This article provides a conceptual overview of a self-determination theory approach to motivation in music education. Research on motivation in music learning is active and has influenced the field considerably, but it remains theoretically patchy, with a vast array of theoretical perspectives that are relatively disconnected. Reflecting motivation research more generally, music education still lacks a parsimonious, unified theoretical approach to motivation. Self-determination theory offers a way to address this issue, because it is a broad theory of motivation that examines the nature and sources of motivational quality. This article describes two key components of self-determination theory. First, the tendency towards personal growth and a more unified sense of self is supported through the fulfilment of the basic psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Second, behaviour is more enjoyable and contributes more to personal wellbeing when motivation is internalized and more closely aligned with the self. These two features of self-determination theory are related, such that motivation is internalized to the extent that basic psychological needs are fulfilled. These processes are supported by recent self-determination theory research in music education. Previous research on motivation from other theoretical perspectives also lends support to the self-determination theory approach. The approach therefore provides a means of theoretically unifying previous research. An integrated model is presented as the basis for future research on motivation for music learning in the context of psychological wellbeing more broadly.
Self-determination theory (SDT) assumes that inherent in human nature is the propensity to be curious about one's environment and interested in learning and developing one's knowledge. All too often, however, educators introduce external controls into learning climates, which can undermine the sense of relatedness between teachers and students, and stifle the natural, volitional processes involved in high-quality learning. This article presents an overview of SDT and reviews its applications to educational practice. A large corpus of empirical evidence based on SDT suggests that both intrinsic motivation and autonomous types of extrinsic motivation are conducive to engagement and optimal learning in educational contexts. In addition, evidence suggests that teachers' support of students' basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness facilitates students' autonomous self-regulation for learning, academic performance, and well-being. Accordingly, SDT has strong implications for both classroom practice and educational reform policies.