An investigation of musicians' goals as motivators and regulators

Taylor, K. A. C. (2021) An investigation of musicians' goals as motivators and regulators. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


Research into self-regulated learning has demonstrated that goal directed practice is more effective in producing improvement than non-goal directed practice; however, the substance of the goals is rarely examined in detail. When categorised, generally the dichotomous view of intrinsic or extrinsic goals is used. To elaborate on this research and examine how the content of goals may affect their achievement, this thesis uses the theory that goals can be used as a motivational technique to inform self-regulated learning research into the practice of musicians. The goal theory examines the specificity, measurability, deadline, hierarchy, difficulty, and importance of goals. Research has demonstrated that challenging, achievable goals produce a better improvement than “do your best” goals, and participation in goal setting leads to higher increases in productivity. This provides a detailed understanding of the goals being set by musicians, and whether they are likely to be effective within self-regulated learning. The final theory examined in this thesis links to the motivation for completing actions: self-determination theory. This was chosen as it provides a more detailed insight into the internalisation of motivation for certain behaviours, beyond that outlined in self- regulated learning and goal setting theory. Examining the quality of a goal, the motivation to achieve it, and the approach to doing so will provide information about self-regulatory processes in musicians’ practice that have not been considered in this way previously. A model of predicted relationships between the three theories is tendered based on findings of previous literature, and this is then examined for its suitability in the studies conducted for this thesis. Three research questions are examined: 1. What goals and self-regulation strategies do musicians use during their practice? 2. How effective are the goals and self-regulation strategies used by musicians during their practice for improving performance skills? 3. Do goals and self-regulation strategies change at different times during individual practice sessions and over the course of the learning process required to take on a new piece of music? And if so how? To address these questions, an online survey was distributed to performance students at UK conservatoires and two micro-analytic studies focusing on the practice sessions of violinists were conducted. The questionnaire contained questions relating to the self- regulation, self-determination, and goals of musicians to develop greater understanding of the connections between these components. The micro-analytic studies involved completion of a self-regulation practice diary, observation of practice sessions, a video recall procedure, and interviews with the participants, providing an in-depth view of their practice and ambitions. Results of the studies showed that a variety of practice strategies were adopted by participants, but that these tended to be habitual and based on individual preference. Goals were not specific and rarely used effectively, often changing during practice sessions in favour of reactive aims and behaviours. Longer-term goals tended to be intrinsic in nature, and more intrinsic goals were associated with higher perceived likelihood of their attainment. Self-regulation strategies were exhibited by all participants whose practice was observed, but the act of goal setting and attainment was limited in quality, indicating that this is an area that could be improved to benefit the effective practice of the conservatoire students. Overall, results indicate many positive self-regulatory traits are evident in the practice of the violinists examined, but greater improvement could be made by using goals in a more effectual way and planning their practice in advance.

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