Monday Mailbag – Practice Incentives and Rewards

Here are two similar questions that I’ll address this week:
What sort of practice incentives do you use?  And, do you tie certain goals for your students to a trophy or certificate at year end?

I am getting pretty discouraged with the lack of practice in my students. Are you CONVINCED that incentives are worth the time and energy and money?

There has been a lot of talk lately in the blogosphere about practice incentives and whether they are helpful or harmful to students. Anyone who has been around here very long knows that I am a huge proponent of using practice incentive themes, however, I am very particular and very intentional about how I structure practice incentive themes. There are a variety of purposes and benefits of using such a tool in your studio, and making your students practice more is not at the top of the list. Surprised? Many factors contribute to a student’s practice habits, but practice incentives are seldom a primary or direct influencer. That said, I think that implementing practice incentive themes in my studio (misnomer though it may be!) is one of the best things I ever did. Here’s why:

  1. They Build a Sense of Community and Camaraderie. Students of all ages and levels look forward to the revealing of the new theme each year and eagerly contribute ideas at our Year-End Evaluations. With the studio wall decorations and various ways of representing each student, they can see each others’ progress and feel connected to one another.
  2. They Encourage Enthusiasm. This is for both me and the students! I thrive on change and new, exciting opportunities, so I confess that part of my motivation behind developing new themes each year is to keep me from getting bored teaching lessons. If I’m bored, you can bet my students will be bored, too! Enthusiasm is likewise contagious, and it’s so fun to set new goals and work toward higher levels of musical achievement together.
  3. They provide a framework for lesson planning throughout the year. Instead of taking considerable time to do detailed lesson planning each week for my students, I take off the whole month of August and do a lot of praying, brainstorming, and setting a system in place that will enable every student to work toward specific goals each week. The custom assignment book that correlates with every practice incentive helps the students and me stay organized and focused throughout the year. This helps us maintain a common vision and make sure that we’re working toward the same objectives.
  4. They serve as a means to help students develop diligent habits. There are 4 Components of a Good Practice Incentive, in my opinion: Age and Level Inclusiveness, Realistic and Measurable Objectives, Student Options, Rewards that Contribute to Musical Growth. Practice incentive themes should give students the opportunity to hone their strengths and build up their weak areas. Ideally, the structure they provide will facilitate steady progress that will motivate the student to maintain diligent practice habits long after they’ve left the studio environment.

Also, as far as certificates and trophies…I personally don’t use either of those. I prefer to invest in rewards as a way of expressing my appreciation to the students for the hard work they’ve done, and I try to think of things that will contribute to their musical growth. Here are some things we’ve done:

* Special admission to a rehearsal at our local symphony, followed by an ice cream sundae party back at the studio.

* A trip to a recording studio where we received a tour and each student had the privilege of recording a piece they worked on for the occasion.

* A music dictionary.

* Composer fandex.

* Participation in a historic group class that traveled back in time to visit a great composer.

* A position on a committee to plan a big year-end event for the whole studio. This ended up being a patriotic-themed evening of dinner and musical performances by the students.

* Private access to a website for our studio.

It does take a lot of time and energy and money to put together themes and events like these, but I am convinced that the rewards to you and your students go far beyond checking off a good week of practice. Their whole musical experience becomes so much more memorable and enriching!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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