Hoffman Academy Blog

Motivate Piano Students to Practice – Without Rewards!

With summer vacation right around the corner you may be wondering how to motivate your kids to keep learning piano during the break. School’s out, schedules are different, days are long, the weather’s hot, the pool’s open, and friends are knocking on the door. How does piano practice stand a chance? Don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with some system of rewards to get your kids to the piano bench every day. There’s a simple solution that really works.

Problems with Using Rewards for Motivation

As a parent, you may have used rewards to influence your child’s behavior in the past. At my house, when I wanted my boys to do something differently I offered them points that could be collected to earn a new toy. At first this method seemed to motivate my boys to turn in their homework on time and do their chores, but there were problems. Once one toy was earned, to keep the good behavior coming I had to offer another one. Even earning one toy after another only worked for so long before it got boring, and in the meantime we’d collected enough legos to carpet their bedroom floor an inch thick. I learned that using rewards to influence your children is a quick fix that only produces short-term results.

What Kids Really Want and Need

Research shows that offering people extrinsic rewards isn’t the best motivator. For children, extrinsic rewards like stickers, candy, toys, or money can be motivating, but they’re not so effective in the long term. Instead, focus on intrinsic rewards, those good feelings that come when you’re doing something you like, accomplishing something you’re proud of, or you’re with people you care about. There’s a sense of well-being that comes from making good choices, and that’s what we want to develop in our children. 

Another motivator that children really value is the ability to make their own choices. Of course as parents we know that children don’t always have the wisdom to make safe and healthy choices, so as parents we have to set limits while they’re learning. For example, if a young child wants to run out into a busy street you have to stop them and redirect them to a safe place to play. Help children to see that as they consistently make good choices, you can trust them more and give them more freedom.

Love and Limits

How do we apply these principles to piano practice? When you’ve established a deep, caring, and understanding relationship with your child, your child will naturally value the things that you value. They will feel good when they make choices that please you. That means that by giving positive attention to piano practice, you’ve already made it rewarding. Let your child know that you enjoy hearing him or her play. Tell them you appreciate how hard they’re working. Celebrate with them when they learn a new skill or can play a new song without mistakes.

Even with all the praise and attention you can give, practicing the piano probably won’t feel as rewarding as running around outside in the summer sunshine with friends. That’s only natural. This is where limits come in. As a parent, it’s your job to set limits that help your children grow into mature, responsible, happy adults. That’s why, even during summer break, you expect them to make their bed, do their chores, brush their teeth, and practice the piano before they go outside to play.

Put Piano Practice on the Expectation List

The key is to have a list of tasks that must be done first, no questions, no excuses, and put piano practice on that list. Be ready for rolling eyes, whining, and begging. Your child will test the limits, whatever they are. If you hold firm, and let them know how pleased you are when they comply, then soon the battle will be over. Piano practice becomes part of the daily accepted routine. A little daily piano practice doesn’t take long, and when it is done the rest of the day is freedom. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.

Playing Music IS the Reward

It can take from one to two months to establish a new habit like piano practice, so be as dedicated and consistent as possible during this time. Once good piano practice habits are established, practicing each day will feel rewarding on its own. Making music feels good. That will keep your child going more than anything else, especially as your child gets into intermediate and advanced levels on the piano.

The Power of Letting Them Choose

To make practicing even more fun, let your child choose some music to learn. Try one of our Popular Music lessons, or pick a favorite song and find some sheet music on the internet. Be sure the arrangement is at the right skill level. Or, you can even challenge your child to figure out how to play one of their favorite tunes on the piano by ear.

Maybe your child would like to create some music of their own. My twelve-year-old son seems to lose track of time when he’s working out and memorizing his own compositions. Give your child something to do at the piano that they love and you might find them still at the bench long after regular practice time is over.

Try It This Summer

In review, here are some ideas for motivating your child to practice the piano using love and limits instead of rewards

  • Show lots of love and attention when it comes to piano time
  • Set the limit, piano practice comes before free time, and stick to it
  • Let your child choose something to learn that they love

Have a fun and musical summer!


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