Creating Lifelong Musicians

ASTA 2014 Presentation

I did a survey with students and parents in my school as a preparation for a presentation I was giving at the 2014 ASTA Conference on "Building Community to Create Lifelong Players."  You can download the data anaylsis by clicking on the PDF links below.  Here are some of my general observations.  (Students were divided into 3 ages groups:  7-11, 12-14 and 15-18 year olds)

Pie Charts:

7-11 year olds:

  1. Parents overestimated their importance (56% vs. 33%) and underestimated the teacher’s importance.  (17% vs 31%)
  2. Both parents and I way underestimated the power of peers in motivation.
  3. Parents and I overestimated student self-motivation.  Students admit that they are less self-motivated.

12-14 year olds:

  1. Parent overestimated their importance (36% vs. 25% from students) and way underestimated how important the teacher becomes.  (27% vs. 36% from students)  I way underestimated the importance of the parents.
  2. Everyone scored self-motivation fairly accurately.  Self-motivation has gone up 11% as a factor over the 7-11 year old group in their own estimation.
  3. “Friends” role is declining and will continue to do so.

15-18 year olds

1)  General agreement regarding self-motivation.

2) Parents are slightly less influential, but still play an important role.

3) Teacher plays a much bigger role than either parents or I realized.




Role of parents/friends decreases over time.  Self-motivation increases over time.  For teens, the role of the teacher is over 1/3 of their motivation to practice.




Most to Least Favorite Activities, What motivates you to practice the most, check list


7-11 year olds:

I interpret the fact that orchestra concerts are a most favorite activity to “relatedness” and “pleasure” rather than “competency” since there is not much desire to practice for concerts.  They seem more willing to practice for group concerts.  That might be due to the fact that there are fewer students in a group and competency is noticed more. 

From looking at most to least favorite activities, one could interpret that “concerts are fun, practicing is not.”  Again, supporting the idea that competency is not high on their priority list, except for the fact that “I like getting better” came up number 1 on the check mark list.  Pleasing others (teacher and parents) came in 2nd and 3rd on the check list (Relatedness-External).  Like the piece I am working on came in 4th (Pleasure).  Competency again makes a small appearance at No. 5 under the guise of “getting more challenging, sophisticated music to play.”  I would still make an argument for that coming under the “pleasure” designation, since getting “new” music is what they crave.  I don’t think they actually have the cognitive ability to discern what is more challenging.

At this age, I would also be prone to believing that the “pleasure” factor is a driving force.  Autonomy does not even begin to factor in.  Except for “pleasure,” their motivators are mostly external, almost equally divided between teacher and parent.  This would rank at a “stage 3” in the extrinsic to intrinsic motivation scale.  (6 being the highest and fully intrinsic motivation)

Students are not motivated to practice for solo recitals.  That will drastically change in later ages.

Overall, this is the age when students are most influenced to practice by their peer group.  I have usually geared most of my social events around teens, but this evidence would suggest that younger students have an even greater need for “relatedness.”


12-14 year olds:

 “Community Concerts” moves into first place of most favorite activities.  I take this as an indication that the need for “purpose” is creeping into their awareness.  They still like orchestra concerts, but don’t feel motivated to practice for them.  Solo Recitals move way up in regards to what makes them practice, but it ranks last among their favored activities.

“Like Getting Better” still holds first place in the check mark category.  “Fear of messing up in solo recitals” rises to 2nd place, but this may not be all bad since it does seem to motivate them to practice.  Notice how this will change in 15-18 year olds.   “Wanting to please the teacher” comes in 3rd now and “Want to please my parents” moves way down the list.   I see the ascendency of “It makes me feel good about myself” and “I want to help my group/orchestra as no coincidence.  This age group struggles with self-esteem, self-doubt and group identity issues.  The silver lining here is that the community building activities that focus on “purpose” can be used to overcome the forces that are externally focused.


15-18 year olds


This ascendency of the teacher can be seen in the fact that the private lesson is now the most favorite activity.  Orchestra concerts still come in a strong 2nd, but they still don’t want to practice for them.


The fact that solo recitals and private lessons now move into primary motivating factors for practice shows that students have finally bought into the “necessary” evil.  They have fully moved across the extrinsic to intrinsic scale and made an “autonomous” move to see solo recitals especially, as a means to an end.


On the check mark list, “like getting better” has remained at number 1.  The “fear of messing up in solo recitals” has now morphed into “want to play well in solo recitals.”  (sigh of relief that the motivation moved across the scale from external to internal)  It is no surprise that “wanting to please my teacher” is third, but it was surprising to see “wanting to please my parents” move back up on the list.


Parent Motivations:

When asked why they want their children to student violin/viola/cello, their number one answer by a wide margin was “builds discipline.” (Competency and Autonomy).  Second was “Music adds meaning to life.”  (Purpose and Pleasure)   Next was another competency answer, “It challenges them to work hard.”  4th place was another “purpose” answer: “It teaches them important life lessons.”  External drivers like “it makes them smarter” and “it will help them get into college” were scored relatively low.




Before I conducted this study, I was certain that the level of social connectedness played a primary role in my students continuing to play.  I have not really changed my mind on this theory, because if only private lessons were the sole component of a student’s music education, it is pretty obvious that they would have a hard go of staying with their studies over time, because private lessons as a primary motivator does not appear until students are in the 15-18 year old age group.  Orchestra, groups and community events seem to bring “pleasure” or joy and purpose to the experience that would otherwise be lacking.  The “pleasure” factor also comes into focus in regards to the response to the statement “I like the piece I am working on.”


None of the current group of students has aspirations of becoming a professional musician, so it would be interesting to see how former students who have gone on to careers in music might have answered this survey.


It is clear, however, that COMPETENCY is a huge factor since it came up #1 on the checkmark list for all age groups.  For 12-14 year olds, PURPOSE has got to be addressed in order to get them through this developmental stage.  Also, self-motivation, AUTONOMY, needs to be nurtured and developed.  Otherwise, students are unlikely to continue after the influence of teachers and parents wane.  But, without reaching a certain level of competency, it is unlikely that social interactions would make a significant difference in attaining the goal of life long participation in music.


Over time, students move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators.  7-17 year olds list Parent, Teacher and Group Concerts as the primary motivators, 12-14 year olds list Teacher, Self and Solo Recital and finally 17-18 year olds list Private Lesson, Solo Recital and Self in the top 3.


Students never relied on “Friends” as much of a motivator.  While I still hold to the notion that “friends” plays a role in terms of making orchestra/groups and other events possible, I can see why teens who are intrinsically motivated might not recognize the power of their friends to contribute to their investment in their musical experience.


Finally, the role of the parent never disappears.  The teacher may become more dominant in the late teen years, but the parent is obviously still important.  It would be interesting to do additional study to examine more of the correlation between the parental attitudes regarding motivation and the success of their children in becoming lifelong learners.


Tags:   Motivation and Psychology    ASTA 2014    student musicians    motivation
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