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The role of psychological needs in ceasing music and music learning activities

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Psychology of Music

Published online on


This article addresses individuals’ decisions to continue or cease playing a musical instrument from a basic psychological needs perspective. Participants began learning music 10 years prior to the study and were the subject of previous longitudinal research. They completed a survey investigating the three psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy in the contexts of when they were most engaged in playing their instrument during high school, and in the time leading up to when they ceased playing. Decisions to cease music instruction or playing an instrument were associated with diminished feelings of competence, relatedness, and autonomy, compared to when they were most engaged. Open-ended responses to a question about why they ceased playing supported this finding and showed that participants refer to reasons directly related to feelings of psychological needs being thwarted. This article therefore proposes that motivations to cease or continue playing a musical instrument demonstrate a natural propensity to more vital, healthy forms of behaviour. The study offers preliminary evidence for a framework that may help to unify previous research in music and supports motivational research in other areas.