Monday Mailbag – How to Incorporate Student Options Into Practice Incentives

What did you mean when you said a good practice incentive should include student options?

One of the primary purposes of a practice incentive is to motivate students to practice. And what better way to do that than to let them choose what they are going to practice? As teachers, we have to tap into what students actually want to achieve with their piano studies in order to develop assignments that will help them reach their goals. However, as teachers we also have a better idea than our students of what will contribute to their overall music education. So, if we want them to become well-rounded musicians we will give them options that are designed to help them build essential skills as well.

Think of it like this: A parent could give a child at dinner time of what they want to eat. If they gave their child the choice of ice cream or peas, I bet every time the child would choose ice cream. This might make the child happy and motivated to eat, but it would be extremely unhealthy for the child. Not to mention, bad parenting. However, a parent could similarly give their child a choice between peas and green beans. Perhaps the child dislikes both, but the fact that they are getting to choose which one they prefer to eat gives them slightly more control of the situation and instills a greater sense of responsibility for eating their vegetable since they are the one that chose it. This is an example of a good way to utilize options.

In a piano lesson environment, perhaps you realize that most of your students need vast improvement in their sight-reading skills. You could develop a practice incentive that would incorporate a variety of options related to sight-reading, and each week students could choose one challenge from a list to accomplish by the following lesson. Examples include:

  • Play through 5 easy level pieces of music.
  • Select a speed note drill and play each line in random order 3 times every day.
  • Work on a flashcard drill – see how many notes can be named and/or played in 1 minute by your next lesson.
  • Tap through one level of rhythm drills with the metronome at a certain marking.
  • Search for and play a sight-reading app every day.
  • And so on!

This is how I design all of my studio practice incentive themes so that students have plenty of options to help them reach their desired goals while still ensuring a well-rounded music education. This also makes every lesson new and different, but provides a wonderful framework to teach within all year long so that we stay organized and on track in our musical studies!

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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One thought on “Monday Mailbag – How to Incorporate Student Options Into Practice Incentives

  1. Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio, anyway…

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