🏅Top 5 Prizes for Young Piano Students (and Young at Heart)

As a middle schooler, I remember being so excited when my piano teacher, Billie, pulled out her sticker collection. She had made a scale chart with magic marker and as I learned my scales and increased the octaves, I got to pick a sticker to add to the grid. As I learned pieces, I would also put a sticker on the page to show completion. 

When I was watching an episode of Franklin, the titular character and Beaver's piano teacher, Ms. Panda, motivated students with stickers.  As they practiced, the star stickers would add up on the studio chart.  

An anecdote I heard was a student who slumped after completing a piece for her teacher. When the teacher asked why, the student replied that her friend had a huge sticker collection from her piano teacher and that was the reason she started taking lessons in the first place!

Below I have compiled my top 5 prizes for young piano students that have motivated my students over the years. I hope you find inspiration in this post! 

1. Stickers

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #1 Stickers

When I started teaching piano lessons, I traveled to churches, homes, and schools.  My sticker collection would slide around in my backpack and the sheets would bend and ruin the stickers. Since the sticker sheets measured 4"x6", I had the idea to buy a photo brag book!  This small photo album was not glamorous. It was green with a blue border and completely plastic.  

My system was a hit, but I am on my third brag book because the pages are pretty fragile. 

Stickers are rewarded for

  • Six days of practice during the week OR completion of the assignment, whichever comes first. 
  • Satisfactory completion of a song from the method book
  • Completion of a piece or song for the repertoire list
  • Memorizing a piece
  • Extra credit: any assignment I didn't get to assign during the lesson gets double stickers

2. Toys

Now that I teach from home, I have also added a prize box.  The prize box is for large achievements and events. These achievements include 
  • joining my studio
  • completion of a book
  • showing above and beyond knowledge of a subject during a pop quiz (scales, theory, etc.)
  • birthdays
  • "Joining my Studio" anniversary
  • Completion of bingo boards, tic tac toe boards, and other challenges assigned during breaks
When I purchase the prizes, I try to have each toy cost about 30 cents or less. 

Examples of prizes are 
    Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #2 Toys
  • Small containers of Play-Doh
  • Keychain Plushies
  • Iwako Erasers
  • Clearance Holiday items from the drug store (erasers, stamps, pens)
  • Entire Sticker Sheets

3. Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets 

At the end of each method book, a certificate on the last page is signed and dated for completion. But what about when the students finish the method series or decide to move on from them? 
Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #3 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
I learned about Recorder Karate from students I taught general music to one summer.  I had asked the older elementary students to bring their recorders and I noticed that they had colored strings on the ends in the colors of karate levels.  Their elementary school music teacher gave them a "belt" when they fulfilled a level of proficiency on the recorder. 

I have since rewarded "white belts" to a couple of students for completing the Preparatory level as described by the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) Piano Syllabus.  I particularly use the repertoire, ear training, music theory, and sight playing requirements as benchmarks. I have decided that one octave scales are sufficient for elementary level students, so I pace technique very differently than RCM.  

I try to follow this syllabus very loosely as I don't want to prevent a student from learning harder pieces than the syllabus lists.  However, it is a comprehensive guideline for benchmarks. It is also helpful for having an ordered curriculum that builds on itself, leaving no skills behind. 

It's also very fun to see their eyes light up when they receive the bracelet. My newest idea is to tie the bracelets around a plushie keychain prize.  

I may provide my benchmarks in a future post, but I have decided the belt colors in order, once again loosely based on RCM levels Preparatory (A and B combined) through 10.  I also take into account the repertoire difficulty opinions of Jane Magrath in Pianists Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature, Faber Developing Artist series, and Jennifer Linn's Journey through the Classics series.

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #3 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
Preparatory - White Belt
Elementary Levels - Yellow Belt, Orange Belt, Green Belt
Intermediate Levels - Blue Belt, Purple Belt, Brown Belt, Red Belt
Advanced Levels - 1st Degree Black Belt, 2nd Degree Black Belt, 3rd Degree Black Belt

4. Skeleton Key Cards for Scales

I use the ideas on Joy Morin's Music Keys Matching Worksheets & More post on her ColorInMyPiano.com blog (this is my favorite piano teaching blog and I have used many of her worksheets and resources in my studio for over 8 years). 

Her skeleton keys and padlock printable gives you an opportunity to reward each scale that a student learns.  

5. Roses

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #5 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
At the end of recitals, I like to break up a bouquet of roses and hand one to each student for our group picture.  

Incentives are a huge part of encouraging children to practice and participate in piano lessons.

What did your piano teacher use to motivate you?  What are incentives you use in your own studio? What are your top 5 prizes for your piano students?

-Jenny

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