Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Should You Pay Students to Practice?

Most students need motivation to move forward. My theory is that if one loves the musical selection, the motivation will follow. However, the long journey towards transforming a favorite piece into a successful performance can often frustrate, dampen spirits and lessen the attraction.

Let’s be honest–why do we work? Because we love it? Perhaps, but back in the fast-food-job days, I worked for that paycheck. With the demanding, repetitious practice required during the “transformation period” an incentive or a “paycheck” can prove helpful. Music Money, created by TCW Resources, sparked my curiosity years ago and I continue to see the benefits of paying students for practice and progress (and so do my students!)

 Ways to Pay that Can Make Huge Dividends

1. All students receive $20 each week IF all 5 bubbles in front of each assignment on the assignment sheet are colored in.  This shows me my instructions were followed and practiced 5 times since the last lesson.

2. If there is a new concept to master I like to challenge with cash. For example, when working with Kyle to make lovely shaped phrases, he was offered $5 for softening the end of each slur. After listening to my example, Kyle rose to the challenge, watched for the end of every slur, softened them with a gentle wrist lift and added $35 to his stash.

3. A favorite office supply product–post-it arrows–proves profitable for all. These are placed near a measure on the page that is tricky or error-prone and warrants discussion at the lesson. When the student returns for the next lesson, the pianist must remind me what the arrow signified and play the section/note correctly. Each arrow is worth $5 and sometimes a page can be plastered with arrows so the payout is big!

4. Once a piece is mastered and error-free, it needs to stay that way. To build reliability, students are asked to play a piece (or section) 20 times perfect. Students keep a tally on a post-it and if they return with 20 tallies, they earn $50.

5. Lessons are always filled with questions so if a question is answered correctly OR if the pianist speaks with particularly amazing intelligence (!) $5 is added to the stack of bills.

6. Each time a pianist participates in a studio performance opportunity or performs at school, church, etc, they receive $50-$100.

7. Group lessons are filled with games and opportunities to reward with cash and bonuses.

8. Each bill features a picture of a great composer providing opportunities to introduce great musicians of the past.

9. When drilling a tricky phrase it is fun to place a bet. Once students hear “Twenty bucks if you can play that phrase with zero errors” they eagerly rise to the challenge and drill the phrase until it is perfect.

10. Dynamic markings are often overlooked.  Offering $5 for each one I hear in a performance heightens awareness in the eyes and ears of the performer.

Meant to be Spent

If there’s money burning a hole in an assignment binder pocket, it must be spent. So, once a quarter I set up a store stocked with candy, toys, sheet music, jewelry, gadgets, etc. Students arrive unaware of market day and drop their music bags to eagerly count their money. A timer is set for 5 minutes to browse as the shopping experience for some can take a great deal of time. Some enjoy bargaining, others always seem to overspend (and ask for financing!) and the misers save their dough.

It Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Invest in Music Money and see long term results. You can find your cash at  TCW Resources, published by Neil A. Kjos Music Company.  The company crafts countless creative even “wacky” games and theory books that enage students in fun and theory! (FYI: You’ll get a kick out of the origin of the acronym “TCW“)

I use many TCW Resources materials and recommend them all. Their products are packed with a delightful sense of humor, dynamic illustrations and solid theory tools that are SOUND investments for your studio.





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  1. Ed Pearlman

    It took me a few paragraphs to realize you were talking about play money! I was thinking…how much does she charge for these lessons??!!

  2. Kerri Green

    So many great ideas! I’ve used Music Bucks for many years, but they’re imaginary (I keep track of them on a tally sheet in their assignment book), and we have an end of the year auction where they bid against each other for all kinds of loot. I haven’t been nearly as imaginative as you in ways to earn them. I love your suggestions.

  3. […] Article: Should You Pay Your Students To Practice? […]

  4. auction

    I can see that you have great ideas and I wish you a good luck in the future!

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