rewards or no rewards?

Diana said: Mar 18, 2006
Diana UmilePiano
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

Do you believe in using rewards for practice? Why or why not? What are the advantages/disadvantages? If yes, what is your system?

said: Mar 19, 2006
 5 posts

My children both enjoy using a teacher’s attendance book that they have decorated with stickers (graph paper would work too). Across the top (columns) is the date, and along the side (rows) are the songs and exercises they are working on. After practicing each item, I fill in the appropriate square for date and activity with their choice of stamper marker. This way they can see their hard work and I know which review songs have been neglected recently. At the end of practice, if earned, they get a “good report” stamp over the date and one M&M. The M&M gets forgotten many times by them and me! It is clearly not the true motivator, but is helpful on those challenging days. They get to chose the M&M color when they are most cooperative. Silly, but it matters at age five! The written history of good report stamps allows us to discuss/praise how they have been handling practice. this method has been easy and successful.

Hope this helps!

How do I vote?

Mother of twins (11/16/00)
Son began cello at 3 1/2 years
Daughter began violin at 4 1/2 years

said: Mar 19, 2006
 5 posts

OK- figured it out. I did vote

Mother of twins (11/16/00)
Son began cello at 3 1/2 years
Daughter began violin at 4 1/2 years

Laurel said: Mar 19, 2006
Laurel MacCulloch
Suzuki Association Member
Langley, BC
120 posts

I’m both a Suzuki violin teacher and a Suzuki parent.

At the moment we’re using a sticker chart for my son, 4 1/2. He gets a sticker each time he practises; at the end of a row (7 squares) he gets something of his choice; he chooses at the beginning of the week. This week it will be “Go to McDonald’s”.

I like it as a visual record-keeping system. He’s not into stickers very much in and of themselves, so they’re not the reward—and he has to save up 7 stickers for the bonus.

I’m just introducing the concept of practising twice a day for 2 stickers!

Rewards are great for getting kids through low points, and as other Suzuki parents have told me, the lows can last for months sometimes. There are so many variations on this theme, and it doesn’t have to be candy or toys or the usual things we think of for rewards. For example, one article in the ASJ (I forget when, but it was called “A Parent’s Fantasy” had the students and parents each have a hard candy at the beginning of the practise. Another idea was a cup of hot cocoa or tea or something in the practise room; after 10 min. of practise (or whatever) it had cooled enough to drink.

The point here was, use the rewards when you need to, not when things are going well. An upcoming performance can be a wonderful motivator—no other reward needed.

Hope this helps!


said: Mar 20, 2006
 104 posts

I think I’m the only one who’s voting “No, never.” I would never try to convince other parents/teachers not to use rewards, though, because I know that external rewards are highly motivating for some people (children, too!). I just don’t see it that way myself. Stickers, token gifts, etc., to me are just more “junk” to collect. My own kids don’t really care about sticker charts, etc. The “reward” for good, productive practice at our house is that I will sit, listen and pay 100% attention to the child that’s practicing well. It’s time spent together that becomes the reward, I guess. I also don’t require timed practice sessions—for instance so many minutes equals a practice session. We are more goal-oriented in our practice session—some goals are easily achieved, others take more time, but the time spent is not necessarily an indicator of adequate practice.

Lorie said: Mar 20, 2006
 3 posts

Profcornelia, I’m joining you in voting “No, never.” I don’t feel I have the experience or expertise to say whether it’s a good idea for others to use extrinsic rewards, but my own 5-year-old appears to be better off without them. She seems motivated by her own progress. For instance, if we work hard on bow hold all week, she is excited to see the improvement in her bow hold by the end of the week. She is thrilled when something that seemed hard at the beginning of the week becomes easier after a week’s worth of practice.

After my daughter had been playing for about 6 months, one of her teachers started giving her a sticker after each lesson. Then I was appalled to see my daughter start each lesson by begging for a sticker and continuing to ask for them during the lesson. She had always been self-motivated before and suddenly it seemed that the idea of the sticker was distracting her from the rewards of her own playing. Luckily the teacher stopped after a few weeks, and finally my daughter forgot about the stickers.

We use some of the standard approaches to get her interested and aware of her own progress: videotaping her for instance, and having her watch herself in the mirror sometimes to see her posture, bow hold, angle of bowing, etc. We celebrate small victories: a left-hand pinkie that’s not curling up (so much) under the fingerboard, for instance, or a bumpy thumb. When I’m pretty excited about it, she gets pretty excited, too.

I’m sure each kid is different, though, so I wouldn’t presume to generalize.

said: Mar 25, 2006
 6 posts

Being a Suzuki parent (they call us “home teachers,” right?) has been the biggest challenge to my creativity ever. Thinking up ways to keep practice interesting and engaging, including many and varied rewards, has kept me on my toes. Here are some of the things I have done:

Create a board game where each time successfully played through a section child gets to advance so many spaces, and the space might say something like “Skip ahead to May Song” or “Get a hug from Mom” or “Play a C scale 3 times” or “go back one square.” Some of these games got quite elaborate!

Create a chart with all repertoire pieces listed. Child gets a tiny sticker each time she plays a piece “recital style” for mom and dad (standards very high to get sticker here). Chart is brought out when child asks, and thinks she is ready to go for it. When chart is full go to the bookstore together, or do some other fun activity together of child’s choice.

Drop a chocolate chip into child’s mouth after some good practice progress. Maybe one for each section—technique, repertoire, review and refine, current piece… Not a lot, just a sweet taste.

Keep a batch of small colored magnetic blocks on hand during practice. Each time a piece or section is played well, mom adds a block…see how tall the tower can get before it falls down.

Bring out all the stuffed animals and do an animal concert—this is a oldie but goodie.

Change the setting. It is lovely to practice outdoors on a warm summer evening, or on a breezy patio in the shade on a hot day. Or put on a fire in the fireplace for a cozy winter practice.

Play by candlelight. This was a favorite. I let her pick out a special candle at the store, like a scented votive or something like that, and then we’d light it at the beginning of each practice and put it out at the end. Turn off most of the other lights in the room for the best effect. The longer practices lasted, the sooner the candle burned down, and the sooner she got to choose another candle!

I’m sure there are more. Now that my daughter is older and really feeling her skill, she understands the need for practice for its own sake, though now and then we still like to think up fun stuff to do to keep the daily routine from getting too routine, so to speak. I don’t think she’s been damaged by these rewards, and it definitely helped us keep going through some of the tough times.

said: Mar 26, 2006
 104 posts

christyldc—I love your suggestions—I’ve never heard of the candle idea and I really like that one and plan to try it soon. I remember during a power outage last summer, our family played piano and violins by candlelight and it was very, very nice.

The doll and stuffed animal audience IS an oldie but a goody. We hadn’t done that one in ages, and I tried it again today after reading your post, and it still worked its charm. We improvised by making the dollies and teddies “ask” questions, and a few of them were naughty and exhibited inappropriate audience behavior, which really amused the girls.

So, it’s great to keep these ideas coming! But, I will add that I don’t consider these “rewards.” They’re just fun ideas and they are part of the magic that emerges when parents and children make music together. Rewards, to me, are tangible objects which are given in exchange for a desired behavior, and I’m still cold on that idea. To me, rewards evolve into a specific tit-for-tat exchange—i.e. “if you practice for 10 minutes, you get a sticker” or a piece of candy or whatever. Ultimately, I think this can backfire because the parent will need to up the ante, or the kid will just come to the point where he looks at the “reward” and thinks, “not worth it, so I guess I won’t practice.” And then what? The parent must sweeten the reward pot. Never-ending cycle. And the kid may never get to the point where he realizes that music is rewarding in and of itself. The reward is the great feeling you get inside—it comes from you.

said: Mar 26, 2006
 2 posts

Thanks so much christyldc! I am keeping a little binder with index cards with practice ideas. I’ve added these. They’re great. :D

As far as rewards go, I have not completely figured out my point of view on this. This might seem like a bizarre comparison to some of you, but I do know that using rewards for potty training was very successful with my three year old, and once using the toilet was a habit, we were able to let the rewards go. He has a great deal of pride now in his ability to handle this “task” all by himself, and I am hoping that once violin becomes a habit he feels confident about, that we can let the rewards go this time, too!

said: Mar 27, 2006
 9 posts

I understand and appreciate the point that distinguishes between a “reward” and “fun.” But as a parent who periodically starts to pull out her hair trying to get practicing done, I think one would need to distinguish between “item rewards” and other kinds of rewards, including “fun.” At first I only thought of “items” and tried small tidbids of rubber and plastic. I tried it and it didn’t work for my child and it didn’t feel right to me (but if it had worked, I imagine it would have felt fine to me!). I changed tactics. In fact, I think it would be great to have folks write in all of their “fun” tactics so we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel. I have written down the ones mentioned in a previous message.

My son loves puzzles, numbers, and designs, so at times when he becomes resistant to practicing I have done the following (at age 6):

We have used numbers 1-6 to represent each of 6 songs to play and then he rolls a die.

I wrote the names of current and review songs on a piece of paper. Next to each song title I put a sticker representing the song (e.g. stickers of countries or athletic teams or whatever interests the child). Each time he played a song, he drew a line from that song to the next song to the next, in colored pencil. A cool design is the result. All “countries” (or a certain number of them) have to be “visited” or all ” teams” have to “rooted for” each day.

I drew shapes, one for each song. Then I drew lots of little lines inside each shape. Whenever he practiced a song, he would use a colored pencil to color in one of the small spaces within the shape for that song. He asked me to guess which color he planned to use, so that added to the game. Again, he likes designs, so each day he enjoyed that the designs were becoming more colorful.
The above two methods unfortunately took up extra time in between song-playing, so I changed it to doing the coloring after the whole practice was over.

I have also resorted to what seems more like a “tangible” reward. We used a sticker chart and after 30 days of good practicing, he and I could cook-up any recipe he wanted from our kids’ cookbooks. Another time the stickers added up to a trip to a rollerskating rink.

After each game or reward system, the need on his part for any “reward” or extra fun disappears for awhile. Until the next time that he gets frustrated with his progress. . .

Amy said: Mar 28, 2006
 9 posts

You know the Jewish tradition of dipping a finger in honey for a young child to taste when hearing scripture, so that they learn that “learning is sweet” ?

That’s why I have a jar of hard candy; not as a reward, more as an association. EVERYone gets a piece after a lesson, including parents (that drove you here) and siblings (that listened patiently) Adolescents that come in looking droopy from a tough school day get one before, too (get that blood sugar up…) TWO pieces if they had standardized testing that day.

The one “reward” I do use is this:

“Jamie, you played that so beautifully that I completely forgot to listen as a teacher—I just listened and enjoyed it, because YOU took care of all of the learning/technique/vigilance and nothing but the music came through.

THAT was a true performance, and a performance deserves flowers. When you leave, go to the bouquet on the side table and choose one to take with you.”

Kids of ALL ages react to this. Sometimes I choose. The other day a student FINALLY nailed third position in tune, and she got the big lily.

(BTW, most of my kids are hybrid Suzuki/trad, and many of them are “repair jobs” from an inadequately funded public school program, so the idea of performance-level playing is quite foreign to them.)

said: Mar 28, 2006
 38 posts

This is a fabulous thread. I am getting so excited by all the different ideas mentioned here.

My own four year old needs some kind of external validation right now- we’re in the middle of polishing the Twinkles, and it’s hard for her. But it’s amazing how much good work and good will I can get from her just by placing a life saver candy on the music stand, then telling her htat after we do our Twinkle Practice, we’ll do bow games and if she can do them with the Life Saver still on the tip of the bow, she can eat the Life Saver.

It has also really worked in the past few days to have her play one time through by herself, then one time through with me accompanying her on piano or violin. She is thrilled with how it sounds with the piano, and loves to play with “Mommy Violin (mine) and Baby Violin (hers)”

She also loves stickers. In the past, we’ve done stickers for every time she plays a Twinkle Variation, and we got a whole sheet full of very colorfuls tickers that she loves to pull out and show people. We’ve also colored in different parts of the practice chart, like someone else suggested. She’s recently obsessed with coloring, so I tihk we might have to bring that out again.

I know that we won’t always be using tangible rewards like this, but I also think that little things like Lifesaver bow games, sticker charts, etc get us closer to practice happily everyday, which makes us happy.

Diana said: Mar 30, 2006
Diana UmilePiano
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

Mostly parents have replied, and no teachers have described reward systems that they use. Are there any teachers out there who use rewards, and if so, could you describe them? Thanks.

said: Mar 30, 2006
 6 posts

Hi I am a parent… but I have found a reward that my children’s teachers seem to approve of.


The candle is lit when the child and parent begin practice. It continues to burn as long as the child practices and is polite (or at least not rude) to the parent. If the child does happen to get a little cheeky then the candle is snuffed out BUT the practice continues.

Once a candle has burned down then the child is able to redeem the “candle” for a reward such as a paperback book, a pack of gum, 45 minutes of uninterrupted video games etc.

I have found that this helps the child to find the desire to practice something just a little bit more… because more of the candle will burn down and they will be closer to a reward.

btw…I use medium length taper candles from Ikea.

Melissa said: Apr 1, 2006
 151 posts

As a teacher, I have a small box of stickers and the box just sits there on top of a corner table. I fill it every 2 weeks or so with different kinds of stickers. After my student has their lesson with me, they can if they wish, pick out 1 sticker from the box. Most of them put the sticker on their notebook. It is really neat to see all the different sticker designs and “stories” they come up with when putting their once a week sticker on their notebook. Some count their stickers to see how many lessons they’ve had, which is also fun.
I remember when I was little, I got the old-fashioned star sticker that you lick to have it stick. I got one on my music book from my teacher every time I learned a piece. I felt it was an accomplishment to get this star. It did feel good.
As a parent, I am in agreement with profcornelia and musicmom.
I think a once a week “reward” like a sticker from the teacher makes lessons non-threatening and fun. I do not think though that parents need to do this at home. Too much is not good and is not necessary.
I do like the creative practice ideas though, which I do not think of as “tangible” rewards.

Melissa said: Apr 1, 2006
 151 posts

Candles seem to be a big hit with families.
Here is another one that is fun for parents and children: light one votive for each piece played well or section, or what ever the goal is. Soon the room will be lit with 50 candles or more!!
Just make sure to extinguish the candles before leaving the room!

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