In this guest blog, drummer and educator Michael Hutchinson explores the topic of motivation, and how to effectively motivate your students.

How do you keep your students motivated?

Motivating your students is one of the hardest things to do as a teacher. We take motivation as a by-product of loving what we do, but we can lose the momentum and we can fall out of love with music and our instrument and we can become demotivated which shows in our playing and our attitude. To understand how to motivate we first need to know a little about motivation itself.

What is motivation?

To understand how to motivate we first need to know a little about motivation. According to self-determination theory (SDT), a theory devised by Edward L Deci and Richard M Ryan’s work on motivation in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Ackerman, 2020).

There are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is defined as completing an activity for inherent satisfaction and extrinsic motivation is completing an activity which you felt compelled to do (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Extrinsic motivation is interesting to understand, due to the many similarities we, as teachers use to motivate students. Ryan and Deci explained these similarities as a drive to behave in certain ways based on external sources and it results in external rewards” (Deci and Ryan, 1985). Those sources can be anything from grading systems, to gaining the respect of others (2020).

SDT also differentiates between autonomous motivation and controlled motivation, with autonomous motivation being self-directed and can come from extrinsic sources, yet with an understanding of the activity’s significance. Controlled motivation comes from external sources acted out of external rewards or fear of punishment (Ackerman, 2020).


A learner’s psychological needs

According to Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, every human has 3 psychological needs (1991):

• To feel competent: achieve the things you want to achieve

• The need for relatedness: develop meaningful relationships

• Autonomy: take initiatives and self-regulate

If we as instrumental teachers can satisfy these basic human needs then we can encourage motivation.

Instrument teachers can support this by:

• Helping the learners build competence through increased understanding

• Engaging the learners while attending to their socio-economic needs

• Helping the learners build upon and exercise autonomy by displaying the same behaviours.

• Asking what the students wants – guided lesson, not mastery

• Providing rationale to the lesson

• Praising effort and not achievement

• Encouraging parental support and involvement.

• Being involved yourself – turn up to exam centre and make your learners feel at ease.

• Encouraging self-initiated tasks and praise them for this.

• Feedback should be positive and support autonomy

• Giving the learner a choice on what to learn – especially for lessons you know the learner will not engage in.

• Never offer monetary or other prizes for achievement.

Tip: Teaching a drummer theory can sometimes be quite a difficult task. What I like to do is give them a choice of which note value they want to learn about, and we work on the identification of this and the different patterns you can use within that value. At this point, I take a song I know the student likes to play along with and have some fun trying to get the note value into the song. Then I move this knowledge into the RSL grade songs. At this point the student knows the value and is comfortable identifying and playing it, so will be intrinsically motivated to learn the grade song.

Rockschool Ukulele Method

As an instrumental teacher, you are pushing your students to pass an exam. You are ensuring that they get the best results possible by teaching them at the highest level, using RSL to guide them. This is standard practice across most instrument teachers within the UK, but by understanding extrinsic motivation causalities we can turn this to be intrinsic for the student. Parents or carers play an important part in motivation too. Using phrases like “if you pass this RSL grade 4 exam at merit or above I’ll buy you a new drum kit” may seem like a win-win for the student, but what if the student falls short? They will instantly feel demotivated and not good enough. Use the above list on how we can support students and we can make a start on keeping our students motivated the correct way.

The science behind motivation is thorough and there is a lot of information for teachers to help guide the learner, so I would recommend reading some of the articles presented in the bibliography to get a deeper understanding of SDT and how this can aid in understanding the needs of your learners.

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Michael is a drummer, educator, and music psychologist from the North East of England. He runs Triple-T Drumming school of drums and has been teaching privately for 12 years. He is currently researching drumming from a psychological point of view studying with Sheffield University, music psychology in education performance and wellbeing and his main interest is drumming and its effects on working memory.


Instagram: @tripletdrumming

Twitter: @tripletdrumming


Ackerman, C. (2020). Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters. Retrieved 25 June 2020, from

Deci, Edward L., and Ryan, Richard M. (1985) Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. 1st ed. New York: Springer Science Business Media, LLC, 1985. Perspectives in Social Psychology. Web.

Edward L. Deci, Robert J. Vallerand, Luc G. Pelletier & Richard M. Ryan (1991) Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective, Educational Psychologist, 26:3-4, 325-346, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137

Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25:54–67