Piano teachers believe that dropping out of piano lessons before reaching a moderate mastery of the instrument is a common problem among students. We used self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) to measure the motivation of dropout students and to discover if amotivation and controlled motivation are related to attrition from private piano lessons. Using the Survey of Musical Interests, 55 former piano students who had quit lessons completed a questionnaire with Likert scale, multiple choice, and open-ended questions, and their parents filled out a complementary questionnaire. The dropout students took lessons for approximately 5 years and stopped lessons in the preteen years, which supports a common experience of studio teachers. These participants were compared to 260 students who were still involved with piano lessons. Beyond the predicted findings that dropout students would demonstrate less autonomous motivation and stronger amotivation, other interesting, exploratory findings arose. There were significant differences between the two groups’ types of motivation, and also differences regarding the age at which lessons began, ethnicity, practice amounts, parental involvement, and rewards for achievement. Recommendations are made for future research and for student retention strategies.

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