How do you motivate piano students?
It seems like this is the question of the century and in a perfect world, every piano student would be intrinsically motivated.
But, alas, as piano teachers, we wear the expert knowledge-holder hat, the creative artist hat, the event planner hat and the studio manager hat, just to name a few.
And, we certainly have to wear the cheerleader hat as well.
Finding just what makes every student in your studio tick is quite a task. Every student has their own unique strengths, challenges, interests, family situation and personality. All of these things add up to a studio full of individuals with their own set of motivational needs.
Every piano teacher loves it when a student comes along who dutifully practices consistently with a great attitude and is eager to learn more things. But, even the best and most talented students are going to need a nudge from time to time.
We’ve probably all been in the situation where bribing students with candy, stickers, toys and prizes seemed like the best way to get results. There certainly is a time and a place to tap into a child’s love for earning and having something tangible.
But, let’s also consider non-material, experienced-based rewards to motivate piano students.
We can all use an extra dose of delayed gratification and these more long-term rewards teach your students to keep their eyes on the prize.
These are the type of things that you can create a big hype within your studio by getting your students excited for something really special that they can work towards. Doing this will strengthen the community within your studio. It will get your students talking and they’ll know that they’re all working towards the same goal.
First, let’s brainstorm some types of non-material rewards students could earn, then we’ll talk about ways they could earn them.
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The offer could be the opportunity to attend a special party just for the top practicers. Any type of party would do the trick: a pizza party, a popcorn party, a cookie baking or decorating party, a movie party, an ice cream party a craft-making party.
It doesn’t have to be a long party, but just enough time to make your students understand that they did something to deserve something really special. As the teacher, I love having opportunities to visit with and get to know my students outside of our formal lesson time. A party reward is a win-win because it gives the students a really fun treat and it gives the teacher a chance to spend some personalized time with students.
Just tread carefully, you don’t want some students to feel left out.
Sometimes piano lessons can feel really isolating. Students get tunnel vision and think that piano lessons are the only place where music-related things happen. They don’t always see the big picture of how relevant music is outside of your studio walls.
Organizing a field trip for your students is the perfect way to broaden their musical horizons and help them see other applications of music.
There are a number of ways you could go about it:
Let your students earn special privileges within your studio. This is a win-win because it requires no extra time or financial investment on your part and it creates a really fun experience for your students.
Some examples of privileges that they could earn are:
Giving your students the opportunity to learn something outside the scope of their normal piano lessons makes for a really great reward. Not only does it keep your students engaged in learning their piano material but it also equips them with a new skill in the end.
Here are some examples of skills they could work towards:
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Now that we have some good ideas about what your student might be working towards, let’s think of ways your student could earn one of these rewards.
Since some of these experiences require an investment of time and/or money, I’d save them as long-term goals. Things like a party, a field trip or a recording opportunity are all experiences that you’ll want to create a lot of anticipation for. In these cases, you’ll probably want to schedule them at least a few months in advance and have students working towards their goal of earning that opportunity for a couple of months, part of the school year or even all of the school year.
Students could earn these experiences by tracking the number of days they practiced, the amount of time they practiced (and how effective it was), the number of songs they learned, the number of pages they learned, the number of measures they learned. You could create a simple chart that each student would keep in their assignment book to track whichever metric you choose.
I also recommend keeping a larger chart on your studio wall that students can update at their lesson each week. This will help create the buzz about the reward that will take your students’ motivation to the next level. Students love keeping tabs on how everyone is doing and taking note of what they need to do in order to blast ahead of their peers.
Shorter term goals work well if students are earning privileges or something that doesn’t require a lot of planning on your part. For these rewards, you could have your students practice for 21 consecutive days, or master certain difficult sections of a piece. Or you could host a month-long challenge and reward the top five students with special privileges. You could challenge your students to practice for 25 out of the 30 days leading up to your recital. Anyone who practiced 25 or more days gets to play games at their lesson after the recital.
You can find Megan’s website here for more of her piano teaching thoughts.
While rewards and incentives aren’t for everyone, sometimes they’re just what a student needs. In my studio, I always have a handful of students who seem uninterested in the incentive, while many others really take them seriously. It’s the students who take it seriously that really make it worth it.
I’ve seen a 30-day challenge within my studio propel a student to practice every single day for the rest of the school year. Sometimes the motivation of a reward at the end of the school year is what helps a student develop that day-in and day-out discipline that helps their piano skills really take off.
Leave a comment and tell us about your experience with non-material rewards. Have you tried any in your studio? How did your students respond? Did any of your students really take off thanks to a challenge?
Looking for more help? If you’re feeling lost and without direction in your studio, are feeling burnt out or unsure of how to grow your studio, or are just looking for some help in your studio, come and join us in the Inner Circle.
Megan Desmarais runs a dynamic piano studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA where she helps students from ages 0-70 to succeed with and to love music. She blogs at verypiano.com where she loves to share resources and ideas with teachers and learners of piano. Megan recently created Teach Preschool Music, a comprehensive online course for piano teachers who wish to add a preschool music program to their studio. Megan enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 kids, playing violin in a community orchestra and learning new things.
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