improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

My Thoughts on Practice Requirements

Many of you may remember being required by your piano teachers growing up to practice a certain amount of minutes each day/week.  Perhaps your requirement looked something like this:

  • 15 minutes a day,
  • 140 minutes each week, or
  • 45 minutes, 5 days a week.

One of my previous teachers built her incentive program around how much practice time each student completed each week.  She would set an amount for each student (15 minutes/day for the young ones, and then gradually increasing up to 60 minutes/day for the advanced ones).  If you completed all your practice time each week, you’d receive a sticker on your chart for that week.  When you received 7 consecutive weeks of completed practice, you were allowed to chose a prize from the prize box.  She used a system similar to the following:

  • Beginners: 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week (depending on their age).
  • Intermediate students: 20-45 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Advanced students: 60 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week.

Personally, I use a simpler, more flexible practice requirement for my students.  I simply tell my students and parents that they are expected to practice daily.  And that’s it.  Here are my reasons why I like to leave it at that: Continue reading “My Thoughts on Practice Requirements”

Announcements, Group Classes, Motivation, Music Camps

A Peek into the Incentive Program Prize Box

Here’s a peek into the prize box I use for my incentive program.  In case you haven’t read about my incentive program before, here’s the lowdown:  I create an index card for each student, and when they pass a song, they are given a point/sticker for every page of the song learned.  They can also earn points/stickers for doing theory worksheets, memorizing their pieces, etc.  When they earn 25 points/stickers on their index card, they are allowed to choose a prize from the prize box.

I recently restocked the prize box with some cute new items.  Take a look!

The purple prize box.

It’s decorated with some cute music stickers!

Continue reading “A Peek into the Incentive Program Prize Box”

Announcements, Group Classes, improving as a teacher, Motivation, Performances, repertoire / methods

Listening and Communicating in 4-Handed Piano Music

A colleague of mine and I are planning to learn some four-handed piano music this summer, and perhaps do a whole recital together of just four-handed music in the fall semester.  So I’ve been digging around on YouTube, looking for repertoire ideas.  And I have couple of cool videos to share with you today:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omuZF6oaCnw

What a great video to show students!  Everything is so perfectly synchronized, and their playing is so beautifully expressive.  They are AMAZING musicians.

Here’s another fine duo team.  Perhaps the coolest thing about this video, however, is the piano they are playing on: a Pleyel Double Grand Piano!  I’ve never seen anything like it!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjYfdB0CvSg

There are some important benefits of playing four-handed repertoire.  Both players must be actively listening and communicating with each other — not only so that they are together beat-wise and so that the melody and accompaniment ideas are balanced, but also so that they are playing musically together: shaping phrases together, executing rubato together, and calling and responding to each other’s melodic motives.  Developing these skills while working on four-handed repertoire can give a whole new perspective to solo piano repertoire!  Besides — working on four-handed music can be a lot of fun!  =)

Watching these videos looks like so much fun, I think I’m going to dig through the duet music on my shelf and find some duet pieces to assign to some of my students to work on over the summer too!

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice

What Motivates Musicians and Music Students? – Part 2

This post is Part 2 of the two-part series: What Motivates Musicians and Music Students?  Here’s a quick recap and then the conclusion of the series:

This goal [creating students who can convey musical meaning] in itself is an intrinsic motivator, for even the youngest of students can appreciate the value of musical meaning and feel important as they learn to create musical meaning.  But to encourage this kind of mastery of the instrument, we need to make sure that our incentive programs are reflecting this goal.

Let’s first consider this:  What kind of student would be produced by an incentive program that is based upon the number of minutes practiced each day?  Answer: The student is motivated to spend more minutes sitting at the piano, but not necessarilyto spend their practice time efficiently and towards the goal of creating musical meaning.  To only encourage large amounts of practice time is missing the point.  So how do we create incentive programs that encourage students towards the goal of learning to communicate musical meaning?

The best idea I am coming up with right now is to base the incentive program upon how many pieces (or pages, perhaps, since some pieces are longer than others) the students “passes.” Since the teacher has ultimate control over when the student passes (or doesn’t pass) a piece, the student is encouraged to figure out what kind of things the teacher values in their playing in order to do well in the incentive program.  That is, the students are more likely to think about what the teacher wants them to improve on in their pieces while they are practicing (aka, the elements that contribute to communicating musical meaning in their pieces).  At this point, the student might even (**gasp**) crack open their assignment notebook and read what it says! — try to shape the phrases more, and think about using more arm weight in the forte section, for example.

What do you think?  Would an incentive program like this work?  What kind of incentive program do you find to be most effective for your students?

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice, Resources

What Motivates Musicians and Music Students? – Part 1

I found an interesting post over at the Third-Stream Music Education blog.  It includes a link to a fascinating video of Dan Pink’s presentation about motivation in the business world (be sure to watch the whole thing!).  The post at the Third-Stream Music Ed blog makes some interesting connections between ways of motivating employees and ways of motivating students in music education settings in schools.

There are some connections here that can made made to private piano teaching as well.  Knowing what we do about how motivation works, how can we effectively motivate our students?  How can we improve the number of students who quit piano by the time they reach junior high and high school?  What kind of incentive program should we create in our piano studios in order to get maximum results from our students?

But first — here are two of Dan Pink’s basic propositions:

  • When the solution is clear and the tools needed to complete the problem are provided, extrinsic motivations (such as, a monetary bonus) work very well to encourage productivity from employees.  It’s the whole follow-the-carrot kind of reward system.
  • But when the solution is less obvious and the tools may not be provided, monetary motivations do not work well.  Instead, intrinsic motivators (i.e., being motivated by the feeling that what you do matters) work well.  Intrinsic motivators work better for situations where the problems require creative, innovative solutions and  “thinking outside the box” is needed.

The teaching and learning of music falls into the second category, because it is so subjective and it requires creative problem-solving skills.  And so, according to Pink, intrinsic motivators then ought to be used.

Before we talk about the application to incentive programs, let’s first clarify what the “tasks” or goals of learning piano (or music in general) are: mastery of the instrument.  But what does this “mastery” involve?  At first appearance, our goal seems to get our students to play play their pieces accurately, with few mistakes.  Under this definition of mastery, a robot could conceivably succeed.  Well, then maybe mastery is to get out students to progress rapidly, or to play lots of difficult repertoire.  According to this logic, a “successful” music educator would be one who has students who learn all of 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, or who become concert pianists, perhaps.  While, or course, these things are not bad, they aren’t exactly our goal either.  At least, not our chief goal.

So then what is our chief goal?  We want them to create music — music that carries meaning and touches the emotions.  In other words, we want our students to become masters at creating musical meaning and communicating emotions through their music.  And if they become concert pianists along the way, so be it.  But I’d say we’ve succeeded as soon as we create individuals who can appreciate music as a way of communicating expression.  This is something that all of our students — both the talented and less so — can attain, at some level.  This is much more practical than trying to create concert pianists.  And so much more rewarding.

This goal in itself is an intrinsic motivator, for even the youngest of students can appreciate the value of musical meaning and feel important as they learn to create musical meaning.  But to encourage this kind of mastery of the instrument, we need to make sure that our incentive programs are reflecting this goal.

[…to be continued in Part 2…]

Motivation, Practice

3 Ways to Motivate Busy Students

I believe students today are busier than ever before.  They are involved in everything you can imagine — art, karate, gymnastics, swimming, sports teams, church activities, 4-H, and more.  And this is all on top of their regular homework assignments from school.  Sometimes the student gets stretched too thin, and something needs to go.  Other times, the student may just need a little extra incentive to motivate them to consider piano lessons to be just as important as everything else.

  1. Make a practice contract. A practice contract is basically an agreement between the teacher and the parent/student that they will complete a set amount of practice each week.  Most (young) students cannot remember to practice piano each day on their own.  They need a parent to remind them and keep track of their time spent practicing.  In most cases, both the parent and student (and the teacher) are much happier when consistent practice takes place, because the student can feel that they are progressing, and the parent feels they are getting their money’s worth.
  2. Teach the student how to practice. It’s not enough that the student is playing piano for 15 to 30 minutes each day.  They need to be using that practice time effectively.  To ensure this takes place, the teacher should essentially be teaching the student how to practice during the lesson.  Help the student troubleshoot problem spots and give them specific ways to fix the problems.  Guidelines for practice ought to be written down in an assignment notebook, so that the student can refer to it each time they sit down to practice.  It may be helpful to give young students a set of specific steps to follow.  For example, you might write in their notebook: 1) Point to the all the dynamics in this piece. Find the hand position change and draw a star by that measure.  2) Tap the rhythm of the whole piece on the wood of the piano, counting out loud. 3) Play the piece through as written.
  3. Create an incentive program. Some positive reinforcement (paired with the parents’ help in the consistent practice department) goes a long ways for some students.  Create ways for students to earn points for completing certain tasks, like passing their pieces, memorizing their assignments, completing theory assignments or extra credit worksheets, learning their scales/five-finger patterns, etc.  Get together some prizes to award once the student has earned a certain amount of points.  Click here for a description of the incentive program I have used for the last couple years.

These are just three ways to further motivate students and encourage increased progress.  There are many more.  Please share your ideas below!

Motivation, Performances, Practice

Music + Imagination

I often have students’ parents and grandparents tell me that they wish they had kept taking piano lessons.  I use this to encourage my current students, and tell them that it’s a gift to be able to sit down at an instrument and create music — a gift that can provide great pleasure to oneself and others.

Why do so many students quit?  I mean, I realize that it might not be feasible for everyone to take lessons for their whole life (although wouldn’t that be amazing?!), but still, why do so many people regret that they didn’t continue their lessons longer while they were young?   Continue reading “Music + Imagination”
Motivation, Resources

An Inspiring Reminder…

The following is a something that has been recently circulating via email forwarding (thanks Dr. Le!).  I thought it make some excellent points, reminding us of our ultimate goal as musicians.  Hope you find it as inspiring as I did!  (Sorry for its length — but let me tell you, it’s definitely worth taking the time to read it!)
_______________

(Welcome address to freshman at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.)

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works. Continue reading “An Inspiring Reminder…”

Motivation, Practice

Incentive Programs for Piano Students

Do you use an incentive program in your piano studio?  Incentive programs can be a useful way to motivate and encourage students to be diligent and productive with their practicing. More importantly, an incentive program can help emphasize the behaviors or goals the teacher expects from the student. Below is information about how I designed an ongoing incentive program for my students.

20150407_095528 APPLE web with text

Growing up, I recall my piano teacher implementing a number of different programs while I was taking lessons — unfortunately, she never stuck with one long enough for me to earn a prize very often.  A good incentive program must be simple enough for the students to understand, and cannot be too time consuming as to take up a lot of the lesson time.  It needs to be easily attainable, otherwise students will give up on ever earning a prize.   Continue reading “Incentive Programs for Piano Students”