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Motivating Music Students Part 1: Identify What Motivates Your Students

Every student is different, thus every student is motivated by different things. Some are motivated by stickers and prizes - others, not so much. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it easy for us teachers. Here, we will briefly explain the 6 types of motivation (brilliantly laid out by Royale Scuderi in her Lifehack article), in relation to music education. This is a guide to help you, the music teacher, identify and tune into each type.

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on Motivating Music Students where we will examine each of these types in more detail and explore techniques you can use to engage each one.

INCENTIVE (aka extrinsic motivation)

Motivated by: external rewards, like stickers, prizes, praise, or money.

What to look for: Students who show interest when you mention a prize, or students who light up when you give them praise.

What you can do for these students: Ideas for using incentives in music education


Motivated by: the want to belong and/or friendly competition. Generally, students tend to practice more when other members of a group depend on them, like in a small band or duet.

What to look for: Students who flourish in the company of others! They may thrive in a leadership role, love studio competitions and games, or enjoy being placed in a small group or duet.

What you can do for these students: Making practice a social activity


Motivated by: achievement and the feeling of success. They will work hard to reach a goal simply because it feels great for them to do so.

What to look for: These are your overachievers; students who like to be challenged. These students might complete a hard assignment and get a burst of energy from knowing that they were capable of doing that.

What you can do for these students: How to motivate students with achievement

GROWTH (aka intrinsic motivation)

Motivated by: the need for self-improvement. These students respond best to simply knowing that they are improving.

What to look for: These students will work within themselves and might not like to or need to show off. In other words, they improve at their own pace: no need to be compared to others.

What you can do for these students: Developing intrinsic motivation

POWER (aka Autonomy/Independence)

Motivated by: independence and some control in what they play/how they practice.

What to look for These students may appear stubborn or defiant. They may ask why. It's natural that you, as a teacher, want to have more control over how the student learns - but they may have their own ideas of how they want to progress. Communication is important with these students.

What you can do for these students: Working with independent students


Motivated by: consequences. Fear doesn’t always have to be a threat of punishment, it could be a fear of messing up or disappointment.

What to look for: These students tend to be very responsive to direction and may not question you even if they don't completely understand. Fear can be a powerful motivator, but must be used with caution. These students will work hard, even if they are not experiencing the joy of music.

How to use this motivation: Motivation by fear

Keep in mind that most students are a mixture of multiple types, and may be more responsive to certain triggers than others. So, if you’ve tried an incentive system such as stickers and found some students responded but not all, it’s because you’ve only been targeting one source of motivation. Without the right tools, it’s challenging and time-consuming for a teacher to be able to appeal to all students. Better Practice understands this challenge and thus provides a toolbox of motivation features to easily reach each one of these types. Stay posted as we discuss each motivation type further in articles of their own!

Are your students not practicing as much as you'd like them to? Better Practice helps motivate students to practice all across the globe.