Piano Lesson Success, Uncategorized

Would you send your kid to HOCKEY practice in figure skates?

Back to lessons is just around the corner and I have been trying to blog great ideas and tips for helping your child have their most successful year yet in piano!  The last three posts have been especially geared to that. 

I do seem to be on a bit of a sports or fitness kick, though.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I spent my summer running my son to field lacrosse practices and field days.  In fact, all of our little summer getaways were kind of planned around those field days and where they would be.  And, let’s face it, here in Canada we do love our sports!  Almost every piano student I have plays some kind of sport, whether it be soccer, basketball or hockey and each of those sports requires some sort of equipment!  Well, so does piano and I stumbled across this blog post by BC piano teacher, Andrea Dow, (have I mentioned recently how much I LOVE all her amazing teaching ideas) and I just had to share an excerpt from it:

Don’t Play In Figure Skates – How To Convince Parents To Upgrade a Child’s Piano

Posted on June 23, 2013 by Andrea

“I live in Canada… and hockey here is huge. It’s not uncommon for a 5 year old to be a member of a hockey team. Parents willingly drag themselves out of bed at 4:00 am on a cold November morning to make an early ice time. And sales of hockey gear must make our local economy go ’round.

Choosing Piano Image

So, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the verge of wrapping up, it seems like a good time to explore why an un-weighted 61 key keyboard with no stand from Future Shop is like sending your child to the hockey arena wearing figure skates

To be fair, they both “do the job”; one makes piano-like sounds when you push the keys… and one gets your child from A to B in a skating fashion… but neither will help your child learn the appropriate technique or skills, and neither will result in a child who is proficient at their chosen activity.  

It makes no sense to spend hundreds of dollars on hockey equipment and skating lessons and then not provide proper skates.  Likewise, it makes no sense to invest in piano lessons without providing a decent home instrument. “


So, as we head back into lessons, I encourage you to take stock of the “equipment” you have provided for your child.  I can’t highly recommend enough a good quality acoustic piano and if you are vigilant on kijiji, it really doesn’t have to break the bank!  In fact, you can often find people moving or renovating who are willing to part with them for free to save the cost of moving it.  The equipment you provide can be a key in your child’s success.


Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Private Lessons, Studio, Uncategorized

Sports, Group Fitness and Piano Lessons


Seven years ago, I suffered from migraines. Horrible, debilitating migraines. They would strike at any time–in the grocery store, teaching lessons–and leave me feeling nauseated, drained and utterly useless as a parent and teacher. My doctor tried different prescriptions and some would work for a while and then stop. When the migraines increased to 3 or 4 or more a month, she sent me to a neurologist. He ran many tests and asked lots questions. Finally he asked me how much I exercised. Now I’ve always been proud to say that I come from a very active family. My parents strapped a pair of figure skates on me when I was 5 and I never looked back. My parents also loved hiking and biking and camping. Laying around at our house wasn’t an option. All through university, I skated and ran and biked and hiked and skied. So, I proudly told him that and that I also currently walked my son to preschool almost every day–a twenty minute walk there and another twenty back. He looked unimpressed and said, “Well, that would be great….if you were a senior citizen.” What?! He went on to tell me that I needed real exercise at least 3-5 times a week. Exercise like running, kickboxing or bootcamp. He told me he wanted me to try it for 3 months and if it didn’t help, then we would try Botox. I left feeling annoyed, but what other choice did I have but to try (although, I was secretly hoping for the botox). I tried running and,after a just a couple weeks, I could see improvement but I was bored and it was lonely and so easy to just skip it. My friend and I decided to try bootcamp classes at a local rec complex. It was an agonizing hour of torture and if I hadn’t committed to doing it with her there is no way I would have gone on my own. After a while another friend joined us and we’d have a quick coffee and visit after class. Now there are 5 or 6 of us and sometimes we do bootcamp, sometimes it’s spin and sometimes it’s just on our own doing a crossfit or workout of the week. We go pretty regularly and faithfully because we get to see each other. It’s social and there are things we can do together (partner exercises, spotting each other on weights) that we couldn’t do alone. Oh, and those migraines? Can’t remember the last time I had one!
So, how does this relate to piano lessons? The piano can be a solitary instrument. As you advance you take private lessons, you practice on your own….by yourself. I do enjoy running on my own–occasionally–but it can start feeling lonely and piano is the same way. This is why I do group lessons several times a year in my studio. It provides the students a chance to get to know each other outside of recitals, to build camaraderie, to know that they aren’t alone…..that there are others struggling with the same challenges and working towards the same goals. It also allows me to do activities or teach skills that I either don’t have time for in a private lesson or just can’t in a one on one situation….like improvising or “jamming” or ensemble playing or games. Since starting group teaching six years ago, I have noticed that my junior high students are no longer quitting in junior high! In fact, I just can’t seem to get rid of them! LOL! One of my students is heading off to university this year and still wants to take lessons with me! Why? Because they are involved and engaged, they feel like they are part of a family. They have friends and know that they are not alone, they feel safe and supported….and they are learning skills that will allow them to enjoy playing the piano for life either on their own or in a social situation. Being surrounded with friends with like-minded goals can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your success!
And just take a looks at sports programs. My son is in lacrosse. He loves it and wouldn’t want to miss a practice. Why? Because his team feels like a family to him.
Group fitness wasn’t what inspired me to start group teaching–a piano teacher named Melody Bober did–but being involved in a group activity myself has truly helped me experience the value of it. This week, I was able to listen to a podcast interview from another piano teacher who teaches studio group lessons for her private students exactly the same way that I do and with the same frequency….and in hearing that, I felt that instant camaraderie and support!

Piano Lesson Success, Uncategorized

How Can I Help My Child Succeed in Piano Lessons?!

How Can I Help My Child Succeed in Piano Lessons?!

1. Provide a good in-tune home instrument – a good instrument is paramount to the success of your piano kid’s lessons. Without a way to properly practice at home, your child will feel inadequate come lesson time and will rapidly lose motivation and interest.

2. Attend lessons regularly with all needed materials and a well-rested child – Regular attendance ensures that your child progresses. Progression leads to feelings of self-confidence and achievement. Piano students need their books at every lesson as well as any other materials suggested by their teacher. Keep books organized at home and teach your child learn to be responsible for their materials.

Children learn best when they are well-rested (not only in terms of sleep, but also in terms of “extracurricular over-load”) and when they are healthy. Sick piano kids don’t retain very much… and result in sick piano teachers!

3. Establish a consistent and daily practice routine – Piano lessons are one of the few extracurricular activities that require daily attention. Choose a specific time of day that works for your family (before school, after dinner, after the bath etc.) and make piano practice a regular and consistent event every single day. Avoid times that are hectic or rushed, remove distractions (like the TV or smaller siblings) and try to be in the vicinity to offer encouragement and/or help with piano practice.

4. Be Positive… provide constant encouragement – Comment often on your child’s progress. Remember the names of the pieces they are working on and make requests as you go about your day to encourage regular visits to the piano. Show your pride by sharing videos, photos or musical phone calls with friends and family. Help your child to identify themselves as a “pianist”.

5. Stay involved! Show that you value music by providing live-music opportunities, encouraging your child’s participation in recitals and performances and being a part of their daily practice in some way (even if it’s only as a happy listener). Seek out opportunities to involve music in your daily routines: have a dance party at home to help feel the beat, load your ipod or a CD with a variety of styles of music to listen to in the car like folk and jazz or bluegrass–something to supplement the top 10 songs that the radio plays over and over, find a funny and upbeat tune to wake them up each Friday morning (maybe a little WHAM! Way me up before you go go!), do karaoke in the kitchen! Go to Symphony for Kids and any other live performances you can find, many high schools put on a musical each spring and they are either very inexpensive or even free! Put on a crazy fast song while they clean their room and make the challenge to see how many toys are put away before it ends…..the possibilities are endless!

By being an active member of the “Piano Teaching Triangle of Success” you ensure that your child gets full advantage of the many, many benefits of piano lessons

Incentives, Newsletters, Piano Lesson Success, Uncategorized

Keeping Music a Priority Throughout the Summer!

It’s the middle of summer….and boy is it tough to keep the practicing going, isn’t it!! We started out strong…piano practice was first thing in the morning, before computer games or outside play or meeting with friends. With summer camps starting early, that plan got more difficult, so we have been trying out some creative to not just practice, but also to just enjoy music…..which is kind of the point of piano lessons anyway, isn’t it. Here are 10 ways to make music a priority and help keep your kids inspired to practice by one of my favorite BC (ah, Beautiful British Columbia how I miss you!!) piano teachers, Andrea Dow:

10 Ways to Make Music a Priority in Your Family

1. Dance Party! Dance at least once a day with your child. Dance to reggae, classical, marches, pop, jazz… it doesn’t matter! Hold their hands, jump to the beat, waltz, spin, dip and be creative. Dress up! Grab some dish towels and use them as dancing scarves. Your child will always remember these goofy times spent with mom or dad… and you’ll be strengthening their ability to feel the beat of music.

2. Tunes in the Truck – Vary your child’s listening repertoire in your vehicle. Turn off that radio that plays the same top 10 songs over and over, and instead load your iPod with a huge variety of music. Have theme days! Listen to Marches on Monday, Bluegrass on Tuesday, Folk on Wednesday… you get the picture. You have a captive audience in your car as you hop amongst activities and errands… make this time count! You’ll quickly develop your child’s appreciation for music of all genres.

3. Draw to Music – Inspire your child by setting aside time each day for drawing, colouring and creating to music. Give them a beautiful new set of pencil crayons and a large sheet of paper. Ask them to draw what they hear. Play inspiring music and celebrate the results by posting the pictures on your fridge. Give their artwork the title of the piece they were listening to.

4. Karaoke in the Kitchen – Fashion a fun microphone out of a wooden spoon, spatula, spaghetti server… anything! Tie a sparkly ribbon around it and have fun while you make dinner by playing some great Broadway tunes and singing along as loud as you can. Pass the microphone back and forth – let them see you sing (who cares if you are horrible). Try out some (terrible!) harmonies. Add actions. Let them see you enjoying music with no inhibitions.

5. Ballroom Blitz – Is your house a disaster? Put on a fast and exciting song. Can the toys be picked up by the time it’s over? For this to work you have to crank the tunes… loud! You’ll be amazed at the hustle you see as your children are motivated by music.

6. Lullaby Time – Is your bedtime routine not quite relaxing? You’ll spend less time chasing kids up and down the stairs and you’ll have less requests for one more drink of water if you include this in your nighttime routine. Put some soothing music on a CD player in your child’s room. Lie down with them and listen to one song. Rules are: eyes must be closed, and at the end of the piece you have to tell each other what the music made you think about. Your child will drift into a peaceful sleep much easier after this brief moment of music therapy!

7. Wake Up to WHAM! – Create a fun family tradition… when it’s time for the kids to get up blast a funny tune to rouse them from their beds. I like “Wake me up before you go go” by Wham. Walkin’ on Sunshine works good too. Everyone has to be up and at ‘em by the time the song is over. Keep them guessing by changing the song periodically. It’s hard to have the morning grouchies when music is involved… especially ’80′s music! 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIgZ7gMze7A&feature=player_embedded

8. See it Live – Your child will have so much more appreciation for music if they see how it is produced. Google live music events in your community and make a point of taking your family to see live music regularly. There will almost always be free live music in your local community. Take advantage of these opportunities to expose your child to varied styles, instruments and abilities.

9. Let Them See You Learn Take up a new musical instrument yourself. Let your child see that musical learning is life-long and enjoyable. Model good practice habits and let them see you not be an expert at everything. Pick something you’ve always wanted to learn to play and go for it! Even better… play your instruments together! Turn off the TV and play and sing as a family.

10. Make Music Lessons Count You’ve made the financial investment in your child’s musical education by signing them up for lessons. Now, make the most of the experience by investing your time. Give them the opportunity to practice each day, purchase the needed materials and have their instrument professionally tuned. Choose quality teachers who foster a life-long love of music in their students. Sit down to listen to them practice with your undivided attention. Offer frequent word of encouragement and praise. Attend every recital and performance opportunity and encourage them to participate in school and community musical events. Don’t let music lessons become “just one more activity”… make it clear that you deeply value music education and in turn they will rise to the occasion.

Piano Lesson Success, Uncategorized

Peaceful Practicing–now, over the summer and into the next year!

Several times over the course of each year, I am often told by parents that it can be a battle at times to get their child to practice.  I try to help as best as I can from my end: offering fun incentives, giving them as much help and information as possible during lesson–even (for the private piano students) jotting down some notes for them in their notebooks (my teacher never did that for me!) 🙂  I have answered many emails with every tip that I could think of and recently I came across a blog post from teaching from Teach Piano Today that summarizes everything that I have said into 5 simple and beautiful tips!  As we head into recital and exam season, the summer and beyond….check out this wonderful summary by Andrea Dow a fellow piano teacher in BC:

Recently, I had a teacher email me looking for solutions to end the practice wars that were occurring in the home of one of her piano students.  Her studio parent was stressed to the max; feeling as though piano practice was creating a rift between her and her child, testing her parenting patience to the limits, and making her say all sorts of things she regretted later.  It was not her idea of “music in the home”.  

When parents sign their child up for piano lessons they are not looking for a way to encourage epic battles at home.  As piano teachers it is in our best interest to help piano studio parents end these battles…  

So let’s do everyone a favour and bring peace to the home practice world. Share the following 5 practice strategies with your piano studio parents:

1.  Location, location, location

It’s true in the real estate world, and it’s true in the home practice world.  Having your piano in the correct place in your home is of paramount importance for successful home practice.  Find a balance between shoving the piano in the basement vs. putting the piano in the centre of your most-used room.  Your piano should be located in a comfortable room, close to where the family is, but away from major distractions.  Your child does not want to be isolated during practice time – but they also do not want to compete with your range hood and washing machine.

2.  Cramming is Not the Answer

Nothing stresses a parent out more than helping their child practice when they have 10 minutes before leaving for the piano lesson.  Keep the peace at home by beginning home practice immediately after you return home from their piano lesson.  They will still remember what they covered in their lesson, and the piano books will actually make it to the piano… setting you up for a good start to the piano practice week.  Cramming creates feelings of inadequacy in your child as they struggle to perfect what should take 7 days to percolate.  Cramming makes you sweat and wonder why in the world you are paying for these lessons.  Cramming is not the answer.

3.  Mistakes are Okay

We promise!  It’s our job as piano teachers to sort out the mistakes IN LESSON TIME.  Your job at home is to be the support – to remind them to spend time on the piano, congratulate them on their efforts, revel in the joy that is your child creating music, and show that you value music in your home.  Avoid the following statements and watch peace fall over your home immediately:  ”Is that right?  I don’t think that’s right.”… “That’s not how it’s supposed to sound.”… “Are you watching your music?”… “Your sister played that piece and it didn’t sound like that.” … “Wrong note!”… “Try it again.” etc.  Your child will get their back up immediately and the practice wars are sure to ensue along with frustration and confusion.  Suddenly, all the positive things that were discussed in lesson with their teacher has gone out the window.

4.  ”But Mrs. Jones Said!”

How many times has your child shouted a statement similar to this?  ”Mrs. Jones said I only have to play the first page!”… “Mrs. Jones said to play it up here.”… “Mrs. Jones said to play it this fast!”… What your child is actually trying to say is “I want to be in charge of my learning.”  So let them!  Whether or not Mrs. Jones actually said these things is beside the point.  Resist the urge to argue (and resist the urge to email or call up Mrs. Jones to ask what the heck she is teaching or to have her “clarify things” for you–it is really difficult for a piano teacher to have to “teach” through email) and trust that your child will sort it out themselves.  This is often a knee-jerk reaction on your child’s part – they so desperately want to be right and in charge and it’s their way of saying “Stay out of this, I’ve got it.”  If you allow them this right to direct their own learning you will help to create a confident piano student.

5.  Be Present… 

You and your child will enjoy piano practice time so much more if you, the parent, are not multi-tasking.  Your child thrives on one-on-one quality time,  and if this is combined with their piano practice it is an activity that you will both grow to cherish.  Take away the distractions – the cell phone, the baby, the dog, the dinner prep… and focus on just your child.  Soak up the experience of watching your young one learn such a complex skill.  Find a time to practice that isn’t restricted by deadlines.  Just enjoy making music together.  It’s impossible to start a practice war if you are truly “bonding on the bench”.  

Piano practice is a commitment – it’s a daily event that can either be gloriously wonderful… or horribly stressful.  Keep these 5 tips in mind when you start out this new practice week and welcome peaceful piano practice into your home with open arms.

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Recital, Uncategorized

Recital Prep, Exam Prep and some tapping practice!

This week I spent a lot of time encouraging my students to put some extra time into preparing AND memorizing their recital and exam pieces.  And I have been thinking about the many ways I as a student prepared for recitals and exams.  We did a bootcamp at Christmas and I encouraged them to try some of those techniques but I also started thinking about when I was in university and at the mercy of an open practice room to get in my hours of practice each day.  Sometimes it was difficult to get in much extra time, so my teacher talked to me about how I could add some extra efficient and effective practice time in while in the comfort of my own dorm room….by TAPPING my pieces on my desk.   We have tried it occasionally in classes/lessons….Sometimes I play or put on a CD of a piece they are working on and they sit and tap it out on the floor and sometimes we just tap it out without music.   The great thing is it can be done at home as well and, ironically, trying this WITHOUT listening to the music can be even better for ear training and memorization.  If you are looking for some creative ways to get a little extra practice in this week (ie in the car on the way to soccer practice).  Try this:

The student plays their piece – but on a flat surface… not on the piano. They tap their way through their piece, playing exactly as they would on the keys, but with no sound involved (don’t put on a CD recording of their piece).  They still play hands together, with phrasing, with dynamics, in the same hand positions as they would on the keys, but it is all done on a table top. (If it’s tricky at first they can try one hand at a time.)  It will work though and here a few reasons why compiled from my colleague in BC, Andrea Dow, with a little of my own thoughts added in.

1)  While there is no sound involved, the student will still “hear” their piece.  The human brain is a wonderful thing – and the student will be developing their ear in leaps and bounds.  As they are learning to hear their piece without the ability to actually hear it, their memorization of the piece will be much stronger and much faster as they force themselves to commit it to their aural memory.  It’s wonderful to watch my kids Tap Practice and then stop abruptly and say “Ooops.. I made a mistake!”.  

How did they know they made a mistake when there are no keys and no sound?  They know because their ears are connected to their finger movements; and a slight miss-tap with their fingers translates to an off sound in their mind.  Your brain is completely engaged during Tap Practice without the distraction of sound… and so learning happens at a faster rate.

2)  The only thing they hear is tapping… and so their fluidity improves as they learn to create an even tempo and a sense of underlying beat.  Hearing just the rhythm of their piece with no notes attached brings these two aspects to the forefront.  When they return to the piano their muscle memory will preserve the evenness they found away from the piano.  Phrasing and dynamics are still accomplished through the varying degrees of pressure exerted on the flat surface.  Kids who struggle with phrasing find Tap Practice really beneficial as it helps them to “plan out” how hard each of their fingers will push within each phrase, and changes in dynamics become much more well-defined.

3)  Kids think Tap Practice is fun!  This is one more way of making piano practice a bit more fun.  Not only is it completely portable, meaning that your students can Tap Practice literally anywhere (my own kids have tried on the back of a book in the car, on our kitchen island, on the table of a restaurant…be creative) but it’s also enjoyable; my kids love the notion of playing the piano in their mind.

Above all remember:
Practice leads to progress and progress leads to enjoyment!! If students practice, then they will progress. If they progress they will feel a sense of accomplishment and success and this is what will really make them enjoy piano! Ultimately, it all comes back to practice. It’s kind of like Field of Dreams….

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Piano Pedagogy, Private Lessons, Uncategorized

Group Piano Teaching

I have been teaching piano lessons for over 15 years and I have taught Music for Young Children for almost 6 years.  Even before I taught MYC, I felt that incorporating group lessons into the year of private lessons was important, but now that I teach MYC I feel it’s VITAL that my private students have the opportunity to play in ensembles, mentor each other, empathize, be inspired, develop relationships and learn new skills.  Each year I try to do 3 or 4 group lessons that incorporate ear training, ensemble playing, keyboard improvisation, theory, Fun with Composers or music history.  Each group lesson is always a little different with a specific focus.  But I just saw this wonderful youtube video on weekly group lessons and heard a little about Paul Coates and his weekly masterclasses and wish I could offer a group lesson each week.  If I can’t do each week, I am nonetheless inspired to continue offering group lessons as often as I can throughout the year!
And I can’t wait to get more ideas for group lessons from the Calming the Practice Monster workshop that is coming next month!

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Piano Pedagogy, Private Lessons, Recital, Uncategorized

Recording as Recital Prep

This past Friday was the annual year end recital for all my students and what a great night it was!  My students really out-did themselves this time!  We had a bit of a “Bach to Broadway” theme. I supplied the Bach by playing CPE Bach’s Solfeggio in C minor, and the students really enjoyed the piece.

This year as we prepared for recital, I tried something I haven’t done in a very long time to help give them a new perspective on their recital piece.  I asked each student or parent to bring their iPod to lesson (if they had one) so that I could record their performance.  For those that didn’t have iPods or recording devices, I used my own.  Then I had them listen to their performance while watching their music for different aspects: tempo, dynamics, melody.  Rather than me telling them what was great about the piece and what could use a little more work, I let them discover that for themselves.

Many of the students found it very eye-opening, some of them had never seen or heard themselves perform before.  It was a great opportunity for them to try on some new roles:

Listener– they had a chance to look at their music from my perspective or as an audience member and listen to dynamics or tempo.  As they listened and followed along in their music they were clearly able to see if they were incorporating the indicated dynamics or bringing out the melody line

Teacher–I let them evaluate their own piece, telling me what they liked and what they thought needed improving, and look at some strategies for improving the parts that needed it.

It also gave them a little extra performance experience as many of them felt just as nervous about playing for the recording device as they would playing for an audience.

I encouraged them to work through the things they felt needed improving over the week and record themselves again at home later in the week and what a difference I heard at the next week’s lesson!  I will definitely do this again before our December recital, it was well worth the extra time.

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Private Lessons, Recital, Studio, Uncategorized

The Mid-Winter Blahs–and other Motivational Confessions

Blech!  We are smack dab in the middle of the “mid-winter blahs” in our house.  Maybe you’re experiencing it, too:  the utter lack of motivation to do absolutely anything.  Normally we are a pretty productive and active family…but not so right now.

Between the snow and the gray-colored days and the getting up in the morning while it’s still dark (oh, and the sun setting well before the supper hour!), my get up and go….well, it’s gone somewhere I can’t find it and I am left wondering if it will ever return.  I am so tired in the mornings, I need my carafe…er..mug of coffee just to get going.  And popping vitamin D like it’s candy doesn’t seem to be helping me even a tiny bit!

These mid-winter blahs hit us all eventually it seems–kids too!  My 7-year-old son, Dexter, loves swimming, taekwondo and I think he even loves piano, too, (most days) but right now he doesn’t want to do any of it!  When I say, “It’s time for taekwondo”, he says, “I’m not going.” When I say, “It’s time for swimming”, he says, “I’m not going.”  When I say, “It’s time to practice piano”, he says, “I’m not doing it”.  He tells me he wants to quit it all…all the time.  Sometimes, between my own tiredness and lack of motivation and his stubbornness, I think I will lose my mind!  And then I realize, it’s just that time of year.  Did you know that January and February have the highest drop-out rates for piano lessons?  Many start the year off with so much zeal, but then the busy days of Christmas arrive and tire us out and the gloomy days of January arrive and tire us out and that does it!  The students quit and the piano is put up for sale!  (Incidentally, if you are in the market for a piano, now is the time to buy! Seriously!)

So, how do we stay motivated?  Well, I find for myself that this is a great time of year to introduce some incentives (especially for my music students).  As an adult, I enjoy a little incentive every now and then–the promise of a London Fog from Second Cup can get me through almost anything and even my dear friends will entice me to workout with them with the promise of coffee and good conversation after the physical torture–so it stands to reason that our children just might like that, too!

We are definitely the house of experimental incentives.  Some work brilliantly, some not so well.  For this month, we have told our children to put a sticker on the calendar for each day they practice.  If they each have 25 stickers on the calendar by the end of the month, we will do a special activity as a family.  What will that activity be?  I have no idea!!  But considering it’s almost the end of January, we should probably figure that out!  Most likely we will go together as a family and see Gulliver’s Travels at the “cheap theater”….but we could also do a skating outing or swimming….as long as it’s a family activity we all enjoy, it will be a hit!  (Actually, not revealing the reward ahead of time has made it much more exciting for them.) We try as much as possible to make the rewards time spent together…rather than monetary.  But I have to confess, we have done a monetary reward (we are human after all).

During the summer we spend a good part of July camping in the Okanagen.  It’s safe to say that no practicing gets done during this time.  So, when we got back in August this year we thought a little incentive might be in order to get back into the swing of things. My hubby taped a twenty-dollar bill to the bathroom mirror and told our kids that if they did double piano practice every day for the month of August with no nagging from us and no whining from them, they would each get 20 bucks at the end of the month.  If they forgot and missed a day or two, they had the option to restart from that day for another 30 days.  Did it work?  It sure did…well…kind of.  After a couple of days, Dexter thought the best way to do double piano practice, would be to practice double the speed…not exactly a quality practice.  When I reminded him he needed to slow down and do a careful practice he said, “But, Mum, then it will take me twice as long!”  Um, yes, that’s kind of the idea.  Well, they stuck it out and at the end of the month they each earned their 20 bucks, but when we offered them the same deal for September they simultaneously said, “No thanks!”  So, I guess we learned that paying kids to practice is maybe not the ideal way to go.  Yes, it accomplished what we needed it to: to get back into the routine of practice and keep up those valuable skills over the summer, so I wouldn’t call it a failure.  But, it didn’t teach them to practice just for the enjoyment of playing the piano.  Although, I guess when it really comes down to it, that’s kind of the nature of incentives they are a temporary fix.  That’s not to say they don’t have value, but it’s good to be creative with them and use them only occasionally.

And be prepared that there are some times when they won’t work at all.  There have been occasions when I have offered incentives to my youngest to no avail.  So then, I must confess, I have resorted to trickery.  A couple of months ago, no mount of cajoling (um,I mean encouragement) or bribery would get Dexter up to the piano to do his practice, so I sat down and started playing the right hand of one of his pieces.  I tried to make it sound like so much fun and asked to come play a duet with me.  He suspiciously came over and slid onto the bench, then finally he tried the left hand.  We giggled a bit over our duet and tried it again, then we traded places, dancing around the piano bench as we switched places.  It was fun….we tried it with his other pieces and even his scales and before we knew it we’d played everything a few times each.  Suddenly he looked at me and said, “You tricked me!!  We just did my piano practice!”  With wide-eyed innocence I replied, “What? How did that happen?”  Yes, he’s onto me but I’ll never admit it!

Through it all, I think the best thing we can do to motivate is just to be there and cheer them on.  Let them know how important it is to you and how proud you are of them.  My husband is always telling the kids how he wishes he could play the piano and is always asking for impromptu recitals at home.  If you are a single parent, recruit a favorite aunt or grandparents to do this for you.  Take them to the Kids’ Symphony or other musical performances to inspire them.  My daughter and I just recently had tea at Rutherford House and she was allowed to play on Mrs. Rutherford’s piano from 1880….in fact she was asked to by one of the staff members as it helps to keep the piano in tune.  Then after she played for a while, the staff peeked in the door and said they could hardly believe that was her playing and that they should hire her.  What a great boost to her self-esteem and inspiration to keep plugging (or plunking) away, and it made me think: maybe this would be a good reward incentive….reward a great month of practicing with a special family tea at Rutherford House and a little mini performance in the parlor!  The possibilities are endless….

So I do confess I use it all to try to keep this household inspired: incentives, trickery, encouragement. It’s all trial and error at times after all I am only human and I certainly don’t claim to be a motivational expert.  Although, I guess, if you are a friend, parent, sibling or teacher then maybe that title just goes with the job description.