Author(s):Esa Virkkula (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:29. Research on Arts Education


Session Information

29 SES 03, Case Studies in Music Education

Paper Session


Room:NM- J114

Chair:João Costa


Using Self-Determination Theory to Show Motivational Characteristics in Conservatory Workshops

Conservatories in Finland belong to publicly funded educational organizations that offer studies for the upper secondary vocational qualification in music (180 credits). In vocational education over the last few years, attention has been paid especially to the development of cooperation between work life and educational units in learning-at-work (Jokinen, Lähteenmäki & Nokelainen, 2009). In the field of music, learning-at-work means the student’s action in terms of a musician’s tasks: preparing the pieces of music for performances, practising music individually, ensemble work and arranging performances (Finnish National Board of Education [FNBE], 2014). Carrying them out requires strong motivation: commitment, and responsible and initiative action in an ensemble.

In this continued research project, the musicians’ vocational learning-at-work was arranged in a workshop in which the students planned and implemented a performance in cooperation with a professional musician according to popular and jazz music tradition (see Berliner, 1994, pp. 44–45). The study consisted of 11 workshops as part of the vocational education of 62 students aged from 17 to 24 years in the Conservatory of Oulu, Finland, in 2003–­­2011.

In several of the most recent music education research reports (e.g. Countryman, 2014; Evans, McPherson & Davis, 2013; Küpers et al., 2014; McPherson, Davidson & Faulkner, 2012), the authors have examined the factors which make students motivated in their music studies.

In music education studies, less attention has sometimes been given to examining the motivational factors of music students who aim at becoming professional musicians. The students are readily interested in music and are relatively skilful. On the other hand, attaining and maintaining professional competence requires continuous commitment in terms of developing one’s competence (e.g. Renwick & Reeve, 2012). Learning in conservatories is, however, described as being strongly teacher-centred (e.g. Creech, 2012). Students may have very few opportunities to influence their studies, which does not strengthen the ownership of their learning or, for instance, promote the development of their self-assessment skills.

This research is connected to the problematics described above by examining the motivational factors of popular and jazz music students in the conservatory. The research examines the influence of self-determination on the learning motivation of popular and jazz music students. Self-determination theory (SDT) explains that satisfying people’s universal psychological needs has a significant influence on well-being and learning (Deci & Ryan, 1985; 2000; 2014. Psychological needs will become satisfied when the learner autonomously influences the choices and decisions of his/her learning. He/she then feels competent about acting in his/her learning environment and experiences relatedness to it.

The researcher first built a learning environment – a workshop in which the students’ universal psychological needs were first paid attention to according to the principles of the SDT. Next, a research task was set to explain how the cooperation of a professional musician and conservatory students is connected to the students’ learning motivation from the point of view of SDT. 


The research material consists of structured questionnaires that are a) workshop plans and learning goals written by the students before the workshops and b) written reflective essays of experiences after the workshops. The material was analysed using theory-oriented content analyses.

Expected Outcomes

In the workshops, the students were responsible for the planning and implementation of music performances with professional musicians. The students worked autonomously and their competence as musicians developed. The cooperative way of working created relatedness to the music community. A commitment to challenging performance projects with professional musicians motivated the students to try their best to develop their musicianship.


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Countryman, J. (2014). Missteps, flaws and morphings in children's musical play: Snapshots from school playgrounds. Research Studies in Music Education, 36(1), 3–18.
Creech, A. (2012). The interpersonal behaviour in one-to-one instrumental lessons: An observational analysis. British Journal of Music Education, 29(3), 387–407.
Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 19(2), 109–134.
Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268.
Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2014). The importance of universal psychological needs for understanding motivation in the workplace. In M. Gagné (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of work engagement, motivation, and self-determination theory (pp. 13¬–32). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Evans, P., McPherson, G. E., & Davis, J. W. (2013). The role of psychological needs in ceasing music and music learning activities. Psychology in Music, 41(5), 600–619.
Finnish National Board of Education [FNBE]. (2014). Musiikkialan perustutkinto [Vocational qualification in music]. Helsinki, Finland: OPH.
Jokinen, J., Lähteenmäki, L., & Nokelainen, P. (2009). Työssäoppimisen lumo [The magic of on-the-job learning]. Hämeenlinna, Finland: HAMK.
Küpers, E., van Dijk, M., McPherson, G., & van Geert, P. (2014). A dynamic mode that links skill acquisition with self-determination in instrumental music lessons. Musicae Scientiae, 18(1), 17–34.
McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. W., & Faulkner, R. (2012). Music in our lives: Rethinking musical ability, development and identity (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Renwick, J. M., & Reeve, J. (2012). Supporting motivation in music education. In G. E. McPherson & G. F. Welch (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of music education (Vol. 1, pp. 559–580). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Author Information

Esa Virkkula (presenting)
Oulu University of Applied Sciences
The School of Vocational Teacher Education