One-Minute Flashcard Challenge

In February we ran the one-minute flashcard challenge. I like to run this challenge periodically to do a little check-up on note-naming among my students. February is a good time to do this because it gives an opportunity for the students to earn an extra prize in those long weeks between Christmas and spring break when it seems not much is happening.

This year the flashcard challenge was divided into three levels:

  1. Level 1 – beginning students who have just started learning notes on the staff and do not know them all yet. They are required to name and play only the notes they know in one minute.
  2. Level 2 – students who can name all the notes on the staff, but are not proficient yet. These students are given a minute and a half to name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef.
  3. Level 3 – these are more advanced students who can name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef in one minute or less.

A little note about why I have my students both name and play the note…I have found that while lots of students can easily name the notes, it is quite another thing to be able to locate that note on the piano. And that’s actually the point of learning the notes – being able to play those notes that show up in our music in the right place on the keyboard.

Each student that completed the challenge (and they all did!) was rewarded a prize and signed their name on the white board. Everyone likes to see their own name displayed, and the board creates a sense of community within the studio as students check out who accomplished the challenge.

The record time was 23 seconds (24 cards in 23 seconds!) and was a tie between a competitive brother and sister. This ended up being a lot of fun as I shared with the other students how the brother and sister kept beating each other and asking to try again. A little competition can be a good thing!

Thanks to Susan Paradis for the flashcard download and for the One-Minute Club Cards! I made the cards into stickers using this printer paper and placed them on/in my students’ binders as a reminder of their accomplishment, kind of like a badge.¬†


Prize Bin Ideas

Here is a peek into my prize bin:20180116_110528

Some of the things I like to keep stocked are:

Gel Pens and cute music pencils


Japanese Erasers and other cute erasers


Emoji Stamps


Musical clips/bookmarks


Bubbles, key chains, music bracelets, temporary tattoos


Slap bands


Other fun ideas:

  • Magnets
  • Deflated beach balls
  • Fun finds in the Target dollar spot

You can read about some of the challenges I run throughout the year in which students are able to earn prizes. Click on the “Reward Systems” tab on the right sidebar to find ideas!

Practice Challenge 2017/18

As we all know, one of our top challenges as music teachers is motivating our students to practice. Happily, some students are intrinsically motivated and will come to lessons well-practiced and well-prepared. When this happens I can hear the angels in heaven singing and can see the planets aligning in orbit. ūüôā

But most of us need a little push. The best way to reinforce a behavior is to reward it. Fortunately, with a little planning, some excitement from the teacher and a prize basket stocked by Amazon, we can reinforce a healthy practice routine somewhat easily.20180116_170513

This year my practice challenge was modeled on last year’s challenge. As I evaluated last year’s challenge, I felt the students had responded well to the challenge and achieved a rhythm of weekly practice because of it. This point became a criteria I use in developing a practice challenge: “Can the student develop a weekly practice rhythm?” This means, does the practice challenge help students develop practice skills which can be consistently maintained.¬†20180116_085335

Other criteria I ask when developing the practice challenge:

  1. Will the reward be sufficient to encourage practice? How often will the student be rewarded?
  2. What happens if a student exceeds my expectations? Are there extra goals/prizes to work for?20180116_085353

20180116_104557The Plan

Since the challenge was based on last year’s challenge, the plan was very similar to what I had used last year. It went like this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second ‚Äď eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a line or space on the staff for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prize in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded when the student reached the top of treble clef. This was 2300 minutes practiced, or 115 practice sessions for younger students.


Some students have already completed the board once and are starting over. They were awarded the DQ gift card and given a colored ribbon to designate the fact that they have completed the board and are on their second round.

Results so far

So far most students have been motivated to practice at least 100 minutes a week, or in the case of younger students, 5 practice sessions. The students seem to be enjoy earning a small prize, even if it’s just a cute little eraser or pencil. Having practice goals help to define their practice sessions, and we talk a lot in the lesson about what to do in practice. The best part about practicing is…you get better! In the end that is the best and most fulfilling reward of all.


The treble and bass clef cut outs are from Susan Paradis. The magnetic push pins are from Amazon. 

Other Practice Challenge Ideas

If you would like to read about other practice challenges from previous years, follow these links:

2013-14 The Wall of Wow and recap

2014-15 Bead Chains

2015-16 Brag Tags

2016-17 Practice Challenge

Most Popular Blog Post (Karate Pentascales!) and Updated Free Material

Hi all,

I began writing this blog way back in February of 2011. Our family had moved to Colorado the previous year and I was in the midst of rebuilding my piano studio. Our kids were enrolled in an awesome school and were making new friends and exploring new options.

The music teacher at their new school used a reward incentive when the kids were in fourth grade learning recorders – he would tie a colored ribbon to the end of their recorder when they learned each new piece. I borrowed the idea for the piano studio and it has become my most popular blog post by far. As of today, the post has generated almost 1,100 hits and has been saved over a hundred times on Pinterest since the day it was published in 2011.

2017-11-07 (7)

This week I updated the post by expanding the free resources. You are now able to download all the materials needed to teach all twelve major pentascales and all twelve minor pentascales. You can download both the keyboard view:

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 8.10.09 PM


and the staff view:Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 8.09.27 PM


The post contains instructions of how to use these materials.

I hope you enjoy these free materials and that your students love your fun and rewarding way to teach pentascales!

Let me know how it goes for you!

Practice Challenge

Each year I try to develop a new studio-wide challenge to reward and support my students to excel in one or more main aspects of musical development. Some of the reward challenges from previous years have been The Wall of Wow, Bead Chains, and Brag Tags.

This year my main goal was to promote healthy practice habits. My simple plan was to count and reward practice minutes throughout the entire school year (middle of August Рmiddle of May) of piano lessons. 20160921_144109

I bought magnetic boards, drew straight lines on them and hot-glued them to the inside of the closet door; printed out and laminated keyboards to count minutes; and made magnets for each student. 20170523_142915

The plan

The simple plan was this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second – eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a level (we called it leveling up ūüôā ) for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prized in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded at the 2500 minute/125 session level.

The top of the magnet board was 4300 minutes of practice/215 practice sessions. Eight students were able to achieve that goal and received a special bag. Many of those students chose to start climbing the board again and were thus designated with a special blue ribbon.



The plan worked well. Most students were able to move up a level every week. I think it’s encouraging, motivational, and community-building for students to see the progress of their peers, which is why I always have the challenge results hanging somewhere in the studio.

Here are the stats from the end of the year:

There were seven younger/beginner students who counted their practice sessions. Collectively they practiced 753 times from mid-August to mid-May.

There were 23 students who counted their practice minutes. Together they practiced 87,555 minutes (that’s over 1,459 hours!).

Not only was the time spent practicing impressive, the results were impressive too. At the end of the year, I discussed with each student how their practicing directly improved their skills and applauded them for time well spent!

I believe it is invaluable to point out and reward practicing, or any other skill you as a teacher are seeking to improve upon in your students. When you draw attention to good behaviors, practices and skills, your students will begin to value those as well.

Brag Tags


All the students’ Brag Tags hung on a door

Each year I endeavor to come up with a new year-long incentive for students to earn rewards while completing tasks such as practicing, learning scales, etc. In the past I have used incentives such as Bead Chains and the Wall of Wow. I have found these incentives to be very rewarding and motivating for students. Because the progress of each student is kept in the studio, other students can clearly see the progress of their friends, cheer each other on and be encouraged when they see others working to complete tasks also.

This past year I found a neat classroom incentive on Pinterest called Brag Tags. I found Brag Tags to be very adaptable to what I wanted the students to accomplish that year.


One student’s collection of Brag Tags

The idea is that each student earns a tag for different tasks completed.


Practice Tags

Students could earn practice tags. For older students, the practice minutes were counted. Younger students were urged to practice five times a week and earned a tag for that. Originally I only made the 100-minute and 150-minute practice tags for the older students, but several students were practicing 200 minutes each week. One student started practicing 250 minutes a week just so she could choose the “emerald” designation!


Key Tags

Key tags were awarded for completing technical practice (scales, chords, arpeggios, etc.) in the assigned key.


Miscellaneous Tags

Students could earn other tags for:

  1. Book Graduation – completing a book
  2. Note Ninja Рmastering assigned notes on treble or bass clef (these were quizzed with flashcards or the app Flashnote Derby)
  3. Excellent Extra! – learning a piece on your own
  4. Metronome Master – tapping or playing the rhythm of an assigned section with the metronome
  5. Pawsome Performance – playing in a recital, concert, talent show, etc.
  6. Theory Wiz – completing assigned theory pages
  7. Happy Birthday To You – having a birthday
  8. Cool Composer – composing a piece or short melody

Each week most students earned 2-3 tags and collected many tags throughout the school year. Rewards were given for every 600 minutes of practice. Therefore, students who practiced 200 minutes per week earned rewards more quickly than students who practiced 100 minutes per week. Ribbons were added to the bottom of the practice tags when a reward was given.

At the end of the school year, students were allowed to take their Brag Tags home with them. It was fun to see the excitement as students showed their tags to parents and siblings.

I designed the tags with the use of PicMonkey. Then I printed out the tags and laminated them. The chains were necklace chains from Hobby Lobby.

It was a great incentive and reward system to use in the studio as it served the purposes of motivating students and building community.

Let me know if you try this incentive!

Piano Football

Here in Colorado we have had gorgeous weather the last few months. We’d get some snow, then be back into the 50’s and 60’s and it would feel like spring (my favorite season!) But just this past week we have been hit hard with snow. Personally I don’t mind much because I get to work from home! But sometimes the students need a little extra incentive to get to the piano and do some quality practicing. In fact, some of my students were asking to have something along the lines of the Piano Olympics from last year. Um, sure! I will do almost anything that will add extra excitement to lessons – especially this time of year!

The Piano Football idea was really borne from the fact that the student who was asking for something like the Piano Olympics really loves football. So here’s what I came up with:

20150226_092225I used a plain old manila folder to make up a playbook. The inside contains the guidelines and football field.


Here’s my pitch:

“You have been drafted to the piano football league! As a member of the team, you have certain responsibilities. First of all, you need to prepare in advance for the game. You need to learn the building blocks: the notes in treble clef and bass clef and music symbols. Secondly, you will need to attend practices (these are what you do at home). You will need to become an expert at using your fingers to produce the sound you want and use rhythms to organize those sounds. Lastly, when the practice session is finished, you need to review what happened during the practice. Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish? What needs extra work?”

The student then thinks of a name they want for their football team – each student does this individually – they don’t form teams with other students (although that could be an interesting variation…)
20150226_092250 The goal is to to gain yards to move from the blue end zone to the red end zone. The prize is a free cone at the local Dairy Queen.20150226_092255The first section entitled “Know Your Plays” are all tested during the lesson. I use the Flashnote Derby iPad app to quiz on treble and bass clefs. I use the SightReader iPad app to test sight reading. The music symbols are printed on flashcards and sent home with the student a week in advance of the testing.¬†

The section titled “Workouts” are completed during home practice sessions.

The section titled “Gametime” refers to the practice session as well. I am most excited about this section because it contains “Review the Play”. During the lesson the student and I discuss goals for each particular piece to be practiced during the week. On a post-it note we write specific items to think about while practicing: notes, rhythm, dynamics, legato, staccato, pedal, etc. During the week, the student must write¬†their own reflections on the post-it notes in any format they wish. Some students write phrases like “good”, “needs work”, “getting better”, etc. Other students using a letter grading system to assess their practice, others using +, ++, check marks, etc. I encourage each student to develop a system that will work for them.

I am loving the “Review the Play” category so much because it has forced the students to listen and evaluate their own playing, which is a foundational goal of teaching. I believe this to be one of the most important skills to teach (and learn) at any level. “Review the Play” puts a fun spin on this essential skill.

The entire incentive takes a few months to complete, depending on the student’s individual level of motivation. Obviously I could have chosen countless other skills to work on with this incentive, but I chose a) the things that fit in with the idea of preparing for a game, and b) the things I think my students need to focus on at the moment. There are lots of ways to vary this fun game, and if you do, please let me know!

This is a glimpse into how the playbook is used in the lesson: