“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.

A Musical Winter Break

In December each year, our studio has its longest break. Students get a full two weeks off from piano lessons. I hope all of my students will enjoy a time of relaxation, visiting friends and family, and enjoying the peace and beauty of the holiday season. I 100% support taking a short break from practicing piano during this time, but if you or your child wishes to supplement their piano practice over the break, I’ve gathered some ideas for you!

Listen to Classical Music

Check out Wendy Stevens’ comprehensive list of “Best Classical Music for Parents to Give Their Kids” My top 5 are:

  1. Claire de Lune – Debussy
  2. Flight of the Bumblebee – Rimsky Korsakov
  3. Rhapsody in Blue – Gershwin
  4. Carnival of the Animals–Saint-Saens
  5. The Cat and the Mouse–Aaron Copland

Practice Flashcards

Click each link to download a free printable set of flashcards. Make sure to tell Miss Leslie if you practice these. She will be so impressed!

  1. Note Name Flashcards – appropriate for Elementary through Intermediate levels
  2. Music Intervals Flashcards – appropriate for Elementary through Advanced levels (beginners can disregard the classification of intervals, i.e. “Perfect,” “Major,” “Minor” and only focus on the interval, i.e. 5th, 2nd, 6th)
  3. Key Signature Flashcards – appropriate for Intermediate through Advanced levels

Work on Technique

This can be pentascales (also called 5-Finger Scales), 1-octave scales, 2-octave scales, etc. as well as chord progressions and arpeggios. If your child has a Technique book as part of their method book series, take advantage of all the great exercises it provides. Here’s a fun resource for practicing technique.

Practice Sightreading

Sightreading means playing a piece of music for the first time. A musician’s sightreading goal is always to play as many notes and rhythms correctly on the first try as possible.  For my students who use the Piano Adventures method books, you can find a Sightreading Book that goes with your level. Here is the Primer level Sightreading Book.

And last, but not least . . .

Play Previously Learned Music

Nothing is quite more satisfying than playing through “old” or previously learned music. What was once difficult is now a breeze! If you have family or friends visiting for the holidays, pick a few of these pieces to show off  in a mini-recital or teach a sibling or cousin one of your songs.

Whether you take a break from practicing or enjoy the above musical activities alongside your regular practice routine, I hope you have a safe and happy winter break!

How to Practice Piano at Home

We have all heard the statistics about how studying and playing music makes children smarter, or at least helps them get better grades. I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but I believe the primary reason is because learning an instrument takes practice, builds discipline, determination, patience, and resilience. You might say it builds character. And all those character traits make a very good student, whether in primary school or the school of life.

To make the most of your child’s piano lessons, it’s important to establish a consistent practice routine. Unlike most sports where kids meet for multiple guided practices throughout the week, piano students are expected to practice individually at home. Figuring out how to practice can be a process, especially for a young student. It’s common for parents to experience frustration in this department (“Getting Timmy to practice is a non-stop battle!”), but with a few basic guidelines it’s possible to facilitate an effective practice routine for your child.

The Daily Routine

I encourage my students to practice 5 days a week. Everyone needs a breather now and then, and life gets busy – that’s why there are 2 “off” days built into this schedule.

In general, kids thrive on consistency. If your child doesn’t already have an established practice routine, you might help him or her by choosing 5 specific days that your child will practice piano. Think about your daily routine and decide when would be the most convenient time for your child to practice. When I was growing up, practicing piano was the very last thing I did before going to bed every night. Luckily, I was an only child and my practicing didn’t keep any younger siblings awake!

I often ask my students “When would be the best time of day for you to practice?” Many answer with ‘right after dinner,’ or ‘after I get home from school and have a snack.’ Practicing at the same time every day will help your child get into that focused mindset more quickly as it becomes routine.

How to Practice

Here is a wonderful guide from www.teachpianotoday.com:

  1. Read Lesson Notes: Read over practice assignments for the week
  2. Technical work: This includes scales, triads, warm-ups etc.
  3. Focus on Rhythm: Play assigned pieces with a focus on the rhythm
  4. Focus on Expression: Play assigned pieces with a focus on phrasing, dynamics and articulation
  5. Pick 4 Measures: Choose 4 measures that were difficult and/or needed extra attention and spend extra time on those.
  6. Review: Choose 2 “old” pieces and review them. (This is optional, but a great way to solidify prior learning and boost confidence by playing something they are already good at.)

The length of time students practice will vary depending on their age, skill level, and performances for which they are preparing. A brand new 6-year-old student will not be practicing 30 minutes a day, but a 16-year-old student who has been in lessons for 10 years and will perform in a judged competition will be practicing for at least 30 minutes a day. The main thing is that all students are focusing on improving their technique, rhythm, expression, and fixing trouble spots. A young student or new student will most likely need the help of a parent or older sibling while practicing each day.


What you do to motivate your child to practice depends on his or her personality. Here are some ideas I’ve heard from parents of my students:

  • “Brendan gets an extra 5 minutes of screen time for each day that he practices piano for 20 minutes.”
  • “Sarah’s practicing is directly related to her privilege to drive her car.”
  • “When Charley meets his weekly practice goal, we let him download a new song or two from iTunes.”

Though I am not a parent, I imagine one of the best things you can do to support your child in piano lessons is praise their effort and express how much you love hearing them play. Here are some more ideas to help kids get excited about their music studies and motivate them to practice:

  • Remind them that they are a musician and they have special skills that not everyone else has.
  • Express your excitement about what they will play at the next recital or festival.
  • Bring parents and grandparents or your children’s friends to our recitals and go out to eat afterward to celebrate their accomplishment.
  • Take them to the music store to look around.
  • Go to concerts and professional recitals. (Check out local colleges like JCCC, the Bell Cultural Events Center, or venues like the Folly Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.)

Though practicing piano certainly is a discipline, music truly is a gift and I hope that your child’s piano lessons bring a lifetime of joy to them!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s practicing, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Musical Excellence Awards 2015-2016

Musical Excellence Awards are given to honor students who display outstanding commitment to their own musical development and those who use the power of music for good in their communities.

There are many ways your child can earn a Musical Excellence Award. I sincerely hope that each of the following activities provides an opportunity for students to enhance their experience in piano lessons and further their musicianship in the community! Continue reading