Motivation determines how hard a person is willing to persist in order to obtain something. It is important not only to be highly motivated, but intrinsically motivated – to be motivated from within. Musicians can also be extrinsically motivated – for instance by receiving attention, praise or applause, or by passing an exam, winning a competition, or earning money. Motivation is linked to enjoyment levels and aspects such as the relationship between effort expended and the outcome of that effort. Your attitude towards yourself also plays a role – for instance your beliefs, expectations, autonomy and self- efficacy. 


Being a musician is closely linked to identity. People who decide to become professional musicians tend to do this in their teens – much earlier than with other professions.  This has many implications. Experiencing your work as a vocation can bring with it enormous motivation. However when something ‘goes wrong’ (for example a bad performance or an injury) it can feel life threatening. In order to develop a healthy and effective way to train, the most important basis is to ‘know thyself’ (an ancient Greek aphorism). This involves being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses, personality traits and tendencies, what brings you health and energy and what depletes it, what motivates and demotivates you, whether you need a lot of structure or a flexible routine. This can only be done by trial and error and is best approached as objectively as possible without judgement. Becoming a capable and healthy musician with a prospect of a long career involves having, or developing, a clear sense of identity, self awareness and self knowledge, self efficacy and self confidence, and an idea of what you want to communicate as well as all the tools and techniques in order to be able to express this. Ultimately the ability to accept yourself and your playing as it is, is essential to development. You are your own trainer and having/developing a positive attitude towards yourself enhances both learning and performance.

Self-confidence (GM)

Self-confidence is a buzzword in teaching as well as parenting and praise and rewards are often considered positive steps towards promoting self-confidence. 

Yet often we see talented students, who would have received praise in abundance over a number of years, crumble under the weight of even minor setbacks. It appears some of this can be explained by self-concept in respect to learning.  This is an image of the self, gathered largely through the mirror of other people’s feedback.  

Developmental psychologists, such as Dr. Carol Dweck, have encapsulated the approaches to learning as either ‘entity’ or ‘incremental’, in other words being either based on an innate ability or driven by effort. This relates to the self-concept and ideas about the learning process of students. In a nutshell, those people who believe in their innate talent, based on either their parents’ or teachers’ feedback and/or early winning experiences are ‘entity’ theorists. The problem with this approach is that these students attribute their successes or failures to an “ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve”. Their self-confidence can be easily shattered by adverse experiences. On the other hand students who have a self-concept based on the belief that learning can be achieved step by step, believe in an incremental approach. “Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a “mastery-oriented response” to challenging situations, while children who see themselves as ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something, have a learned helplessness orientation .”

Research quoted by Josh Waitzkin, in his book The Art of Learning, suggests that some of the brightest kids “prove to be the most vulnerable to becoming helpless, because they feel the need to live up to and maintain a perfectionist image that is easily and inevitably shattered.”  

Understanding whether an ‘entity’ based approach is blocking effective personal growth because of a deep story operating in the background is crucial to achieving the right motivation to continue learning/practicing. 


Growth and fixed mindset (SW)

Many believe that one is simply born with a certain amount of musical talent. What you believe – especially about yourself and your own capacities – has a strong influence on what you became and are able to achieve. 

Some psychologists suggest that in order to lead a less stressful and more successful life it helps to have the right mindset. A fixed mindset is one where a person believes his/her talents, intelligence and abilities are innate, fixed traits. A growth mindset belongs to someone who believes that improvement comes as a result of application and working through problems. Research has shown that those who have a growth mindset think that results come from effort and these people tend to learn and perform better. Fixed mindset people have difficulties coping with failure. There are many extremely talented people who have a fixed mindset and can’t cope with anything that doesn’t come easily. Ultimately, it is the musician who uses the right type and amount of effort who will succeed. 

Mindset and Self-Image (GM)

The way we think about practice influences how and what we do when engaging with different aspects of musical learning, so it is important to examine assumptions, mindset and set patterns in relation to practicing. At the core of this process is reflection, a focusing lens that can transform the ways in which we view practicing. 

Rather than viewing practicing as a ‘necessary evil’, it is better to approach practice time as a time to experiment and discover, getting better in the process. Assimilating information and finding unique solutions go hand in hand. The concept of ‘working hard’ can gradually be substituted by the concept of ‘working smart’. 

Some important issues are time-management and learning to be self-reliant: students can help themselves by using their time effectively, making best use of their contact time with their teachers and approaching their practice in a creative and constructive manner. 

It is important to understand how mindset plays a vital role in motivation to practice and learn. Focusing on a series of achievable tasks within a realistic time frame and believing in one’s own capacity to complete these tasks is more conducive to constructive practice than excessive focus on oneself. Students must devise strategies to deal with self criticism and negative internal dialogue and use self assessment and feedback in a constructive way. This includes being aware of psychological and physical aspects of practicing and performing and avoiding injuries. 

Keys to motivation

Deep Listening – Stories we tell ourselves (GM)

The attitude towards practice is influenced by self-image, expectations and mindset.  One strategy that works well is to decide to observe - to increase self-awareness. What are you actually doing and why, and most importantly what is the storyline operating in the background. 

By watching how you to talk to yourself, and trying to imagine that you would address another person that way, you begin to understand what your underlying attitude is. 

Would you change the dialogue if you were speaking to someone else? Often people discover how dismissive they tended to be about their own efforts. They also discovered that vague and generally negative statements prevail in this running commentary. This means that they begin to grasp the negative undercurrent that operates in the background of their minds. There is often a story line underneath specific negative commentary, and for this reason this strategy can be described as deep listening, because sometimes there are unspoken messages interfering with practice and self-belief.

The next step then is to insist on a ‘problem solving’ approach – stay constructive and specific.  At this point, there is more openness to absorb facts about learning and about how the mind works, and move towards a more systematic approach to practice. Often this is more labour intensive because it involves specific short -term goal setting and more objective self-assessment with a view to the next stage of practice. A decision to employ a variety of practice approaches, and exercising control in determining what, when, and how you practice is also a key to motivation. In a way, discussing motivation is really about answering the question of why practice happens at all.  

Motivation (EJ)

Planning your physical practicing makes you feel better and stronger. The advantage of planned practice enables your optimal development and helps you to avoid burnout and overtraining. It helps for more effective recovery, produces better practicing results and improves your motivation.

Flow keys to maintaining motivation (EN)

All musicians can remember a time when they felt swept up in the joyous feelings of playing music. These feelings of enjoyment act as a motivating force that drive us to keep engaging in our music so that we can get these wonderful feelings again and again. Whilst in this state, ordinary worries and fears melt away as we become focussed in the moment and fully absorbed in our playing. 

Five flow motivation techniques

Maintaining motivation in the solitary context of the practice room requires a range of tools that you can apply to your specific circumstances. There are five key flow techniques: maintaining a comfortable body feeling; sensory immersion; exploration for problem solving; use of imaginative ideas and a focus on maintaining a joyful engagement with the music. 

Create open flow questions to increase motivation

Begin your practice by relaxing yourself first. Take three deep breaths and slowly breathe out, then warm up your body by walking slowly around your practice space and allowing your breathing to settle. When you start to play, begin with easy notes at a comfortable dynamic level so that you can focus on feeling and sound. Check your relaxation levels and prevent tension by asking yourself, ‘Am I moving my body in a relaxing way as I play? and 'Is this a relaxing feeling? After you have warmed up in a relaxed way, establish a motivation for your practice session by asking yourself open questions that help you to direct your focus, such as ‘What do I need to achieve today? And ‘How much is realistically possible for me to achieve in my practice session today?’ When you have established a large, overall goal for your practise session, then break that down to create small, manageable subgoals that relate to it.

Use subgoals to maintain motivation

Start by selecting sensory or expressive subgoals that when completed could be rewarded by imagining eating a bite-size piece of chocolate or a strawberry. Use open, action-based questions that relate to ‘bite-size’ goals such as, ‘How do the notes in this particular passage feel?’ or ‘Am I enjoying the sound of the notes in this section’ or ‘Am I exaggerating the expression of this phrase?’ If you imagine that each practise session is represented by a chocolate bar or a bowl full of ripe, red strawberries, then across your practice session you should be able to complete many small goals so that you can finish the whole bar or bowl! To do this, it is important that you achieve a clear sense of how you are progressing in a short space of time of around five minutes in order to feel a strong sense of accomplishment (and eat your imaginary piece of chocolate or ripe strawberry!) Avoid choosing large or difficult tasks as that will demotivate and frustrate you. ‘Goals that are not realistic can decrease motivation, because failure takes away from enthusiasm and self-confidence.’(Jackson & Csikszentimalyi, 1999, p. 84) So, break the task down into easier ones that are just above your level of performance so that you feel actively involved and can feel and hear the results of your goal-directed actions as you go along. As you achieve each small, realistic task you will get a rush of reward feelings that will motivate you to learn more by setting the next ‘just-right’ goal. 

Keep enjoying yourself

Encourage yourself to explore your repertoire by improvising around the music and making up fun stories to go with it. Investigate historic and theoretical elements, different editions, recordings and any material that interests you. Dance out the story of the music and sing it at the top of your lungs. Do what you enjoy! As long as your goals are personally meaningful to you and not too challenging or boring for your skill level, your motivation will remain high. Remember that if you are not enjoying your practice then your motivation will drop, so keep finding new and novel ways to enjoy yourself in every moment and eat your imaginary chocolate and strawberries as you go along (don’t leave them all until the end!).

Self-efficacy (SW)

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capacity to succeed at tasks. This can refer to learning a task or performing one. It is the key to confidence and related to self-esteem. Psychology has shown that people who have high self-efficacy are more likely to succeed. High self–efficacy depends on having and accumulating mastery experiences: experiences of choosing and accomplishing goals. This can be done by a clever selection of goals – ones that are challenging but attainable. Over time the accumulation of mastery experiences can change how you view yourself and your potential. What also contributes to building high self-efficacy and confidence is learning from & being inspired by people with whom you can identify.