“Outstanding Achievement in Piano” Award

Most sports offer ways that students can earn medals, ribbons and trophies. Until now, the only way my piano students could earn traditional awards like these was to perform for a judge at a festival. Some students love the thrill of performing and do well under pressure, so this works great for them.  However, there are a number of students who are very talented, practice diligently, and make great strides in their lessons who don’t wish to participate in adjudicated events such as these. My philosophy is that piano students shouldn’t have to perform for a judge at a festival to be recognized for their hard work and progress if they don’t want to. My updated incentive program provides a way for ALL of my students to be recognized for their progress and achievements in piano.

Here’s How It Works

All of my students are eligible to earn the “Outstanding Achievement in Piano” trophy, whether or not they take part in festivals. All students earn “Progress Points” towards redeeming this trophy when they complete individualized goals in their private lessons. Progress points are the green paper tokens that are stored in students’ binders or practice journals. Here are some ways students can earn progress points:

Home Practice and Completing Music Theory Assignments

The main way students earn progress points is by practicing at home and writing down their practice minutes on their assignment sheet. They must also complete any assigned music theory homework. A point is awarded for each week that the student meets his or her practice goal AND completes any assigned music theory homework. For example, if a student meets her individualized practice goal for one week (let’s say 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) AND completes her theory homework, she receives 1 progress point.

Progress points are not awarded if the music theory assignment is not completed. A point is still awarded even if the theory assignment has errors. Any errors can be addressed during lesson time but it is important for the student to try to do their theory work at home. Practice minutes must be written down in order to receive a point and I may check in with the parents to see if they can verify their child’s practice time. Younger students will need help remembering to practice as well as writing down their practice minutes.

Metronome Challenges

If a student completes a metronome challenge, she receives 1 or 2 progress points depending on the difficulty of the challenge. Metronome challenges are assigned as needed when a student has difficulty with the rhythms in their music.

Scales and Chord Exercises

Completing sets of scales or chord exercises are worth 3-5 points. Scales and chord exercises are assigned as is appropriate for the student’s age and level.

I have some small prizes like bookmarks, stickers and erasers that students can redeem with 1-3 progress points to reinforce small victories. The ultimate goal though, is to collect 30 progress points. For most students, this might take about one year (9-12 months). Once a student collects 30 points, they earn their “Outstanding Achievement in Piano” award! They will be presented with a trophy in their lesson and take it home that day.


Why is Goal Setting such an important part of piano lessons in my studio? It is because I wish to develop the qualities of self-efficacy and confidence in my students. Here’s a brief quote from Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, boldface is mine:

“…hope (substitute self-efficacy, confidence, agency, or empowerment) happens when:

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).”

Setting and meeting goals teaches students to feel that their efforts make a difference and that they can be part of a process to make positive change that affects their lives. This can benefit them in every aspect of their lives as children and as they grow into adulthood.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding our incentive program or need tips on helping your child establish a regular practice routine at home.

“Count Metronome” Halloween Practice Challenge


The maleficent mascot of meter visited Leslie’s Music Studio this October… and stole all of our Halloween candy! (*Insert maniacal villain laugh*)

To conquer the king of counting and take back their candy, students meticulously practiced their pieces with the metronome this month. Individual metronome challenges were assigned and completed and candy bags were filled one rhythmic reward at a time.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when candy is at stake. (Yes, there is a vampire pun in that sentence!) But really, I was amazed at the progress my students made in terms of playing with the metronome because of this challenge. Since this was such a success in my studio, I’ve decided to share it with you. Music teachers, please let me know how it goes if you decide to try it!

Framed picture of “Count Metronome” and candy bowl.

“Count Metronome” Halloween Practice Challenge
Instructions for Private Music Teachers


  1. Metronome – I hope you already have this if you are a music teacher! You will also need to make sure all of your students have access to a metronome at home.
  2. Paper bags – One for each student.
  3. Bowl for candy – Mine is clear so they can see the candy. You could instead use a decorative Trick-or-Treat bag or plastic jack-o-lantern bucket.
  4. Candy – In September, ask students what kinds of candy they like and try to purchase some of those kinds. Beware of peanut allergies. Calculate the amount by figuring each student should earn 10-12 small candies.
  5. Count Metronome (click to download PDF) – I framed mine so I can use it again year after year.
  6. Optional: Halloween decorations to enhance the Halloween theme.
Candy bags for students


Before beginning the challenge in your studio, prepare the materials by writing your students’ names on the paper bags. Print the picture of Count Metronome and display it in a visible location. Pour the candy into a large candy bowl and place it near the picture of Count Metronome.

When students arrive at their lessons the first week of October, tell them what has taken place: “Count Metronome visited the studio and stole all of our Halloween candy! All of the candy bags are empty now, but you can win back your candy by completing metronome challenges each week.”

Older students won’t care so much about the story, but younger students will enjoy some embellishment. You might tell them “Matching the count’s tempo will help you sneak past the ghost that is guarding the candy in the Count’s secret vault!” Or “playing your song with the tempo the Count asks is like playing his game… if you match his tempo, you win!”

Now that they get the idea, start assigning sections of their music with a specific tempo. I used an orange highlighter to make parentheses around the sections I assigned. Write the beats per minute they must match at the beginning of each section, and next to that draw an empty checkbox so that you can check it off once it’s completed and the student has received her candy for that section.

Here’s where the pedagogy comes in: You can give students a few easy challenges (i.e. 4-8 simple measures at an easy tempo) and one difficult challenge (i.e. 12-16 difficult measures at a faster tempo). They might complete the easy challenges in 1 week, but they will work hard to complete the difficult challenge over the course of the month, making major gains in their rhythm skills.

You can see how each section is 8 measures and was worth 2 candies per section. I decided to give the student 1 candy during a lesson where she played the first section 95% correctly, then I gave her the other candy the following week when she could play it 100% correct.

When students come back the next week, have them play their assigned sections with the metronome. They get 3 chances to play it correctly. If they can play it without mistakes or pauses, they earn candy! I gave out one small piece of candy for every 4 measures completed. If the sections were very difficult, I gave out more candy. If a student had to work on the section for a very long time and didn’t earn any candy for a couple of weeks, I gave out more candy when they did experience success. Have the students pick out what candies they would like from the bowl and put them in their bag. They will be excited to see their bags fill up!

As metronome challenges are completed, assign new sections to give students opportunities to earn more candy each week. Adjust the difficulty of the challenges as necessary for each student. The goal is for everybody to fill up their candy bags! Celebrate even the smallest successes for a student who has great difficulty with the metronome.

Differentiating for Special Circumstances

Kids who don’t like candy: I found that even the students who don’t like candy are still motivated by the playfulness of this challenge. As an alternative, you could offer them stickers, pencils, gum, erasers, etc. I like to use practice points that students can collect and eventually exchange for prizes.

Brand new students: During the challenge, I started two new students in lessons.  I let them earn candies for each song or worksheet they completed in their lessons this month instead of doing metronome challenges. (What a way to start piano lessons!)

Learning Disability: One of my students who struggles with a learning disability blew me out of the water with her progress due solely to playing with the metronome. Before the Count Metronome challenge, I thought adding the metronome would only make reading music more complicated for her. I was dead wrong! As soon as we added the metronome, it was like the music finally made sense and her playing improved dramatically. This may not be the case for every student. Alternatives to playing sections of their music with metronome could include clapping short rhythm drills, note name flashcards, or completing music theory activities/worksheets. Use your own judgment as the teacher to adjust assignments as necessary.

It has been so rewarding to see the pride my students have in their progressing playing skills because of this practice challenge. I’ve been pleased with these results and hope “Count Metronome” brings success to you and your students as well!

Music Should be Fun

Learning music doesn’t just happen at the piano bench or sitting behind a music book. Music is by nature personal, interactive, and ought to be fun.

What are your best memories of making or enjoying music? I know mine are when I could sing or play with others, and when how much fun I was having took precedence over how difficult the learning may have been. Think about going to a musical, a concert, or recital. If there isn’t one single moment that makes you smile, was it worth going?

I love to enrich music lessons with movement, games, and fun activities, especially for young students. The importance of play in learning cannot be overlooked! As an added bonus, children just plain have more fun in their private lessons. And who can say ‘No’ to that when their child is fully engaged with the content and is mastering concepts at a surprisingly quick pace?