at the university level. Johnson has served as Ohio MTA president, chair of the National Certification Commission, MTNA vice president and president-elect. She is immediate past president of MTNA and an associate editor of Clavier Companion.

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In jazz Up the Sinfonias, John Salmon has created jazzy accompaniments to J.S. Bach's Sinfonias (also known as Three-Part Inventions). The pianist playing the Bach Sinfonia does not need to change anything. The second pianist will add notes that convert Bach's original compositions into jazz.

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These joyous arrangements will make great additions to recital programs and constitute a valuable contribution to duet literature.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Author:Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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