top of page

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation in Learning Fingerstyle Guitar

Teacher or Learner: Who Plays a Larger Role?

When learning the guitar, we often like to rely on our teachers, in-person or online, to deliver new information to us. While yes, the knowledge that teachers provide is incredibly valuable, the most important person in your own guitar learning journey is you, the learner. If you expect to simply become a great guitarist and musician by simply watching youtube lesson videos or going for guitar lessons, you will be sorely disappointed at your progress.


Because a teacher can only provide extrinsic motivation. To truly become a good musician, you need to be intrinsically motivated. Your desire to grow and level up as a musician needs to exceed the information that your teacher can provide, such that you hunger for more knowledge and that hunger drives you to seek it out and apply it on your own.

I’ve taught many students, and the ones who make the fastest progress are those who actively listen to music, think about how techniques and pieces are executed, try them out themselves, get confused and frustrated, yet persevere simply out of a hunger and curiosity to improve in their technique and musicianship.

For these students, my role as a teacher is simply to monitor their progress, keep them on the right track, ensure that they aren’t picking up bad techniques, and introduce new knowledge at the right times.

Self-Taught vs Formal Instruction

You’ve heard of many great guitarists being ‘self-taught’ musicians. Perhaps you are one yourself! There’s a reason why these self-taught guitarists can reach the level that they have, while others who attend formal instruction fall behind. Often it is no fault of the teacher, but a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

By its very definition, a self-taught musician is intrinsically motivated. They drive themselves to seek out knowledge and technique. If they don’t find it, they will just look elsewhere, and will find it eventually. Now, they may not always find the best techniques, and may not always take the most efficient route, but they know what they want and will do what it takes to get there. This sort of intrinsic motivation cannot be imparted by a teacher, only encouraged.

On the other hand, learners who undergo formal instruction have the great benefit of an experienced musician and mentor who will show them the most efficient route to improvement, correct bad habits, guide them toward the use of optimum techniques, transmit knowledge in a structured manner, and on top of that provide extrinsic motivation.

However, if this student does not have intrinsic motivation, he or she will almost definitely fall behind the self-taught student. Therefore, the best route to learning guitar is obviously an intrinsically motivated learner under the guidance of a good teacher.

Constructing Knowledge Vs Receiving It

Ultimately, the best learner constructs knowledge through a combination of self-seeking, hard work, perseverance, and careful guidance by a teacher. Do not simply wait to receive knowledge, you will not get very far with that approach.

The good news is that if you are watching this video, you are likely already on the right track! Let’s continue this dialogue in the comments below: Are you a self-taught guitarist or learning under formal instruction? I look forward to hearing from you, and I wish you all the best in your guitar learning journey.

By Neil Chan


bottom of page