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Motivating Students Through Repertoire

by Andrew Marino

As instrumental music teachers we want to create successful musicians, but how – utilizing instructional methods? Implementing learning strategies? These are certainly necessary steps, but just as important is keeping our students motivated. We can’t do this for our them; we can be inspiring, but it’s the student who’s motivated and as is often the case, it’s the repertoire choices we make that can either provide motivation or take it away completely.

So, what is motivation and what seems to go wrong with it? Clark and Saxberg define motivation as a cognitive and affective process influencing whether people start a learning task, persist at it once started, and invest adequate mental effort to succeed.[1] Four primary factors impact motivation, each one has a degree of influence over the learner’s beliefs and expectancies about the control they can exercise over learning goals. These factors are values, self-efficacy, emotions, attribution errors and each one and its impact on beginning a task, following through, and mental effort will be explored in the context of repertoire choices.



The value students place on a piece influences whether they will start and continue learning to reach their goals. To put it simply, students have fully formed ideas about the repertoire they like. The pieces they find most interesting, useful, or important are the ones most likely students are to start and follow through with until learned.

A significant problem though is “teacher-knows-best” syndrome in which teachers often assign repertoire that they value, of course with good intentions (developing technique, playing in higher positions, etc.), but that students do not place the same value upon. This may be one of the contributing factors of the motivation problem. Finding out what pieces interest students, either by performing for them or listening to recordings/watching videos, can substantially improve students’ willingness to start learning a piece and follow through until it is performance ready.

Students can be influenced by three types of values:

1) interest value – what repertoire students are interested in are the pieces they choose quickly and easily. There are two paths interest value can take. First is intrinsic value, mastering a skill or adding a piece to ones’ repertoire for self-satisfaction. Second is extrinsic value, where students are more interested in impressing others (perhaps for a competition or audition). This extrinsic path is less desirable as it’s less effective for learning than the intrinsic path.

2) importance value - linked to self-identity. A student may place importance on a piece if it is reflective of their skill set or that they identify with. Maybe there’s a certain composer they’re drawn to. It’s useful for a student to recall their success with past pieces to connect with importance value.

3) utility value how useful a repertoire choice is. A piece could be a “steppingstone” to another, more challenging piece that holds interest value for a student. A student may not be interested in learning a study in counterpoint by Fernando Sor (I had this problem myself with No. from the Segovia edition – Op. 6, No. 8), but they can see how this piece can help them learn a contrapuntal work by Bach later.

Understanding what repertoire your students value, as well as opening a dialogue with your students to change their mindset on the value of certain pieces that could benefit them, but they may be resistant to learning, is an important step in choosing repertoire. We want our students to start and finish a piece, which in turn is a springboard into their motivation for the next piece.





Attribution errors:



Clark, R. & Saxberg, S. (2018). Engineering motivation using the belief-expectancy-control framework. Interdisciplinary Education and Psychology, 2(1).

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