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Motivating Piano Students: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic

Firstly, what exactly is motivation?

It's the driving force behind why piano students practice and play.

It can be classified into two main types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation

Motivation that comes from within the piano student.


  • Driven by personal enjoyment and love for music

  • Practicing for the pleasure of playing and improving

  • Interacts regularly with the piano

Examples of intrinsic motivation:

  • Playing piano because you enjoy the sound and experience

  • Learning a challenging piece for personal satisfaction

  • Composing music out of pure creativity and curiosity

extrinsic motivation

Motivation that comes from external rewards or pressures.


  • Driven by rewards or avoiding negative consequences

  • Practicing to achieve specific outcomes or receive external validation

  • Can be effective for short-term practice goals

Examples of extrinsic motivation:

  • Practicing to win a piano competition

  • Learning a piece to earn praise from a teacher or parent

  • Playing piano to receive a reward or allowance


Intrinsically motivated students will happily sit and practice the piano because they enjoy it.

Extrinsically motivated students need rewards, incentives, or a goal.

how sustainable are they?

Intrinsic motivation tends to be more sustainable and will lead to lifelong engagement with the piano.

Extrinsic motivation may decrease once rewards are no longer present.


Extrinsic motivation can lead to intrinsic motivation.


Izzy started lessons when she was 6. From the first few lessons, I could tell that she was musically talented.

But Izzy was lazy with a capital L.

She would never practice.

But she had the desire to perform.

But would only perform if she felt confident.

I would tell her the confidence would come the more she practiced her piece.

She still wouldn't practice.

I introduced her to a practice incentive - a donut token in a box every time she came to her lesson and showed me she'd been practicing.

Suddenly, Izzy was practicing. Every morning before school (and this was backed up by her mum and her newfound ability to play her piece with confidence).

She performed in a school assembly and was met with glowing reviews from her friends.

Fast-forward 5 years, and Izzy is still having lessons. She is also one of my students who practices the most!

She'll even sometimes source her own music because she wants to learn something specific to perform to her friends.

We continued with practice incentives for a while, but eventually, she didn't need them. She developed a massive love for playing the piano and music in general. Sure, it might have developed without the incentive, but the donuts certainly sped up the process!

finding a balance

To enhance intrinsic motivation, you could...

  • Choose pieces that align with personal interests

  • Set personal goals that are challenging yet attainable

  • Create a supportive environment that values creativity

To use extrinsic motivation effectively, you could...

  • Use rewards to complement, not replace, intrinsic goals

  • Ensure that external rewards are meaningful and constructive

  • Combine extrinsic rewards with opportunities for personal expression

Where do you stand on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation for your piano students?

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