Stickers And Parents Oh My!

This one is an oldie but a goodie for motivating young students. No surprise here, but it’s worth mentioning just in case it’s slipped your mind. I know I had forgotten about the amazing motivational power of stickers until yesterday when one of my preschool piano players showed up for lessons and her mom said it was difficult to get her to practice last week at home.

Enter the amazing stickers! I took a blank piece of paper, folded it in half and told my preschooler that we were going to see if she could fill up the page with stickers. How were we going to do this? Well for each time she played her piece she’d get to put a sticker on.

But no we didn’t stop there! After she played the trouble spots a couple of times I told her I had a suggestion. Why don’t we get her to see if her mom could play it too? Of course she would have to be her mom’s teacher because afterall, I was busy teaching her! She absolutely loved the idea so her mom joined in the lesson and of course she earned stickers as well. Now we had two sticker sheets going! My student was excited to find out that not only would her mom get a sticker for practicing, she would get one also every time her mom played the piece.

Finally I had another suggestion. Why don’t we get you and mom to play it together? And yes, she loved the idea too. What 4 year old doesn’t want to do something special with their mom? The best part was that we recorded them playing and let them listen and judge their playing. Oh and as a bonus it was a perfect opportunity for a new vocabulary word: duet. Now my preschooler chants “a duet is when you do it together”

So what about home practice? Well the sticker sheet went home with a challenge to fill it up completely with no white spaces showing! When she brings it back she will get a something from my treat box. She couldn’t wait to get home and practice – I mean play!

Teachers, how do you get parents involved in the lesson? Parents, how do you get involved in practice at home? Share your wisdom in a comment below!


More Fun Practice: Silly 6 Pins

Ever wondered how to get a kid to play the same passage more than once – let alone 6 times? Of course you have if  you are trying to help a child learn to play piano! Here is a repurposed game that works extremely well for solving this problem. If you’ve downloaded my Weekly Practice Games Printable, you may have seen this game listed as one of the practice assignments. It’s the classic Silly 6 Pins Game. I tell my students to bowl to see how many pins they can knock down. They try really hard to get a strike which usually results in lots of pins getting knocked down. They get to play whatever passage or piece they need to practice one time for each pin they knocked down. I get really silly with it and take the pins they knocked down to the piano. Each time they play the piece, I ask them which pin they want me to throw away. And, yes, I throw the pin across the room (carefully, of course). Depending on the kids’ personality I might even let him or her throw the pin. Of course I only do that if I’m pretty sure the kid won’t tear up my studio with the pin! Warning: This practice game could take up a large portion of the lesson because kids want to play it over and over again. However, this results in songs well learned, and tricky passages terminated! In case you missed it, you can check out Fun Practice for even more sneaky ways to get kids to “Play It Again”.

What tricks do you use to get your piano player to practice?

Secret Practice

  As we get close to Spring Performance time I am modifying what practice looks like for my younger students. They will be given the wonderful job of presenting a concert at home for family members! We’ll brainstorm ways to really ham up the performance with costumes, tickets, and maybe even snacks! I will tell them 1 or 2 songs that have to be part of the concert and they can add others if they like. Then at home they will give out invitations to their concert which can be printed here. There are two versions of the invitation. The first has a picture on the cover that they can color. The other one has a space for them to draw their own picture. Inside each invitation is a space to write the titles of the pieces they will play. You can download the files by clicking the images above. Once you print the file all you have to do is fold the paper in half horizontally and then fold again like a card. Presto! Instant kid concert invitations and a practice sessions with no tears!

If you want more ideas about how to make practice fun for kids see “Don’t Practice, Play A Game”

Linking Piano With School

Young students learning to play the piano enjoy making connections between what they are doing at school and what they are doing with piano. When my daughter was in Kindergarten her teacher chose a different student to be Student of the Week every Friday. That student got the opportunity to bring home the class teddy bear for the weekend. They were supposed to take care of the bear all weekend and involve the bear in all their activities, take pictures, and show the class on Monday. She saw this as a wonderful chance for her to teach the bear how to play the piano. “Teaching” the bear to play her current song gave her lots of fun practice time that she didn’t even know she was getting!

Do You Even Listen To Music?

While teaching piano lessons to young children I have learned that one VERY IMPORTANT question to ask parents who inquire about lessons is , “Do you listen to music yourself?” Another equally important question is “Do you listen to music with your child/children?”

I am often amazed and disappointed at how many kids start taking piano lessons and do not consistently intentionally listen to music or have music played in the home. How can you get excited about playing music if you never even hear music? The most rewarding music making experiences come from being able to play familiar songs. That requires having songs that are familiar to the student. When a student can come to the lesson and say, I’d like to learn how to play this or that song, or I heard a song over the weekend that I really like, then the lesson can get really fun really fast! And of course if the student is practicing music that others in the family enjoy, it definitely makes the practicing more bearable. So in addition to finger exercises and piano pieces, I often make listening to music part of my students’ weekly things to do for piano. There are many great resources for finding music to listen to. Here are a few:

Go skating!! You will hear hit songs back to back while enjoying skating.

Go to the movies!! Again, you will hear hit songs and also classical music sometimes. You will hear orchestral works and piano music.

Go to church!! A choir might sing, or praise team, or even a famous guest artist. And of course you can see musicians perform live!

Go to a concert!!

Go to a musical!!

Go to your basement, or wherever you keep your old music collection. Have your kid / student listen to some of these. You will be surprised at how much they enjoy it. If you have especially skeptical kids, just pop some carefully selected songs in your CD player or ipod. Look for titles that have been remixed and your kids will be so shocked that the music they thought was new is really old!

Of course you can always simply turn on the radio!

Whatever you do, by all means expose your child to some music everyday!

Don’t Practice, Play A Game!

I know very few kids (if any) that get excited to practice, but I know a lot of kids (almost all) that get excited about playing games. That gave me the idea to change my assignment sheet from piano homework to My Weekly Practice Games. Using this sheet the student gets to choose which game or games they’d like to play during the week and circles them. The teacher can also choose specific games as well. All that’s left to do is to write the name of the song you want them to use for the game. There is also a space where the student / parent can check off each day. You can download a copy by clicking here or clicking the image above.

Songs Kids Want To Play

Yesterday one of my students’ parents called me and told me to listen to the music being played in the background. It was her son playing one of her daughter’s piano assignments on his trumpet! The song was Fireflies by Owl City. Her son had “stolen” his sister’s sheet music so he could learn how to play the song. He also kept saying over and over “It’s not fair! She gives you cool songs to learn! Why doesn’t my teacher give me songs like this to learn?”

So, with a nod to “the piano-assignment-stealing-brother” I write today’s post. Here is a list of the top requested songs in my studio from the past month:

1. Someone Like You by Adele

2. Fireflies by Owl City

3. Dynamite by Taio Cruz

4. Mean by Taylor Swift

5. Fur Elise by Beethoven

Of course most piano teachers know all about Fur Elise, but if you’d like to teach your students any of the other songs you can stop by any number of websites including,, and for a teacher cheat sheet otherwise known as sheet music!

Musicians With Apps

The people who made this video have a great website

It has been very useful for me in finding apps kids love. They review apps for all kinds of instruments and give a rating. They make it easy to find out what the best apps are and even let you know how their kid testers voted and how the teacher voted. You’ve got to check it out! Oh and I use the featured app in my studio – all the kids love it!!!

Fun Practice?

 If you are looking for a fresh way to get music students to do repetitions, try Don’t Spill the Beans. This game can be found at any store that has toys like Wal Mart, Target, or Toys R Us and is very cheap. Usually less than $5. This is a game where you try to balance little beans on top of the swinging pot without spilling the beans. I use it to get students to practice troublesome sections several times. Each time they play they get to add another bean. We continue this until the beans spill. It works wonderfully because kids want to put LOTS of beans on without spilling them… and that means lots of tricky passages get corrected!