Extrinsic motivation sounds like a bad thing, right? We should want our students to be intrinsically motivated to practice piano!
While this is true, I think extrinsic motivation has it’s place too. For one thing, it can serve as a placeholder until a child’s intrinsic motivation for piano develops.
I really enjoyed listening to Anita Collins’s thoughts about this on Tim Topham’s podcast a while back. She had the scientific data to back-up what I already thought, that intrinsic motivation is fantastic, but that it often needs some help to form.
Even when starting piano lessons was completely the child’s own idea, and they love practicing their pieces, if left to their own devices something will usually be neglected…. Whether it’s scales, technique, theory or repertoire; there’s always something that could use an extra sprinkling of extrinsic motivation for encouragement.
I used to come up with these various incentives, different things that would last a few months, and then I’d start a new one. Then I had the idea of a more consistent program, and the “challenge board” was born
What’s included on my Challenge Board?
Of course I couldn’t have every area of piano playing covered on the board, I had to pick and choose the most important. By “most important” I really mean “most likely to need an extra push”.
The five areas I decided to cover were:
- Consistent practice
- Note names
That last choice might look a little odd, but we apply transposing to our technique exercises so really those are just incognito technique challenges.
How does the Challenge Board work?
Each challenge has specific guidelines for how it is completed, and an outline of all the challenges is included in the student’s folders. When a student has completed the challenge, they get a sticker for the front of their folder, and their name goes up on the board. The names are on magnets, and the posters are attached to a metal whiteboard.
40 Piece Challenge
If you haven’t heard of the 40 Piece Challenge, you should have! It was started by Elissa Milne in Australia, and has spread around the world because of it’s simplicity and effectiveness. I use it most with my teenage intermediate students, especially when they’re stuck in an exam rut.
100 Days of Practice
This was started by the Piano Explorer magazine. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory! The point of this challenge is habit creation, making piano just a regular and consistent part of the routine.
I’ll be using this one mostly for students in their first year of lessons, to get them off to a great start. Of course it’s also important how they practice, but this is a good lesson in persistence.
If you want to make that practice more effective, you should try these practice step stickers. You could even weave it into your challenge requirements.
I’ve blogged about my scale levels before, and the idea for them is really where the challenge board sprouted from. I wanted my students to keep practicing scales, not just for exams but as a regular part of their routine.
60 Second Challenges
These flashcard challenges were inspired by Susan Paradis’s ‘One Minute Club’. I altered this idea a little, to make three levels but the idea is essentially the same. Students have to name and play a certain number of notes in under 60 seconds, three weeks in a row. You can find the levelled flashcards and time log sheets here.
Download these Posters
If you would like to download these posters to use in your own piano studio you can download them here:
If the files don’t load immediately, please wait as the file sizes are quite large due to all the graphics.
What do you do to motivate your students?
Do you believe in extrinsic motivation like me? Do you go a step further and offer actual prizes as motivation? Or do you believe that the music itself should always be the reward?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating topic.