Motivation and Creativity

Week 3 of our Psychology and Sociology in Music Education course looked at the concepts of motivation and creativity. We had another slough of readings (from which I learned a great deal!) with a required reading response as well as our second Live Classroom. I’ll discuss a bit of my learning and the implications from the reading in the post below.


Similar to Week 2, our readings were divided into sections again: motivation and creativity.

My two biggest takeaways were conceptualizations of motivation and creativity. The Renwick and Reave chapter cited a lot of different work from Ryan and Deci, specifically, an article from American Psychologist entitled Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, where the authors conceptualize motivation as a continuum between amotivation and intrinsic motivation. The article uses self-determination theory to discuss how teachers can help students move along the continuum towards intrinsic motivation. Some favorites from the article:

All aspects of music learning cannot be expected to be intrinsically interesting, however, so SDT researchers further study how people developmentally internalize the motivation they need to carry out behavior that is not intrinsically motivated. It is through internalized extrinsic motivation that a child or adolescent engages and persists in activities that are socially valued but personally uninteresting, such as following rules, practicing the same music over and over, and doing what is important rather than what is fun (p. 145).

A central tenet of SDT is that intrinsic motivation will be enhanced by conditions that support people's experience of being autonomous and competent, while it will be undermined by conditions that reduce or frustrate people's experience of autonomy and competence (p. 145).

The development of a sense of autonomy and competence need to be supported if young musicians are to gain the capacity to motivate themselves and employ the self-regulatory skills they will need for lifelong musical engagement. These mean that music teachers need to learn how to support students’ autonomy, how to support students’ competence, and how not to be controlling toward students. (p. 156)

The enactment of an autonomy-supportive motivating style explicitly seeks to empower students by taking and valuing their perspective and by inviting and welcoming their thoughts, feelings, and actions into the flow of instruction to the point that instruction becomes a codetermined, rather than a unilateral, activity. (p. 156)

Other articles on motivation discussed Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow, expectancy-value theory, self-efficacy, attribution theory, self-concept, and mindset. The several articles on creativity discussed many different ways of defining and assessing creativity in education and music education.

Reading Response

Prompt: Discuss the interrelatedness of creativity and motivation in education.

Repsonse: Young children seem to be intrinsically motivated to be creative (Barrett, as cited in Burnard, 2011, pp. 8-9). As they participate in school, this motivation moves left on Ryan and Deci's Internal-external Motivation Continuum (Renwick & Reeve, 2012, p. 146). This is likely due to how educators incorporate creativity into their teaching (Burnard, 2011, p. 9) as well as how different organizations define creativity (Leong et al., 2012, pp. 402-403). Historically, creativity in music education seems to be emphasized in the forms of composition and improvisation (Randles & Webster, 2013, p. 421; Burnard, 2011, p. 9; Humphreys, 2006, p. 358; National Core Arts Standards).

To combat this shift towards non-self-determined behavior towards creativity from students, teachers should adopt an autonomy-supportive orientation that supports student competence (Renwick & Reeve, pp. 148-149, 156-157). This orientation ties in with self-determination theory—looking at how students can become more or less intrinsically motivated (pp. 144-145; Cogdill, 2015, p. 50, 53-54; Evans, McPherson, & Davidson, 2012, p. 613)—and the expectancy-value model of motivation—assessing students' achievement and motivation through belief systems, ability perceptions, and values (Parkes & Jones, 2012, p.104). The definition of creativity should be broadened to incorporate other musical practices like performance and listening (Humphreys, 2006, p. 357, 359; Leong et al., 2012, pp. 403-404; Randles & Webster, 2013, p. 421).

My fear is that by defining, assessing, and grading creativity, teachers will not create the environment necessary for students to develop competence or a sense of autonomy in being musically creative (Renwick & Reeve, 2012, p. 156). Grades are an extrinsic motivator that potentially lead to fixed mindsets in students both in success and failure (Dweck, 2007, pp. 34-35).

Live Classroom

We were not asked to prepare anything ahead of time, merely told, “The discussion will be focused on motivation and creativity, with particular attention to their implications for your teaching practice, as well as for contemporary K–12 music education.” After some discussion with the professor and our facilitator over the grading of our papers from Week 2, we were asked to discuss the following: Make an observation about school music curricula (content and structures of delivery) related to student creativity and motivation. Assert that something is true and support it with some kind of evidence.

The first observation that came to my mind was: The Western tradition of band limits motivation and creativity for most students. Other students began before I did, discussing things like (my paraphrases):

  • We are not providing a place for all students to make music, be creative, and be motivated.

  • Students do not feel competence, relatedness, and autonomy when asked to compose based on their current experience in band.

  • We are uneducating students by telling them what they don’t know, not asking them what they do know.

  • Are we stifling creativity by setting up parameters for creativity?

This is where I jumped in with a different observation: Assessment stifles motivation and creativity. As the discussion revolved around that, I needed to clarify that by assessment I meant evaluating with a grade. Here are some other paraphrased thoughts from the Live Classroom:

  • We can’t say everything is wonderful, but we need to provide opportunity and encouragement.

  • Praising the effort, rather than the product, is so effective.

  • The structure of how we do things forces us to assess creativity.

  • We bring our own lens to assessment. We have choices about how we assess. What are we measuring? Effort?

  • There is something about the structure of schools (or structures within schools) that helps to define what creativity might mean within them. Be more explicit about how you are defining creativity. Culture within classrooms. Creativity and divergence.

  • Our classrooms are set up completely in the Western tradition. Non-Western students struggle to fit in the high school setting.

  • Self-efficacy is a link between creativity and motivation. How can we give kids challenging but achievable goals to be creative?

  • Creativity is individuality. If we broadly define creativity, we recognize the individuality of students.

  • Is the process of making music inherently creative?

  • Concert prep takes away so much time that could be allotted to other things (more creative venues).

  • A compliance assignment may build the competence for the student that doesn’t have the self-efficacy to compose.

  • A divergent thinker without structure can go way off course.

  • Thinking in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of intellect, are we setting students up for failure if they have not mastered the lower levels?

  • Is derivative an antonym of creative?


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.