Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Christmas Break Practice Motivation

We all know that without the extra motivation and accountability from the teacher, students tend to take a break from the piano as well as lessons.  This can be dangerous, in that students will forget what they have learned rather than continue to be challenged in fun and educational ways at the piano.  So, how can we, as teachers, motivate and inspire our students to continue to learn, practice, and enjoy the piano when they are on vacation?!  ?

1.    Check out Mike Saville’s article blog on for ideas on “Holiday Practice Projects” for some great ideas.

2.    Another idea… have your students listen to Christmas music and write a short paragraph about what they hear… *time signature, *instruments, *moods & musical imagery, *dynamic contrasts and the use of music items, such as staccato, slurs, and fermatas.  Perhaps they can look up the origin and composer of the piece and possibly the story behind the actual song.  These ideas can apply to classical music as well.  Perhaps give a prize ($2.00 gift certificate to Baskin Robbins or Blockbuster) to the student who finishes the most projects/songs.

3.    My students love to come up with games.  They especially enjoy when a game they have created or made up is included in my private lesson sessions with the other students!  By encouraging your students to come up with their own ideas and to create, imagine, and organize those ideas, you are challenging them to stretch themselves in their musical abilities.  Their confidence and self-esteem at the piano and in music in general is boosted in a very special and motivating way.  A fun game for everyone I’ve taught is… play with your eyes closed!  Often, they are amazed at what they can do without looking!

4.    If your instrument can be moved from room to room (obviously, pianos should not be moved if possible), a change of scenery (brass, string, & wind musicians enjoy something “different”) can be the extra boost of enthusiasm and motivation… where else can I play today?  Bathroom, kitchen (with mom’s permission), family room, bed room, storage closet, garage, outdoors in the snow (probably not), anywhere!  Remember the poem, “Cats Sleep Anywhere”?  “Musicians Play Everywhere!”

5.    Encourage the parents and family members to have their little one put on concerts for family and friends.  They should sit in the room with the instrument often… I always play better and enjoy what I’m doing when someone is there to listen.  Otherwise, playing a musical instrument can be a very lonely experience.

6.    Ask your students to review all the basics… everything they’ve learned from all their previous books and songs.  I used to go through all my old method books during Christmas break.

7.    Assign your students extra Christmas pieces during the break (let them pick the songs) and encourage them to perform them on Christmas day.  ?

I hope these helped…
Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions to add.  Everyone can benefit from your ideas!
Have a wonderful and very merry Christmas!
~Kristin Phillips

About the Author

Kristin Phillips
Kristin has been studying piano since the age of 6 and with the guidance of her family and teachers, began teaching others by 14. After pursuing pedagogy in piano and business administration for a short time - to be continued at a later time, she transferred to studying church music ministry at Portland Bible College. She enjoys editing her website, writing in her spare time, teaching piano stud... [Read more]


  1. Mike Saville

    Hi Kristin, Thanks very much for the mention.

    I love the breaks between terms (or semesters) and the chance it gives me as a teacher to set something different to the usual practice for my students.

    It also keeps them on their toes and gives them something to look forward too – they never quite know what I’ve got in store for them . . 🙂

  2. Leah Coutts

    Hi Kristin,

    I especially like number two – I’m in the middle of writing a blog on Active Listening… stay tuned…

    as a teacher, I also enjoy the break as it gives me extra time for my own playing, when I would ordinarily be teaching.

  3. Amy Chaplin

    Thanks for the ideas! I’ll definitely take #3 away as a new idea for next year. I’m not so creative on the game front but perhaps having a “create a musical game” competition would be a good way to get some creative ideas right from my own students!

  4. Kristin Phillips

    Hi Mike, Leah, & Amy,

    Thank you very much for your comments!

    I agree! This has been a much longer break in my studio (we were snowed in or out the week before the break officially started). In all, we have almost a month off! So far, all my students have been taking the time to prepare programs of Christmas songs to play for their families on Christmas day. I am working on new ideas for the studio and practicing music of my own. It is very nice to have the break, but I will be glad to see them all again! 🙂 It is hard to regularly practice… I joke that my students have a total of 17-20 hours a week at the piano and I have a difficult job finding time to practice even a total of 5 hours a week! I love taking advantage of any time available… Christmas is perfect and family love to hear you play. Students love to hear what the teacher is doing over the break too. Perhaps send an email to those in your studio explaining what you are covering in your own practice sessions. 🙂 It can be an inspiration and encouragement to all who hear! 🙂

    Listening exercises are great for Christmas time! Christmas songs are already being played in nearly every home this time of year and are an easy resource (and no excuses!) for students everywhere to listen, analyze, and enjoy what they hear. 🙂

    #3 – Oh yes! Often, when I run out of ideas, I’ll award points to my students for coming up with ideas. 🙂 There is no end to their creativity and imagination! When students are inspired and love their lessons, they are also eager to please. It is a good learning experience for them to participate in helping move the studio along. Keep a record of the students who played your students’ games, too. 🙂 It becomes a contest of sorts… and extra motivation for new ones! My studio is very open to ideas and the students are able to feel a part of everything that happens. I have a suggestion bag near the door, as well as magnet pads hanging on the door (for suggestions for candy & prizes to be purchased with the points they earn for various activities & accomplishments). Students get to know one another, earn student of the month awards (and have posters with Q&A sessions & pictures of themselves put up in the studio)… about a year ago, we also had a pen-pal program. So many things to do and try – there is absolutely no end to the ideas.

    I absolutely love getting feedback, as your answers & comments help others (and myself) as we strive to improve the greatest job and daily routine ever!

  5. Lynda LeCheminant

    One thing I did over break that was effective was send home a Christmas song page from June Christenson’s Key Visions: Christmas. Each page lists the rhythm, scale degree of each note, and chord symbols for a Christmas song and the student has to choose a key and notate the song on staff paper. Then they can play it over break, and for me when they return to lessons in Jan. Many students wanted to do more songs!

  6. Kristin Phillips

    Hi Lynda,

    Great idea! I know my students would love doing this. This is a wonderful way for students to reinforce the skills they have learned and apply practical knowledge and use to otherwise mundane tasks. 🙂 I love it!

  7. christmas songs

    i think number 2 is an excellent idea, im definately going to use it in the future

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