Category - Motivation

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

Five Tips for Boosting Summer Practice

Summer can mean fewer lessons and less time at the keys. JoyTunes, the developers of Piano Maestro, are keenly aware of this and figured parents might like some suggestions to keep those fingers wiggling at the ivories. I’ve posted the article, originally written for JoyTunes, at as teachers may find these tips helpful during lessons and assign as home practice as well. A HUGE thank you to the JoyTunes’ graphics team who designed such adorable and fitting pics!

OOPS! Never heard of Piano Maestro? If not, you are missing out on the TOP piano app according to teachers, parents and students. Get your free version here and see why.



Shopping Cart

Next time you are waiting in line to pay for groceries and your young shopper asks for candy or a new toy, say yes. Qualify the yes by offering rewards with success on Piano Maestro (PM). As your young musician works his way through the Alfred Premier Lesson books or Jennifer Eklund’s Piano Pronto, let him earn one quarter when a new piece is mastered and receives three gold stars on PM. Once enough quarters are earned, let him add his favorite treat to the shopping cart.

721f2ecd-9135-4d28-82e9-a0ce3d899b2eOn the Road Again

If a long road trip is planned for the summer, there’s no excuse to miss a day of practice when you pack the iPad and Piano Maestro. Since there’s plenty of familiar tunes in the library, choose one and invite a family sing-a-long as your pianist plays the tune on the app. Tips: pack headphones and load songs prior to your trip as PM requires Wi-Fi for songs one has not played before.

Maestro League Baseball 

When its rainy outside play baseball inside.  Once a “batter” earns three gold stars on a PM song, she advances to first base. Every time three stars are awarded, the batter runs to the next base until she reaches home plate. The sibling (or opposing team) with the most runs at the end of the week wins a box of Cracker Jacks, a game of catch with Dad or maybe a trip to the ball park!

Extreme Makeover 

Building a young musician’s independence at the piano is the desirable and the ultimate goal of both teachers and parents. Select a song from the PM that is available as sheet music or one from the method books featured in the library that seems equal to or slightly more difficult than what your child is currently playing. You can download PM sheet music hereWith little to no help, ask her to read through the piece as accurately as possible. With her permission, video this initial and perhaps somewhat rough first-time through the piece. Then open up PM, locate the same song and using PM’s Learn Mode have her gradually master the piece. Track success with a follow-up video of her breezing through the piece using PM at the intended tempo. Don’t forget to watch both videos together and marvel at the extreme makeover!

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One App at A Time: Tim Topham’s Favorite

Let’s face it, which one of YOUR students is headed to Carnegie Hall? Let’s go toolkit-small-PNG1further and ask the question: how many parents who contact you about lessons are hoping their budding musician masters a Bach fugue–especially those who begin a little later? One more: how many of your students around the age of 12 or so decide to stop lessons because they have lost interest?

Digging even deeper, although you would love to have students willingly practice everything you assign, teaching piano is not always that easy. In addition, if you hope to develop a thriving studio, it’s not always about your desires and tastes but more about pleasing the local customer base. This may require an adjustment from your past lesson experience and pedigree. A typical, traditional approach may not match those who warm your bench. I dare say that if you want to be profitable and run a successful business, it may be necessary to make some changes, take time to understand the motivation behind teens (and really any age) at the keys and carry additional strategies up your sleeve.

Tim Topham has recognized this deficit between the training of most piano teachers and the expectations of today’s potential students–especially those in the teen years. His practical e-book called Teen Teaching Toolkit provides tips that promise to help you deal with the delicate teen psyche.

“Teenagers don’t quit piano because they don’t like music, it’s much more likely to be due to ineffective teaching and/or a lack of connection with their teacher.”

– Tim Topham

Make sure to order your free copy by clicking here! Read More