large excited audience and brilliant stage lights“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
–Andrew Carnegie
The Musician’s Way, p. 105

Persistent practice coupled with ongoing professional development is the recipe for musical success.

But persisting in the music business takes effort.

If we’re to stick to our practice schedules and fashion sustainable careers, we have to amass stockpiles of motivation.

This post spotlights a formula that illustrates how motivation can be stoked or depleted.

The Self-Motivation Formula: V x E = M

In On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, author Skip Downing points to a straightforward equation used by motivation theorists:

Value x Expectation = Motivation (V x E = M)

The more we value our work, both in terms of the outcome and our experience doing it,  and the greater our expectation that we’ll achieve our goals, the higher our level of motivation.

As an illustration, let’s say that, before we start practicing a new piece:

  1. We’re in love with the music, so we deem the value of learning it to be 10 out of 10 (V = 10).
  2. We conclude that we could master it in a week, so our expectation of success is also a 10 (E = 10).
  3. Multiplying V x E, our motivation score totals 100, so we’ll be keen to practice.

In a different circumstance, suppose that we pick up another piece that we value at a 10, but we realize that it exceeds our abilities, so our expectation of success is a 2.

Then, with a total motivation score of 20 out of 100, we’ll feel less driven to do the deep practice necessary to master the music. Likewise, with repertoire that’s undemanding (E=10) but unappealing (V=2), our motivation will sag.

Using this formula, we can see that, to foster self-motivation, we have to choose goals that we truly value and know that we can attain.

Increasing the Value Factor

Have you articulated what you value about making music? If not, I invite you to write down why being a musician is important to you and what you hope to achieve with your music, as I describe in my post, “Artistic Vision“.

With your values out in the open, it becomes easier to find meaning in and derive motivation from everyday tasks.

For example, when we connect practicing scales and exercises to our ultimate aim of contributing beauty to the world, then anything we practice, including a simple exercise, resonates with value, and our V number rises.

In tandem, explore the repertoire in your genre by listening to diverse compositions so that you can identify numerous pieces and composers that excite you.

If you study with a teacher who chooses repertoire with you, to help your teacher understand your preferences, compile and share lists of compositions that you enjoy as well as that you dislike. Your list could encompass music for your instrument or voice as well as for other instruments and ensembles.

“To foster self-motivation, we have to choose goals that we truly value and know that we can attain.”

Increasing the Expectation Factor

Here’s where high-quality music education really matters:The Musician's Way book cover

Students who acquire the comprehensive artistic, technical, and career skills articulated in The Musician’s Way can gauge how their abilities match up with the compositions they’d like to learn and with the issues involved in performing them publicly. Their self-awareness empowers them to build up large repertoires of accessible pieces, and their professional know-how enables them to book ample concerts. They make choices that result in success, so their E scores remain high.

Students who lack comparable wherewithal often tackle music that swamps their powers. They polish few pieces to concert level and seldom perform them because doing so feels arduous if not impossible. Their expectation of success drops, their E scores plummet, and their motivation ebbs.

With these concepts in mind, nurture your E score by opting for repertoire you can handle and specifying numerous small practice and career objectives each week.

By racking up one small success after another, you can ensure that your E number and your motivation keep on peaking.

For additional strategies that fuel motivation, see p. 105-112 of The Musician’s Way

Related posts
Artistic vision
The abundance mentality

The benefits of accessible music
The growth mindset
The self-motivated musician

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
Image © DW Photos, licensed from Shutterstock