The 5 Masts of Music Student Motivation

Music student motivation can be an elusive and cruel beast for us teachers. Just when we think we’ve cracked it, a new video game, sport or hobby-craze will come along to make it disappear overnight.

What’s the key to keeping music students motivated in the long term?

The 5 Masts of Music Student Motivation facebook 2

⬆️ Listen to the podcast above or keep on reading, whichever fits your style. ↙️

The trouble with music student motivation is that there’s not one thing which will work for all students, all the time. There isn’t even one thing guaranteed to work for a single student, for one semester!

I like to see music student motivation as a set of 5 masts needed to keep the ship moving forward. 

If one of these masts isn’t there, the ship doesn’t move as quickly. If two are missing, it begins to flounder. And with only one or two masts, the ship is dead in the water.

Build all of these masts into your student relationships and you’ll have the best chance of having highly motivated and engaged students.

And for more tools to help your students set goals and stay motivated, visit my hub page all about Teaching Piano Practice.

Motivation Mast 1: Ownership

Students need autonomy. They need to feel like they have control over their musical journey. 

Did their parents put them into lessons or did they decide to take it up?

student doesnt want piano lessons

Knowing to what degree it was their decision to start lessons can help you understand your student’s motivation (or lack thereof.)

If you’re looking for greater levels of music student motivation in your studio, start with ownership. Make sure they feel like this is their own individual journey – not something prescribed to them by you or their parents. 

Motivation Mast 2: Identity

This can be the strongest and most supportive mast, but is the hardest to construct. 

You and I see ourselves as musicians. It’s part of who we are. 

At what point did that happen for you? 

For me, it didn’t really start until I began teaching. But I feel it could have started sooner if I had been introduced to creative skills. 

If I had been able to improvise or encouraged to accompany singers when I was young, I think I would’ve found my way to that self-identity much earlier. 

The more avenues we can give our students to act as musicians, the more they will feel that they are musicians. 

And when your students think of themselves this way, that can make all the difference. Having this identity will see them through many rough patches and difficult practice weeks.

Motivation Mast 3: Choice

Choice and ownership are related, but not the same thing. 

The “choice” factor in the music-student-motivation-equation is about small decisions your students get to make in their studies.

Not everything needs to be chosen by your student. And you don’t have to hand over the reins to them completely. You are the teacher and you do know best a lot of the time.

But your student needs some say. 


They need this to feel involved and like their opinion matters. 

They also need to practise making choices if we want them to become lifelong musicians. We’re not going to be around to pick out their pieces forever. 😬

Motivation Mast 4: Long-term Mindset

Learning to play a musical instrument Takes. A. Long. Time. 

That’s just the truth of it. And it can be hard for students of all ages to come to terms with that.

But it’s also the beauty of this journey. 

Through music studies, you can develop your grit. You can learn to stick with things when they’re challenging and feel proud of each accomplishment.

Students who have goals ranging between a few weeks to a few months to a few years out are more likely to stick with music. They can see the progression of their studies stretched out in front of them, with all the fun landmarks along the way.

Motivation Mast 5: Enjoying the Process

The final key to motivating piano students is knowing that it will be a long road and learning to enjoy the scenery. 

It’s great to be driven towards a goal. But if you’re so single-minded in working towards that aim, you’ll miss all the good stuff. 

You need to coach your students to experience the learning process. Celebrate every small victory, listen fully to the music they’re making together and talk about how this contributes to the bigger picture.

What do you consider to be the most important factors for motivating music students?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s get those students motivated! 🙂 

4 thoughts on “The 5 Masts of Music Student Motivation”

  1. These 5 MASTS surely have a broad application. My church choir has not met for more than one year. I have been thinking about ways to re-connect the dynamics of the group, ways to re-set their singing abilities, and ways to encourage participation in a volunteer group. It will probably be more months before we are able to sing praise to God as a choir again, but I am already selecting music and thinking toward that end. Thank you for these ideas.

  2. This is fantastic advice and after teaching for 20+ years I can say that these are excellent ideas in my experience. I help students choose their goals each week for how many times they will play each piece and how many days they will practice. Having some concrete goals (while still having freedom to choose when) has been exceptionally helpful this year. When they make their goals they get a prize. A little candy always helps motivation too;)

  3. Hi
    Great ideas as usual.
    I would add that having a wonderful teacher and cultivating with him/her a great relationship is also a key to success.
    All the best


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