Practicing Musician’s “Modern Teaching Best Practices” column for In Tune magazine is now available! You can read a copy below or view the whole magazine by visiting

Three Secrets to Unlocking Student Motivation

All students require motivation in order to succeed. Research shows that intrinsic motivation is stronger than extrinsic motivation. Despite the fact that not all music students start out with intrinsic motivation, you can facilitate increasing intrinsic motivation by following these three secrets: 1) Give them a clear goal; 2) Provide appropriate incentives for achieving goals and objects; 3) Show them the benefits of success!

Give Them a Clear Goal

Make sure students know what you expect of them in class. You can do so by clarifying the following points with students:

  1. What are your expectations?
  2. How will they know if they met the goal?
  3. What are the criteria for success?

Provide Appropriate Incentives for Achieving Goals and Objects

In order to facilitate the development of each student’s intrinsic motivation, you must provide appropriate incentives for meeting your expectations. Students need to gain a sense of satisfaction that they have met your goals.

Satisfaction can be as simple as celebrating a job well done because celebration activates the reward centers in the brain. Start by celebrating in class with all students. Then, encourage students to celebrate on their own at home when they feel they have successfully met your expectations. This will subconsciously prepare them to start celebrating on their own.

After a while, teach your students how you set their own expectations and ask them to set their own goals. Clarify that it would be counterproductive if they set goals that are overwhelming. Check to make sure that their goals are small and achievable so that confidence builds over time. This level of autonomy is absolutely essential to the development of intrinsic motivation.

Achieving a goal together as a class will also help boost the sense of satisfaction. When everyone works together toward a common goal, students have an increased chance of being intrinsically motivated to continue that work. It may sound counterintuitive, but playing well with other musicians is the driving force behind many musicians’ intrinsic motivation.

Show Them the Benefits of Success

Students will likely find intrinsic motivation once they start believing in its benefits. Some of these benefits include:

  1. Ability to engage in their ensemble more confidently
  2. Increased happiness
  3. More genuine praise from friends and family
  4. Self-actualization through creative autonomy!