Have you ever seen the show Punk’d? It’s a reality show that originally featured Ashton Kutcher playing practical jokes on other celebrities. It’s mildly amusing if there is nothing else to watch on television, but it’s downright brilliant if you need to motivate your piano students to practice.
Why My Piano Students Have Been Punk’d
A few years back I had a twelve year old student who didn’t practice… at least, it appeared as though he did not practice. The problem was… I could never say with 100% certainty that he hadn’t practiced.
Which left me with two choices… confront him about his lack of practice, or find a way to motivate him to practice without him realizing he was being motivated to practice.
Having taught my fair share of teens and tweens and being well aware of their varying emotional responses, I chose the latter when dealing with this particular student. That’s not to say I let all kids get away with weeks of no practice, but rather that I do everything in my power to motivate through positivity before pulling out the reprimands.
So What Did I Do?
One week, toward the end of his lesson as he was busy playing, I jotted down a little note on the top of one of his piano pieces. It said, “You’ve been punk’d! Find the messed up measures in the piece below. Then fix them.” With a pencil, I then coloured in a couple of half notes to look like quarter notes and tied a few notes together.
Before he left the lesson I (somewhat jokingly) made him promise to open his book at least once the following week hinting there was a definite reason to do so.
Needless to say, the exercise was a hit. .. although he did say he was a little confused initially. You see, I hadn’t mentioned in my message HOW I had messed up the measures… but he was intrigued enough to have a good look at his music and ended up finding the pencil marks.
In the weeks and months that followed I continued to pull my little prank, not only on him, but on other students as well. And once students were used to the process, all I had to do was mess up a few things in their music, write the words “You’ve been Punk’d!” at the top of the score and let the practice magic happen.
In the end, I had stumbled upon a little practice strategy that was a hit for me and my piano students. Because the message does not appear every week, the activity tends to stay pretty fresh.
And, of course, the most brilliant part of it all is that I have hard, physical proof of piano practice. If the notes are erased I know with some degree of certainty that the piano book was opened and the music was at least analyzed.
And as it happens… once the students have opened their books they tend to play through them as well because… well… the book is open anyway 🙂
How To Motivate With “Quirky”
My piano students love my quirky side. It turns out that “quirky” is incredibly motivating. If you want to infuse your piano studio with a bit of “quirky” and inspire your kids to practice, check out our resource Shhhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice. Is is jam-packed with 88 practice strategies that are absolutely, positively, most definitely NOT BORING!