When students have developed a love for music, there is no need for practice incentives. Many piano students are young, and as children, they respond well to enjoyable activities. I don't see any harm in creating anticipation for the next practice, as it promotes fond memories between parent and child.
"Rewards and incentives need to be in keeping with the desired task, and should be used sparingly. Promising a child a horse if he learns a Bach Minuet, for example, is not in keeping with the task!" - Susan Kempter
Practice that seems dry, routine, or boring can be pepped up in countless ways. Mommy, Can We Practice Now? by Marie C. Parkinson, has many wonderful ideas and games to stimulate home practice.
- Dr. Suzuki, in his book, Nurtured by Love, page 99, talked about playing a game with his students. "I want you to answer my questions while you go on playing. Answer in a loud voice, and don't stop playing." Then, in a loud voice he'd ask, "How many legs have you?" If the child can respond while playing correctly without missing a beat, it means that the skill has been properly inculcated and has become second nature. If a child is so intent on playing that he does not reply, playing has not yet become second nature. Or, if he replies, he may stop playing or play incorrectly. Ask many different questions and the child will answer while playing. Every single child, without fail, gets so he can do this. We are able to do all sorts of tasks while we speak English because it is second nature. It is exactly the same with the piano.
- "Practice" or "Play" rocks. Find flat, round stones (about 10 in all), and paint smiling faces, half with eyes open, half with eyes shut. Each review piece is represented by a rock. The eyes open = PRACTICE ROCK, means the parent can help and correct during that piece. The eyes closed = PLAY ROCK, means parent listens and enjoys, but may NOT say anything. One day, the child chooses which pieces to play each way. The next day, the parent chooses.
- Make a "Piano Practice Grab Bag" with things to be practiced so the child does what he picks out. It can include a learned skill, ie: count a dotted-half note, the name of a learned piece, or a review piece. (Don't include things that the child hasn't yet learned).
- Throw a dice to know how many times to repeat.
- Fill a penny jar for each repeat.
- Put a star on the calendar for each day of good cooperation. Your child needs to know clearly beforehand what you mean by cooperation (no talking back, using a pleasant tone of voice, doing what is asked without arguing, being in rest position when not playing.) Agree with your child before hand that if they get a certain number of stars in a row, they can have an agreed upon reward.
- "Mommy's Store" is a box of simple, inexpensive items the children particularly like (Dollar Store quality), or promissory coupons: "play two-square with mom," "an ice-cream cone with dad," etc.) As they get older and are able to count money, they can earn play money to purchase their fun stuff from Mommy's Store.
- Keep the practice sessions short and happy (within the child's attention capacity).
- Fill-in your practice chart everyday together. If possible, let your child put in the X's, checks, or stickers so they can see what they have accomplished.
- Make a cassette or a video tape of the practice so your child can hear & see himself.
- Make a tape of review pieces and send to a relative.
- Plan a Book 1 celebration party. Invite friends, stuffed animals, relatives, etc. Make a program and decorate it and copy for all present; or list of pieces to be performed on a chalk board. Have friends select which one is played next, then erase the piece until all are performed; or place a small piece of paper with the name of each piece on it into a balloon. Invite a gues to pop a balloon to determine which piece will be performed next.
- Parent purchases a small plant for the piano studio. The child waters the plant after each lesson and watches it grow. (Parents, please purchase a sturdy plant!)
- Light a birthday candle and have that be the length of a practice session. Use a trick candle for older students!
- Throw dice, the number on the dice indicates the number of the piece to be played. A fun review game.
- String macaroni, or Cheerios, or Fruit Loops on yarn for each good practice session, then wear the necklace or bracelet. Or string one marker for each good review piece, scale, etc. and make the jewelry in one day.
- Line up stuffed animals and do one repetition for each one.