“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 careers, we have to amass stockpiles of motivation. This post looks at a formula that illustrates how motivation can be stoked or depleted.

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.

For instance, let’s say that, before practicing a new piece:

a.  We’re in love with the music, so we deem the value of learning it to be 10 out of 10.
b.  We conclude that we could master it in a week, so our expectation of success is also a 10.
c.  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 simple formula, we can see that, to foster self-motivation, we have to choose goals that we truly value and know 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 (see “Artistic Vision“).

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

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

Increasing the Expectation Factor
Here’s where high-quality music education really matters. Students who acquire comprehensive artistic, technical, and career skills can gauge how their abilities match up with the demands of the titles they might like to perform and the issues involved in presenting them publicly.

As a result, they build up large repertoires of accessible pieces, and their professional know-how enables them to book plentiful concerts. Their inclusive skills allow them to make choices that result in success, so their E scores remain high.

Students who lack comparable wherewithal may tackle music that swamps their powers; they polish few to concert level and seldom perform because doing so feels arduous. Their expectation of success drops, their E scores plummet, and their motivation ebbs.

With these concepts in mind, in tandem with articulating your values and goals, 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

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