Music Teacher's Helper Blog

4 Goals to Score!

Stepping Stones







What’s a game of football without goals?

Mmm! Lots of keen sports people randomly running around for 90 minutes?!

And yet, how easy it would be for our music students to be drifting along aimlessly without any real direction. And maybe even us too as their teacher!

So what is the secret to motivating our pupils (and ourselves)?

I’m sure you would agree that we need to set a combination of achievable short and long term goals. Goals give students and teachers focus. Short term goals act as “stepping stones” to the bigger ones.

And the best goals of all? Those are the goals set by the student. When they take “ownership” of their goals, they really do make great progress!

So this month, consider four small goals to encourage pupils to set. Hopefully, the bigger goals will naturally follow…

1st Goal – Let them choose the pieces (songs)

Pupils are far more motivated if they’ve chosen the song. Here’s an old trick of mine. If they are preparing for a concert or an exam, why not give them a choice between three suitable pieces. That way, you still have a measure of control over what material is appropriate for their ability but they feel that they are making the decision and will go away far more determined to make a success of it. Is there a CD available for their exam pieces? Why not let them go away, listen to the options and then come back with their suggestions?

I recently “inherited” a pupil who had stopped practicing because she hated the style of music that her well-meant teacher had given her. How very sad! Some time ago, I came across a series of piano repertoire books called the “Really Easy Piano Series.” These books cover all manner of styles from uptodate chart music through to classics. I encourage all my pupils to select which books they want to buy and they nominate one different song each week to use as sight-reading. This way their reading ability is growing rapidly and they are having a great time playing the songs that they want to play. It’s a win, win situation!

2nd Goal – Let them choose how much work should be done for the next lesson

When learning a more long-term piece, I used to tell the pupil where they should practice to. But since I’ve been asking them where they feel they should work up to, I’ve noticed that the rate of progress has improved greatly. I keep a pencil on the piano and it’s great to see them picking it up and marking sections for practice and circling fingering numbers etc. of their own volition. At this point, you know that they are taking “ownership” of their learning.

3rd Goal – Let them assess their achievements

Let them be both player and referee! Try letting pupils mark and assess their own theory work. “What could you have done to make that answer better?” “What score would you like to reach next time?” Think for a moment about the electronic game philosophy with which they are all only too familiar with. Reward achieved goals with praise. Rewards don’t have to be physical, although many teachers find success giving small gifts or stickers. Often, simply looking them directly in the eye and using their forename when you give commendation can be very rewarding to them. Include commendation in their lesson notes too. I have a two-step procedure when writing lesson notes. One, give sincere praise for what improvements they have made during the week and then two, write down what their goals are for the following week.

4th Goal – Let them suggest longer term goals

Where do pupils want to go ultimately with their music? Some just want to play for pleasure. Others want to perform a certain song at a family event. Some want to collect exam certificates and trophies. A few seek word domination of the charts even (and a host of other ambitious goals)! What does each of your pupils want from their music? Do you know? Why not discuss this with them at their next lesson? This is essential information. Personally, I write electronic lesson notes with the “Notes” app that comes bundled with every iPad. This allows me to permanently include a line at the top of their lesson notes under the caption “Goals” of their medium and long-term aims. It is easy to edit their goals from time to time as other opportunities come their way or as their ambitions increase. These medium to long-term goals act as a carrot that constantly dangles in front of them, driving them ever forward and higher!

What “stepping stones” have you found to encourage pupils to move forward? Please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear your ideas…


See other posts by Reuben Vincent


About the Author

Reuben Vincent
Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!


  1. Robin Steinweg

    Reuben, you nailed it again! Good article. This year I had students start creating their own goals for each piece assigned. Sometimes they even set more ambitious goals than I would.

    Who publishes “The Really Easy Piano Solo Series”? I like to have students choose at least one of the pieces on which they’re working.

  2. Reuben Vincent

    Ah thanks Robin. I’ll send the link via email. For some reason this field won’t let me paste the link sorry

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