Category - Motivation

How can a Practice-A-Thon make the world a better place?

What’s a Practice-A-Thon? Can it really make the world a better place? This idea recently captured the attention of many piano teachers in the Piano Teacher Central Facebook group thanks to Laura Roberts. 

How did fellow teacher Laura Roberts end up sharing her fund-raiser idea at

Instead of explaining the connection now, please keep reading to learn why and to download Melody Payne’s editable instructions so you can run your own Practice-A-Thon.

Thank you, Laura, for such an inspirational post!


Change the World Through Music

That’s this year’s theme for Kathy’s Music, the music school I teach for in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As teachers, we were challenged to think about what that meant to us, and to do one thing with our students this year, that would make the world a better place.

This theme really resonated with me, since I have a background in Music Therapy. I believe in the power of music to heal and bring joy to others, and this desire sparked the idea of a Practice-A-Thon. I wanted to show my students they can use their music to help others, just through practicing and performing! I also knew that if they actually packed relief kits with the money they helped raise, it would be a tangible way for them to understand how they were helping.

When the devastating hurricanes occurred, I really wanted to do something to help, but didn’t know what one person could really do to make an impact. But, I realized I have musical gifts, some wonderful piano students with supportive families, and my church. Read More

Practice Notes…Dispensable? Rethinking Practice Notes

When students finish a lesson, there’s no guarantee what kind of practice will happen at home. Although we’d love to be in control of every practice minute, that’s not reality. Instead of focusing on what’s impossible, it’s important that we teachers focus on what we CAN do to encourage the right kind of practice at home that will ignite progress between lessons. When students see themselves make progress, they want to come back for more. Read more about the impact of progress on motivation in this past post.

Below is a guest post by Roberta Wolff that offers spot-on tips and practical maxims for teacher practice notes and student practice. Roberta includes detailed information on her excellent resources that reinforce successful practice habits and is offering a special coupon for all readers.

Ms. Wolff has brilliant advice and I’m so thankful that she took the time to share it with us!


To me, practice, or assignment, sheets are a vital tool in helping students sustain effort between lessons. Not because we expect a student’s work to be under par but rather in acknowledgement of the fact that practice can be a challenge, and one that requires a healthy dose of zeal and determination.

I am a UK-based piano teacher and for the last four years I have been researching how students learn and practice with particular emphasis on developing resources and ideas to support students and teachers.

My priorities have been:

  1. Teaching students how to be more efficient during their practice, including motivating students to practice regularly, musically and creatively with a healthy dose of fun.
  2. Creating resources which streamline the teachers work, including making notes clearer and easier to write, reducing planning time between lessons and educating parents and students on the art of practice.

This article will be useful to you if you are looking for:

  1. Tips to help your students practice.
  2. Ideas which you can incorporate in your own assignment sheets.
  3. New downloadable resources, be sure to use the coupon code below.
  4. Free downloads.

This article is written in two halves:

  1. A summary of my research
  2. A summary of the resources I have developed as a result.

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What does GRIT look like in the music studio?

Believe it or not, talent has little to do with success. The extensive research by professor Angela Duckworth has found that those with grit will have more success.

Watch the video (found on the Facebook page of ) to hear more.

After watching Duckworth’s video, it got me wondering what grit would look like in the music studio and made me want to dig deeper into the topic.

“Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance.”

According to Duckworth, “grit has a more significant correlation to high school graduation rates than things like family income and social status do.” Read More

The ONE thing that holds the power to motivate

Stickers, charts, money, candy, points, and prizes are frequently used to motivate students but, do they really work?  Is it our job as teachers to motivate our students? From what I’ve experienced, incentives and even teachers do NOT hold the power to motivate.

I believe progress holds the power to motivate.

Let me explain with a personal experience.


Joe, my cool cycle instructor, is on the far left. Tap on the picture to learn more about my cycle class that motivates.

In a Friday morning cycle class, we were challenged to pedal one mile in three minutes. Joe, the instructor, set the large timer in front of the room for the three-minute countdown, cranked up the music and even the disco lights to charge us up for the “road” ahead.

The small computer on my cycle showed me the time, how fast I was pedaling and gradually added one tenth of a mile as my feet went round and round. I thought I was not that competitive, but, it turns out that I was extremely driven to reach the mile mark by the end of three minutes. Joe strategically included the one-mile challenge not just once but, three times within the hour to build up endurance. Even though the last mile 3-minute mile was the hardest, I did not let myself slip. I was determined to beat the clock and improve my stamina.

I discovered that this challenge wasn’t about beating anybody else, it was all about successfully reaching the goal set before me. Clocking the time, adjusting my speed and pushing myself kept me moving forward to earn the “prize.” The fact that I met the goal in the first three-minute round empowered me to carry on and push forward and do it again and then again. I was motivated!

Progress has a magnetic pull. Once we experience progress and see the success that it brings, we want more. It entices us because it makes us feel good. The more progress we make, the better we feel so we try for it again and again.

Progress = The advancement or development towards a better state.

Joe’s calorie-burner choreography uses objective-based skills and measurements to help cyclers reach their anaerobic threshold. In other words, the class promises to burn calories, strengthen muscles and build endurance. The result: cyclers make progress towards maintaining or achieving fitness for a lifetime. I went home from class high on endorphins, ready for a shower and also feeling successful because I beat the clock. (Learn more about this format in this video which features Joe on a local TV station.) 

This fitness class scenario is not that much different from those who are learning an instrument. If students are given a challenge and succeed, it’s addicting. The rush that success brings triggers the desire for more challenges to conquer. That’s called motivation or specifically intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes naturally from within and does not come from outside rewards like stickers or bribery, which are extrinsic motivators.

Motivation =  The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Is it the teacher’s job to motivate? From my cycle-class experience, I’d say we teachers need to modify that description. Our job is to set challenges for our students and to equip them to succeed and progress. Joe didn’t have to bribe me with coffee and a scone to succeed, he just provided the objective and set the clock. In the same way, the promise and thrill of progress is what will drive budding musicians to their instrument on a daily basis. Stickers, candy and bribes don’t hold the promise of progress and won’t cut it in the long run.

Teachers = equip students with skills to succeed.

Progress = holds the power to motivate.

The essential “equipment” students need to see progress are practice strategies guaranteed to conquer challenges between lessons. Science has shown that the six strategies listed below will do just that. These are a critical part of any curriculum and should be put into action at every lesson.

Six Scientifically Proven Practice Strategies that Promise Progress

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The ONE Thing that Guarantees a Top Performance

As much as we’d love to promise ourselves, our students and our audience a perfect performance, it really is impossible thanks to all the great unknowns:

The unknown of nerves: they pop up in odd ways like sweaty palms, a shaking leg, heart palpitations.

The unknown of the audience: they cough, cry, chat or make sudden movements that distract.

The unknown of being human: we cannot control our environment when performing in real-time.

The one and only thing we can control which will guarantee a top performance is how to respond to these unknowns.

Just this past Sunday, my bluetooth page-turning pedal turned two pages on my iPad Pro (learn more this set up here) instead of one. Wouldn’t you know this occurred in a tricky spot where I was already focused on specific, pre-planned mental cues and was not counting on a faulty page turn. It interrupted my focus but…I recovered.

Here’s what I’d recommend (after years of trial and plenty of errors!) for you and your students:to-live-a-creative-life-we-must-lose-our-fear-of-being-wrong

Prepare your performance with diligence.

Prepare yourself for the unknowns.

Prepare your ego for the recovery process.

and, perhaps, the most difficult and yet most important…

Prepare to forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned.

Below is a list of ten tips for a top performance–the first step in the preparations listed above. Notice, I didn’t use the word “perfect” but I did use the word “top” as that is what we can aspire to with proper preparation.  I’ve designed a printable of this list and the Five P’s of Performing in a free printable. You’ll see where to sign up, below. Read More

Turn Practice into Progress with Power Tools

NEW: Get your free Practice Printable HERE!

Practice habits can dwindle in the summer and right now is the perfect time to give them a boost. In reality, we as teachers have little control over what happens between lessons. Because of this, it’s essential that we make time to teach purposeful practice strategies and use powerful tools that work at lessons and empower students’ practice between lessons.

Four years ago I wrote a post about practice pouches that my students assembled at their lessons. It is one of my most popular posts and now many students around the world(!) carry a practice pouch in their piano book bags.

Practice Pouches of the Past


It is hard to keep a firm knuckle while squeezing a clothespin but it shows how knuckle buckle can happen so easily.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about them, here’s a summary of how practice pouches were first designed. (Follow this link for ALL the details.)

During lab time, which I now call Off Bench time (tap here to learn more) at the first lesson of the fall session students chose a bag and decorated it with fabric pens. The bags were cosmetic bags found at the Dollar Store. Students passed through an assembly line of tools choosing one of each of the following:

  • Clothespin to cure “knuckle buckle” syndrome.


    Dumping an eraser off the wrist demonstrates the required motion for the ends of slurs.

  • Notebook to record new musical terms, repertoire, metronome markings and tallies for 20x perfect.
  • Mechanical Pencil so students “practice with a pencil” and write in counting or fingering where necessary, circle that one note that always comes out sour, etc.
  • Eraser: Wrist rolls and a lift at the ends of slurs allow for a natural tapering of sound/volume and immediately provides a more musical technique. The eraser balanced on top of the pianist’s hand is dumped off as the wrist rolls upward toward the fall board which helps students feel the correct motion required.
  • Stickers A small row of stickers are provided for students to place on a page they are

    Reserve ONE color for dynamics so they always stand out.

    particularly proud of.

  • Yellow Highlighter to highlight all dynamics to add and listen for each one in their practicing.
  • Rubber Snake to keep wrists parallel to the floor, a small snake is placed on the keyboard ledge and students are advised to avoid droopy wrists and stay out of the snake pit!
  • Dice so the student can divide a piece up into 6 sections. The die is rolled, if the number is 4, the student finds section 4. The student rolls again and that new number is how many times section 4 will be played. The LAST time the section is played, ZERO errors is the goal.


    Heather’s assembly line of practice tools.

Heather’s Practice Pouches of 2016

As I revisit the list, there are some things I’ll bag (pun intended) and others to add. Help with this updated list comes from Heather Nanney who recently adopted the practice pouch idea in her studio.

Take time to teach purposeful strategies and tactile tools that work at lessons and empower your students’ practice between lessons.

Heather included the following in her pencil pouches turned practice pouch.  You can find pencil pouches at Amazon and other stores. (I believe they are more sturdy than the bags I purchased at the Dollar Store.)

  • Mechanical pencil

    Plot out scales with erasers first so fingers know where to go.

    Plot out scales with erasers first so fingers know where to go.

  • Eraser
  • Clothespin
  • Ziplock bag to hold “Fast Fingers” for warm-ups and composing, etc.
  • Sticky notepad (instead of notebook.)
  • Tootsie Roll for when they practice every day of the week and they are “On a Roll.”
  • Eight pencil topper erasers to help mark scale degrees. This is inspired by a past post. Follow this link.
  • Music bookmarks (because they were hanging around the studio waiting to be used.)
  • Colored pen (because they were hanging around the studio anyway.)

Leila’s Practice Pouches with Traveling Power Tools

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My Studio is Going Baroque!

I’ve tried and quite honestly failed at other teacher’s studio incentiveBaroque Bash 2 (1) programs. You know the ones where students complete certain activities and they move forward on the game board or earn points, etc. It’s all because I’m so poor at keeping track of things. There’s just so much to squeeze in a lesson! In addition, other people’s programs seem to tie me down. I’ve discovered that they leave me feeling claustrophobic, looking for a way out and in the end the programs make me feel that I’ve ultimately failed my students. Read More

NCKP 2015 and Clever Tools for Practice Pouches

It seemed to me that the NCKP 2015 (National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy) was charged with fresh energy. Yes, I may be a bit biased as I took an active part in a portion of the conference but I believe there was a vibe–a positive vibe–as I walked the halls and attended workshops. Perhaps I sensed a heightened camaraderie among fellow attendees?

Many of us are cyber friends thanks to Facebook and Twitter which made meeting in person similar to a family reunion. I told my husband that it felt like I was on a play date for the last 5 days! If I didn’t meet you in person at this conference, I hope we meet face to face very soon. The cyber community has helped build wonderful relationships, but meeting and conversing face to face solidifies a friendship.

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Keep Your 2015 Studio Relevant with Pianoflix

After you received your undergrad music degree, performed a stellar recital of the classics, turned in that lofty thesis, passedIMG_2492 a professional accreditation exam or somehow earned shiny, new initials behind your name, you probably felt a great sense of achievement. Perhaps you felt like I did? After I received my Master of Arts in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, I felt my career was professionally wrapped up and ready to launch.

IMG_2496Although my intent is not to discount the importance of the academic achievements listed above, I’m wondering if you–like me–had your bubble burst, your box tipped upside down and your bow unraveled when you entered the real world of piano teaching? Yes, I could play and teach Beethoven and Ravel, I could design a sequential curriculum for early learners but when asked to read from a lead sheet, my skills fell embarrassingly short. Read More

The Perfect Keepsake for Your Students!

QR code postIt will be hard to outdo the Christmas gifts given to my student families last year. The idea came to me when I saw that it was possible to link a video to a QR code and print the codes on stickers.

FYI: A QR code (short for Quick Response) is a specific matrix bar code (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR bar code readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded on a QR code can be text, a URL link or other data like a video.

I bribe my students with Music Money. (Read more about it here.) They are given the chance to shop and spend their hard-earned cash various times throughout the year at my studio store and as a result, they accumulate many trinkets and gifts.  Because of this bribery system, it seemed appropriate to give the parents of my students a gift instead for the holiday season. A handmade item crafted by their adored, budding musician seemed appropriate and definitely more meaningful than any store-bought item. This line of thought triggered the idea of students designing cards with QR code stickers for their parents. Read More