CalendarMusic teachers and band directors all have the same problem, how to get their students to practice their instruments on a regular basis outside of class.  Most educators require some degree of home based practice, but their methods and level of success at getting students to actually do it varies widely.  I was having a big problem with lack of student practice with my beginners, and after speaking with counselors at the three schools I teach at I came up with an incentive program that really helped a lot.  The problem is it also put me in the poor house...

Since writing this article I have adopted a very successful student incentive system that I now use religiously in my classes.  For more information on it please see this document.

The basic suggestions I got from my school's counselors was that some type of physical, trinket based incentive program would work best for the kids in my fifth and sixth grade bands.  I needed to have ongoing incentives that would help push them to continue throughout the entire semester.  I went through the process of setting up a point based practice system that looked a little like this:

  • One point for each minute of practice up to a max of 120 points per week.  If the practice record was not written down properly then they could only get up to 60 points no matter how much they practiced.  These things prevented students from waiting until the end of the semester and loading up to reach their goal.  They had to practice throughout the semester otherwise they couldn't make it.
  • Thirty bonus points if the practice record was signed by a parent.
  • Thirty bonus points if they came to class with their music, pencil, and instrument.
  • Misc bonus points for passing difficult lines in their lesson book, concert pieces, solos, etc.

Monitoring The Practice Points and Selecting Incentives:
Keeping track of the points wasn't that hard.  At each private or group lesson I would record their practice time and if it had been signed.  At each rehearsal I would do a pencil and music check and also take note of anyone that forgot their instrument that day.  Each day I would enter the numbers into a spreadsheet and put tally marks on a chart on the wall so the students could track their progress toward three goals:

  • At 200 points they got an official Band Pencil
  • At 500 points they got to draw a prize out of a box of cool stuff.
  • At 900 points they were eligible to go on a free special field trip (this year it was to see a free production of the Nutcracker).

 

Did The Incentive Program Work?

By sticking with it, the program really did make a difference on practice times and student abilities.  The amount of students who bothered to fill out a practice record grew from around 25% to nearly 95%.  The amount of students that got parent signatures on the practice records grew to nearly 75%.  Most important, the average number of minutes practiced by the students more than doubled.

The only problem with the system was that I didn't really think things through when buying the incentives.  I forgot that between my three schools I had nearly 140 students and that if it was successful ALL of them would eventually make it to the 500 point level.  This meant that I needed an incentive prize for each one.  In the end I spent nearly $150 on incentives for one semester.  Some of it was reimbursed by my local PTA's, but in the end I think I will have to come up with a new idea for the trinket items for next spring.

Comments Requested:

I'd be very interested in hearing comments from other music educators to know what they use for incentive programs to increase student practice.  Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment below!

 

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