Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Reward Idea for Students: Music Money

I just could not figure out what to write this week, so I have decided to give away my biggest secret to keeping my students excited. I may regret this, but I think everyone deserves to know the great big mystery to how I keep so many students for so many years.  Is it my fabulous teaching style? Is it my musical talent? Is it my charm? Sighhhh. Well I certainly hope that students think those things, but the answer to all is no. The secret is the music money. I had my graphic designer husband make up a sheet of dollars with musical symbols on them.  Students earn them by winning musical games that I play with them, practicing consecutively, and passing “quizzes”. The kids go mad for these things because once they earn 10 they can “buy” something from a prize basket I keep stashed in my car (I’m a traveling teacher).  The trick is to not make it too easy to earn them, but also to not make it too difficult. I aim for giving at least 2 away in each lesson. That way they have something to look forward to. I understand that some may criticise this as being a bribe, but who cares? They all love music deep down inside, but some are a little lazier than others and just need a little push. The music money is like candy to them. They will do anything for the music money, even practice.

If you want to make your own music money, take a real dollar and copy it on a copy machine. Next you will want to cut out an image of your favorite musical symbol and paste it over George Washington on the photo copy. Make another copy onto green paper.

About the Author

Bella Payne
While working on a degree in Sociology with plans to become a Social Worker, I fell into teaching piano lessons as a way to pay my bills. I had no idea I was stumbling into a totally fulfilling, creative and exciting career! Every day, I teach several students in their homes, in my home, and online how to play piano from scratch. Over the last 10 years, I have seen kids and adults go from timid b... [Read more]


  1. Patricia Neufeldt

    I’m curious to know what kinds of prizes you keep in your stash!

  2. Michelle Payne

    Lots of dollar store items like baseballs, sticker books, toy cars, stuffed animals, and junk jewelry. Anything I see that I know the kids will like. They love squishy balls and stuffed animals especially.

  3. Ronnie Currey

    Thanks for a great idea. I have a snack box that kids drop 75 cents and grab a snack. That could be a way to get free snacks. There are so many possibilities. And I do agree that this is a great motivator, as I have a bucket of Dum Dums they quickly goto after a lesson. You are a very good and creative author! Keep up the good work.

  4. Michelle Payne

    Oh yes, candy is much better than toys. If I didn’t live in southern california, candy would be in the game with me. The parents here don’t go for it though 🙂

  5. Russ

    I use poker chips (the cheap plastic set from the dollar
    store) to reward my students for EVERYTHING they do. White
    chips are worth 1 point each; green chips are worth 5 points
    each; red chips are worth 25 points each; blue chips are
    worth 125 points each. It takes 5 whites to trade up to a
    green… etc. Once they get 5 blue chips, THEN they get
    into my toy box.

    As for the toys, I spend as little as possible. If you have
    kids of your own, try decluttering some of the older toys
    from around the house. If you’re like me, you’ll be AMAZED
    at how many toys your kids have that they won’t mind to part
    with. Just make sure they’re clean and in decent shape.

    Tell your student’s parents that you’ll be glad to recycle
    their toys, too. You’ll probably never have to buy toys

    Getting back to the poker chips, it often takes several
    weeks to get the 5 blue chips – enough to get into the toy
    box. This teaches delayed gratification as well as how to
    focus on longer term goals.

    However, I also have “Bonus” rounds during my class –
    special times when students can earn extra points or even an
    “Automatic” entry into the toy box. You can use the bonus
    round to reward work done especially well. Sometimes you
    can use it as a bribe to get students to do things they
    don’t enjoy. I make it up as I go and it’s a TON of fun for
    both myself and the student!

    For the bonus round, I take four quarters and have the
    students call out heads, tails or a combination. I flip the
    four coins all at once and line them up in front of the
    chips. If the student called ‘heads’ and the result was
    heads, tails, tails, heads, they would earn a white chip and
    a blue chip. Remember my order is white, green, red, blue.
    If they call out the exact combination, they are
    automatically ‘in the box’!

    Well, the possibilities are literally ENDLESS. I’ve been
    using the poker chips and four quarters for the past two
    years and it NEVER gets old because I keep thinking of
    bribes, challenges and game variations all the time.

    For example, if we learn a song together, the students get
    the regular amount of points – typically one point for each
    line of the song. If the student goes home and learns a
    song completely on his own, you can award double or triple
    his points.

    The main POINT (pardon the pun) is, you get great results
    while everyone is having fun.

  6. Ann Clem

    Call it bribes or motivational tricks, if it works do it! I try to keep my prizes musically oriented…3-fold music dictionaries, pencils, composer bookmarks, post-it notes and inexpensive stuffies or “freebies” that come through the mail. My rewards are based on doing a certain amount of practice each week and doing certain assignments I give from their Piano Explorer. Keep it simple!

  7. Alex

    Thank you, Michelle – for sharing your ‘secret’ to willingly! INGENIUS! There is much to be said about a ‘legal bribe’ to motivate (dare I say, ENTICE) students into doing what they NEED to do to become a better musician. I certainly have seen it work first-hand!
    I was even mentored by a renowned teacher who advocated this, and encouraged PARENTS to give real money to their children to help them achieve musical goals. I say, GO FOR IT!
    In a day where young musicians are stretched in a hundred different directions, getting them to develop ‘stickability’ at the piano is certainly a challenge. We ought to do anything we can to ensure that their journey in learning music continues to be a fun and engaging one.
    Thanks again, Michelle – for your contribution. Do drop by my blog sometime at the OMEA Coach Blog and be my guest! Success be yours always.

  8. Michelle Payne

    Russ– great idea! Very economical too. I am going to have to pass this idea on to my student’s parents. I like the idea of not paying for them!

  9. Debra

    Great ideas. I keep a bowl of Tootsie Rolls on the piano. If a lesson has gone well, they get one Tootsie Roll on their way out. Of course, it’s with the parents okay for the candy.

  10. Vanessa

    Very good idea.


    I do music money but only in Jan- Feb when they are in a slump. At the end of the 8 weeks, they get to go shopping and spend their money. I have the dining room set up like a mini store. They practice more and we all have fun. tonim

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