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Laurie Niles

Rewarding Practice: Creative Bribery

October 17, 2012 at 3:26 PM

As the parent of one teenager and one almost-teenager, I no longer have too many illusions about how much control or influence I have over my kids: in this season of life, pretty close to none, at least directly!

And for this reason I'm instituting a new plan, when it comes to music practice: bribery. Judge me, if you will, but the parent of a student came up with a plan that is working so well for her 13-year-old, that I must try it. Said student is now practicing every day and moving forward, after a period of treading water for a while. As her teacher, I'm loving it, and I get the feeling that she will soon start connecting her new success on the violin with her practicing.

Here's the plan: Get a jar, or piggy bank. Each time junior practices, put in a dollar (or whatever amount of $ you deem appropriate). At the end of one month, junior gets all the money in the jar. It's direct, it has no pretensions. It's one answer to the question, "Can I have money for the movies?" And the more junior practices, the bigger his/her end-of-the-month "allowance."

Piggy bank

Put the jar in an obvious place, as a reminder of the "reward" for practice.

Do I want my kid to practice for the love of music? Yes indeed. But let's be honest, the practice has to become before the love. The love happens when you get good at it. I've said before that it takes 21 days to get into the practice routine, and I still find that to be true. But sometimes everything breaks down, and you have to establish those 21 days again. Getting those 21 days can be a real struggle.

Wish me luck. Also, you can make your suggestions for making practice happen below, in case this one doesn't work!


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 17, 2012 at 5:06 PM
My 9-yo is currently getting 1-cent/minute of cello practice towards an online account that he really wants. I've felt ambivalent about these sorts of things too, but sometimes they seem to be the only way to get the kids back into a routine.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 17, 2012 at 6:00 PM
Only perfect parents (the childless) will criticize.
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 17, 2012 at 8:18 PM
Seems perfectly reasonable. Ours are still young enough that simpler things work like no reading until you have practiced. But teenagers ... that's a whole new ball game.
From Dave Bazell
Posted on October 17, 2012 at 9:11 PM
Ahh, this is so timely. I just had another talk with my almost 13yo daughter about how to get her to practice productively. I am going to try this immediately.
From Josh Reyna
Posted on October 17, 2012 at 9:36 PM
I like it! I remember hearing Perlman on an interview saying that as a young student he hated practicing. I try not to mention that to my kids though.. Lol
From Paul Kane
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 1:19 AM
are you sure that they will love the music after they are done being bribed? i don't mean to be critical but this method was used on me when i was only 12 years old. i HATED the process of music until i was 17 years old. the love of music comes from exposure at the right time. expose them and show them what others are capable of and if they love it they love it. :)
From james holmes
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 1:47 AM
Perhaps incentive gives it a more mature and optimistic meaning. Though the bribery tactic sounds tempting since most people like monetary rewards ;) Perhaps I will start putting money aside determined by duration of my practice and save it to purchase violin related products.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 2:16 AM
It's not a lack of love for music -- it's a lack of love for practicing!
From Dottie Case
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 3:48 AM
Definitely worth it. My now-almost-22-yr.-old daughter went through a period in her early teens where she hated practicing, and was very negative about symphony, etc. They just need a chance to grow up...she is a great violinist now, b/c she stuck with it while getting past the int./early advanced years. Do what works at this age... ther'll be plenty of years for them to claim it for themselves in the future.
From Annette Brower
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 1:42 PM
Do whatever works.

There's a useful book, How to Get Your Child to Practice Without Resorting to Violence. Understanding what motivates kids and their current state of maturity is vital.

If I remember correctly, Perlman said,"The hardest part about practicing is getting the violin out of the case."

I stole an idea from a friend who stole it from someone else, etc. (so I'm not sure of the origin) that I implimented this school year with my students, The Yellow Dot Club.

If you practice 7 days, you get a yellow dot on the chart that lists all the students. Simple. I am defining practice as 10 minutes of listening, preferably to the piece (s) they are studying but could be any violin music, and 1 minute of practice. That's right, 1 minute. I'm trying to teach them about focused practice. If you "don't have time", just get it out, play one piece, scale, etc. and focus on one aspect of your playing...perhaps something that needs improvement. I want them to learn how to practice effectively and consistently. And I do hope they practice more than 1 minute on most days but that is the minimum for our game.

Some kids don't care about the dots or the competition and their practice habits haven't changed one bit. But, in these cases, at least I have documentation when they say, "I'm not making any progress, when can we go to a new piece, etc."

The concept of progress, that's another topic, for another day...

BTW, if they didn't practice 7 days, they get a score indicating how much they did practice. Ex. 5/4 means they practiced 5 days and listened 4 days.

I had one parent ask, "So, what does she get"? In my mind I thought, "Are you trying to ruin my life? What do you mean what does she GET? She's learning violin and work ethic, AND etc.!!!"

I included listening because music is a language and if you are going to learn the language you have to listen. Imagine trying to learn a foreign language from the written page alone.

From marjory lange
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 4:12 PM
I think a parent probably knows his/her child best; some would respond to a monetary reward, others to having privileges suspended--and some won't respond to anything.

I do agree that a love of music is different from a love of practicing; how to bridge that difference, well...I'm one of those 'perfect parents' a previous poster mentioned, so I can't really make a valid point.

My parents left me alone; sadly, I made progress without practice for several years--not sure how that worked. Then something clicked, and practice became an adventure. That's still the case, some ?? years later.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 18, 2012 at 4:52 PM
I want to keep it positive; I don't want practice to get too much associated with "I'm taking away your video games!" Then again, I definitely understand "Do what works," because for some teens, taking away screen privileges or other privileges would be the most effective thing. Or maybe there is a way to turn it around in a positive way, like a half-hour of practicing gets you a half-hour privilege on the video game.
From Nina chernova
Posted on October 21, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Im agree with I. Perlman: "The hardestpart about practicing is getting the violin out of case".
And what about Paganini s father way ?

From Mary Carlson
Posted on October 22, 2012 at 12:21 AM
that worked for me 40 years ago. My dad wanted us to be musicians and also to learn how to manage our own money. We earned 25 cents/ hour of practice. we got an increase by high school though. I am now a professional violinist and a teacher of both violin and piano. I love music. When I decided to take it seriously...I still had it there under my fingers. I'm so grateful to my parents.

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