End of the Rainbow
Students earn fake gold coins for completing a myriad of tasks….from bringing everything to the lesson to memorizing scales. I purchase small plastic black pots (look like cauldrons) and gold coins from Oriental Trading. Then, I write each child’s name on a pot with a gold pen. Students place their pot on the piano at the beginning of every lesson, and earn their coins each week, for about 8 weeks. It’s hilarious to watch the younger kiddos eagerly count their coins every week. Those little pots can hold quite a few gold coins—at least 30. Of course, they have fun cashing in for small toys at the end of the term. My bulletin board has a big rainbow w/ a pot of gold at the end…I like to start this one in March to get through the recital season.
Occasionally I give a Treat Master Test, only known to the students as Treat Master Time. I line the piano with their favorite candy or treat and as they play correctly they know they will receive these treats. I get to eat any incorrect notes but the students can replay as many times as they like and I reload each time. IT ALWAYS ENDS UP WITH %100 ACCURACY THOUGH SOMETIMES I NEED PEPTO AT DAYS END!
Working With Parents
When a new student starts taking lessons, I always take a minute to talk with the student’s parents and ask what motivates their child. I also like to discuss with the student what motivates them and what they enjoy. By working together with the parents AND student we can be on the same page with special motivational treats or rewards. For example, parents may offer their child the opportunity to participate in a special activity once they have passed off a certain number of songs and practiced a certain number of minutes. By working together with the parents, you can create a team effort that is supporting the child both in lessons and at home in their practicing!
My students earn ‘coupons’ each week that they have a good lesson, with their assigned music practiced and written work completed. Once they have earned four coupons, they can turn them in and pick out a toy from the “Grace Note’ box. These are toys that I purchased from dollar store, so I’m not spending a lot of money. My students love it!
Mixed Up Masterpieces
Since I teach out of a studio (not my own business… yet), it’s hard to organize challenges that span across all my students or make rewards seem like big deals, so I stick to the little things. I have a package of stickers that we use to change the pictures above the students’ songs when they’ve mastered them or just need things mixed up (eg: a song about a Grumpy Troll is changed to a Happy Troll with a smiling sticker, we rename it and play it like a happy piece). We do a couple weeks of improvising/learning by ear and pick a fun “pop” song as a reward when they reach long-term goals that they have set for themselves at the beginning of the year (get half-way/all the way through the current method book, take an exam, learn a difficult piece Grandma plays all the time).
All that said, I find the best motivator to be enthusiasm. If I’m super excited about something (yes, even theory), then they’re super excited about it. Usually all it takes is “you can make your very own song using this! Doesn’t it sound cool?”
One incentive that all students can earn is the practice trophy. Each student has a practice chart with 25 squares. Each week that students make their practice goal, they earn one sticker. At the end of the year, students that have filled all 25 squares earns a practice trophy. There are 33 weeks of lesson in the academic year, so students can still miss an occasional week here and there and still earn the trophy. I choose the trophy with the year as the inset picture, so even if students have multiple trophies, each year is different. You can set different practice goals, depending on the individual student.
Piano Punch Card Incentive
My students get super excited for the incentive I’ve been using for about the past year. I’ll call it the “Piano Punch Card” incentive. Buy a package of colored index cards. On the outside edges of each card, draw 25 (or however many you want) stars. I use marker because it shows up well. Prepare a few of these cards in each color so they’re all set for students to pick. Let each student pick what color card they want and write their name in the middle. I let them quickly decorate their by putting 2 stickers on the front (as long as they aren’t covering up the stars, we’re good to go). You’ll need a small hole punch – I use a variety of fun ones – star, Christmas tree, heart, horse. Students earn punches on their card for their achievements. I also give each student 1 punch just for being at their lesson. This usually doesn’t happen, however, if the student doesn’t achieve another other punches at their lesson, at least they got 1 for being there! I also reward 1 punch for every page of music passed and 1 for every page of theory completed. Memorized pieces get 3 punches each. Performing in public (aside from studio recitals) earns students 5 punches! The list could go on… You can add whatever “achievement = # of punches” that you would like and then switch it up again. You can change up the number of stars to get punched for students who are younger or who you know may have more difficulty reaching goals as fast as the average student. Once students’ cards have been all filled with punches, they get to take their card home as well as pick something from the Practice Box! The Practice Box has really cool goodies – notebooks, packs of gum, glow sticks, large bouncy balls, card games, and anything else that I think kids would love. My students get so excited to have an index card that is “just for them” – many of them keep these in their binders and show them off. They’re very proud of them…could even hang it on the fridge. I usually put some kind of message on the back when they have completed their card to congratulate them. Once they complete their card, they get to pick a new one and start over. They love picking a different color each time and getting new stickers.
Sticker Chart Success!
For a particularly lively five year old I taught, I knew I needed to keep her focussed and interested so I created a sheet where I could write small achievements throughout the lesson (e.g. Student can remember the names of the first three notes/student can accurately copy a clapped rhythm etc) and then for each one she achieved, she was allowed to choose a sticker to go next to the achievement. She loved the instant reward and being able to choose her musical themed sticker. It was also a visual representation of what she had achieved in the lesson – useful for her parents who don’t like to sit in on the lesson!
Go to the Music Mall
We issued music money each week for those who practiced. At the end of the month we opened our Music Store so they could spend the music money. We used Oriental Trading a lot and even had students bring in gently used toys, games, books to donate to the store! This was a huge success!!!! We have over 70 in our music school so it can get costly but the students love it!!!
Make it Count
Rather than having something like candy or cheap toys, I think something like a 1-2 dollar gift card or a cool pencil is more fulfilling. It feels like they have earned something worthwhile, by doing something worthwhile.
I’d Like to Thank the Academy…
My newest idea is to have an “Academy Awards” recital with special recognitions for students (i.e. – “Most Expressive,” “Best Showmanship,” etc.)
Shopping with Points
My students earn points through practicing. At the lesson they earn bonus points for doing well – paying attention, listening respectfully, doing something the first time they are asked – sometimes they even earn bonus points for leaving at the end of 30 minutes without crying! They can bank their points and then spend them in my “store” which includes candy, stickers, magnets, pencils, shells, fancy paper, and any other fun little things I have around the house. I take students’ input for additional items to add to the store- and then keep an eye out at garage sales and the dollar store.
Super Sticker Page
Young beginners love stickers but I discovered that they don’t always want to put them on their completed compositions. So I now give them a “Super Star Sticker Page” (which is a blank sheet of colored paper with the title in a funky font) that goes in the front of their practice binder. When they earn stickers they now have a separate place to collect them.
I use vintage sheet music that I find and would never use at thrift stores and I make ornaments that I hang with yarn and sprinkle with glitter as gifts at the end of winter semester to reward my students.
I mainly teach children ages 5-12 and what I have found that what the kids want isn’t chocolate and stickers (although some stickers are nice) they want encouragement. A simple hi-five or a inside joke of “bump it” will be sufficient and an effective way to make the student feel more at ease. It is less expensive and a great way to make sure your student feels comfortable./p>
Get a Bucket
Occasionally I’ve offered something really cool; holiday decoration, movie tickets, gift card, something that I think the majority of my students might thing they would like to have. As goals are met they can put their name into a bucket over a specified period of time, then a name is drawn and that person wins the item.
Little Things for Little Ones
For younger children, I just give them star stickers when they behave well in lesson, and if they have done their assignment well and when they collected certain amount of stars, they will get a gift. This might be an outdated reward system, but kids seem to like it, because they always look forward to showing the star to their parents when they get home. Little things can be important to the little ones sometimes.
Wall of Fame
We record practice time during the week and have a practice wall of fame on my studio wall. Those that complete the requirements for the week get their picture put on the wall of fame
Reward With Music
I reward students with pieces they are just *dying* to learn, group trips to concerts, and of course, music-themed trinkets!
I can easily hand out candy to my younger students, but I don’t give anything to my older students as a reward for playing piano. BUT I do give them a $10 gift card to whatever store that will peak their interest! I haven’t done anything for my adults yet!
Beethoven Bucks are a great way to reward students for a week of good practice and after a full month of practice allow them to buy out of the prize box.
I award practice beads in my studio. If the student meets his/her practice goal each week, s/he receives a practice bead. The beads are displayed on pipe cleaners on a board in the studio. When the student gets 10 beads, s/he receives a gift card.
All students have practice logs. If they practice at least 4 times/week they get a sticker on the chart in my studio. After 4 stickers they get a prize from the basket of things I pick up at the dollar store. It turns into a competition because they can see how many stickers all of the other students have.
Stars and Medals
Each week, for every 30 minutes practiced, the student receives a star on his/her chart. At the last Recital, whoever has 30 stickers plus, receives a nice gold medal, and has his/her name read with the total number of earned stars. They love counting and recounting those stars as the year progresses.
And the Award Goes To…
Every year after the Spring recital students receive a recital award which is given just for participation in the recital. It is always a composer statuette that they are eager to collect year after year!
Eye on the Target
After every lesson my students get a piece of candy (usually a lollipop or a mini chocolate), and they get to choose a sticker – believe it or not this even works on my high school students! Whenever they complete a book I also give a $5 gift card to target- but this also means that they have to have their theory books and performance books in the same level complete.
The Scale Olympics
Periodically I do different incentives for all kids usually connected with practice. Treats like cookies, cupcakes, and popsicles all work. For my older students, I do scale Olympics and depending on how they perform, they get either a gold silver or bronze medal at the end of year recital.
Tune In To iTunes
I have found that iTunes gift cards are the best motivator for memorizing a song. Once the song is memorized, I then record (using my phone) a quick video of the performance and email it to the student and parents.
Some Fierce Competition
We are doing a year-long practice incentive game, and competition is fierce to be the first to finish the game board. There are certain tasks (finishing a theory book, completing a listening assignment) that have pre-determined amounts of “music money” as a reward, and the kids are working hard on those. I also love “surprise” rewards for when they go above and beyond their assignments. They never know what extra little thing may just earn them another $5-$20! I also give them surprise challenges (can you learn EVERY white-key one-octave arpeggio by next week?)and reward their success – again with music money. Honestly, I thought this idea would get old quickly, but they LOVE it and are already begging to know what next year’s game will be.
My Favorite Dessert
I allow my students to bring out one of their favorite songs that they have already completed and add it to their assignment sheet as “dessert”. Sometimes I will create a duet to liven up the piece.
I do a year end reward system. This year we are having a pizza party in June. I will move a digital piano in the back room and people, including parents, can entertain everyone. Last year I did a Bach to Rock party with lots of party favors. I decorate my studio 6 months in advance to start advertising the party. The kids talk about it every lesson. I usually ask parents to furnish cookies and drinks and I provide the prizes. With the pizza party, I have been taking $1 from my monthly tuition and put it away for the pizza party. This way I don’t really notice it. Parents and siblings have to pay for their own food and drink.
Stars For Cash
When a student finishes a piece, accomplishes a difficult task, learns a new concept, brings a composition to class or even just has a good attitude and works hard I give them a star. They put it on a 3×5 index card that they have put their name on, and when they accumulate 25 stars I give them a gift certificate for $1.00 to the local ice cream/coffee shop. This has been a huge motivator… and I am stingy with the stars. For some students it takes 6-months to get 25 stars, and others it will take a little over a month. As a side bonus, the local ice cream shop sends me students! win-win-win
The Thousand Minute Challenge
Last summer we had a “thousand minute” challenge. Students kept track of their practicing and when they reached 1,000 minutes, their parents did something nice for them! This was optional but many of my students participated.
A Lucky Dip
Students are awarded points each week for bringing all books, filling in their practice diary, completing assigned tasks etc. 40 points gives them a lucky dip from a box of musical gifts (pencils, erasers etc). I also have studio ‘challenges’ which consist of various worksheets for note-naming, intervals, rhythm etc. When students complete each challenge, their names are written on posters on the studio wall and on my website.
The Treasure Chest
I do need some help in this area! Right now, if a student practices a certain number of times, they get to choose a prize from the treasure chest. Older students bank their practices for an outing with me, like a trip out for ice cream, etc.
Baby, You’re A Star!
Working through the “Dozen a Day” exercise book can be a chore to some of the students I teach, but how awesome is it when it’s called “Baby, You’re a Star!” I had each of the kids choose their favorite movie, which I printed up a picture of and posted it on the wall next to a little chart. They earn a sticker for each song they master. The part that really motivates them is that each group (of 12 songs) correlates with a different movie. The first group is “Barbie Fairytopia,” which everyone practices hard to get out of—leading to the last group, which is “Star Wars”–the one everyone wants to be in. The movies change with each school year.