Help them see it. 

Have you ever felt your motivation lagging, and then remembered a reward was coming?

Maybe it was an exciting weekend ahead, or time with a friend. Or how about an old-fashioned paycheck?  You were willing to work harder for a short time to get to the end result.

A number of studies have been done on the fact that we work more efficiently and longer if we can associate a tangible reward to the task. When children can see a result, even if it’s as simple as getting a sticker, they become very motivated. Rewards translate to them as immediate positive reinforcement. They begin to associate positive results with practicing.

Avoiding the bribe

We want kids to practice for the sake of its own reward. We want them to discover the joy of hearing music for its own sake, as well as the inner satisfaction of daily practice as a discipline. Good music is satisfying in itself, but taking that level of satisfaction is a gradual process for a child.

We need to help them build up to it in small ways. We should be careful not to go overboard or get out of proportion with the reward. A large expensive item as a reward for playing Twinkle would be counterproductive to your goal of developing a healthy psychology about practicing.

A visual map

The most effective way I have found to build inner satisfaction is to help them see it. When you put the result of their practicing right in front of them, they become motivated by their own accomplishment and want to do more. Therefore we need a way to show them in  tangible way what they have done.

For example, I use a "100s chart" that helps students who have learned Twinkle to play it 100 times. Many students, after they have completed the 100s Chart, ask for a second chart, because they want to fill it out again!

Download a free copy of the 100s chart here. (To access the downloads page enter password "suzuki".)

Reward vs. result

I make a distinction between "rewards" and "results." The rewards I am speaking of here are really about showing the student their own progress. Holding a mirror up to them, we show them their best self. What could be a better reward than that?

The important point is that we make their progress visible in some way that feels rewarding to them.

With that caveat in mind, you can have some fun and get creative with your rewards.

ACTIONS FOR THIS WEEK

  • Keep a tally chart. Give one each time your child practices, without regard to the outcome of the practicing. This is a surprisingly easy visual reward and works for even the most unruly preschool boys.
  • Have something mutually agreed to as a reward for a certain number of tallies. The occasional edible treat helps. Something inexpensive like a chocolate milk, a piece of gum, or a trip to a nearby bakery works wonders. The important thing is that it is mutually agreed to! Involving children in a tangible reward builds ownership.
  • Make a daily activity chart, using images for every activity. Include a picture of the instrument to indicate practicing time. 
  • Birthday and Christmas far away? Find out what is on their list and tie it to a certain number of tallies, or for older students, mastery of a certain piece.
  • Make an offer!  Kids are sharp negotiators, have you noticed that?

    During a lesson, I will often make an "offer" to a student (this works especially well for boys): I will get out 5 pennies and say, "You get to keep one each time you follow my directions." If they continue to be silly or uncooperative I do not give out the pennies. This makes a big impact on a child who is used to getting their way.

Tracking results = internal reward

Give your student a way to track their results. This will give them something to latch on to, boost them over the hump, and give them a feeling of ownership.

Add it all up, and you'll have a child who eventually discovers the internal reward for making good music.

Download a free copy of the 100s chart here. (To access the downloads page enter password "suzuki".)