Instead of earning for practice days, they will earn bucks for completed pieces. I have 3 levels of achievement here. They can earn $1 for a piece learned “acceptably,” $2 for a piece learned “very well,” $3 for a piece learned “excellently,” and $5 if it’s memorized. I’ve given specific criteria for each level. So, if they don’t practice sufficiently to pass on their piece, they aren’t going to earn anything. This also addresses the problem of the child who spent lots of time sitting at the piano playing their mistakes over and over instead of practicing effectively. Students can also earn bucks for technique exercises, scales and such, sight-reading, learning independent pieces, passing computer theory quizzes, writing composer reports, attending group classes, and performances.
As a theme, I’m using Natalie’s “Climbing the Ladder to Success” which I purchased but have tweaked a good bit to make it my own. The students each have an envelope with their name on it for the Music Bucks, and they’ll move a little representative figure up a ladder poster. (I'm using little die-cut people shapes, also from the teacher supply store.) By the way, Natalie comes up with great ideas for incentive programs! I’ve used her “Let's Have A Ball" before, and the whole studio enjoyed it!
I like the idea of a party as a reward. It promotes camaraderie within the studio, and in general, I prefer rewards that are mostly a symbol rather than something something that has a monetary value. The real reward should be the satisfaction of having done good work. I've used composer busts, but the kids didn't particularly care about them. I gave out gift cards for a double-dip at Bruster's once, but the party is more social and fun. I like field trips, but I’m afraid to use them as rewards. If a student is sick and misses a special trip, it could result in terrible disappointment. If he misses the sundae party, I can serve him a sundae at a lesson.
The more I think about it, the happier I am about not using a practice log. There’s one exception to my plan. I have 3 first-graders starting this year. I’ll give them shapes on their assignment page to color in each time they practice, and I think they'll benefit from seeing a visual representation of their new practicing habit. But for the others, all but one of which are 3rd grade or older, I’ll do what I finally resorted to last year. I got a much better idea of how their practicing had gone by simply asking, “How hard did you find it to learn this piece? Was it easy, a little bit challenging, or difficult? Did you have to come back to it many times or did you get it down quickly?” The truth nearly always came out in the conversation that ensued, and it keeps the emphasis in the right place – on mastery of the piece, not the time. A conversation is so much more human than a check on a chart. A practice log is interpreted by them, and too often used by me, as a way to micromanage. I’m a very good micromanager, but I’m trying to learn not to be! It may not be right for everyone, but I think that throwing out the practice log will be right for my studio.
Photo by sarahR89