"No more teachers, no more books . . ." Summertime, and music teachers all over the world are wondering how to inspire good piano practice during the golden opportunity we call summer vacation. Since I have had numerous requests, one to be more precise, I'll let the secret of summer piano practice out for a second time.
It seems as though every method of getting kids to practice the piano works for the short run, just like every gimmick to get kids to do household chores is only temporary. The new incentive programs seem to supply the extrinsic rewards that promote practicing for a while, but in the end practicing is practicing again, and the motivational gimmick gets tossed to the final resting place of other practice charts, stars, smiley faces, candy bars, videos, T-shirts and coupons exempting the holder from weeding in the garden.Practicing the piano is probably like studying. For whatever reason, some kids will get to a point where practicing or studying is rewarding for its own sake. Some get good enough on the piano that they entertain themselves with their practicing and then playing the piano is more fun than an arcade game or riding aimlessly around on a bicycle just for something to do. The challenge is to get kids to the point where practicing is its own reward as quickly as possible in their musical career so that motivation to practice is no longer extrinsic to the practicing itself.
I knew that the summer practice incentive program that the Bakers stumbled on to by accident just might last the entire summer and maybe even lead to practicing for its own value when I noticed the hand-lettered sign posted on the piano, "PRACTICE OR GO NAKED."
The idea began as school was getting out for the summer, and the kids were noticing that some of their school clothes had not made it through the year. I explained that in some circles torn and worn were stylish but apparently the real good stuff is torn and worn at the factory so as not to last as long during actual wearing. At any rate, I put my foot down and said that the worn school stuff would have to last through the summer and that we'd lay in for a new supply of clothes when school started again in the fall. I even promised to buy the right labels to sew into the generic clothes to increase their value.
Somehow the promise of new school clothes and the lecture about not wasting our summer got merged. The kids asked me how much I planned to spend for school clothes next year and were surprised when we put pencil to paper and figured out what a single outfit would cost for each kid. At the same time, I was trying to talk to the kids about how summer is a good time to practice the piano because they aren't interrupted with school activities and homework assignments.
As the two ideas merged we decided that I would set aside some money for school clothes, and that each kid would get the same percent of the clothes money as the individual percent of the total practicing. Three kids were in on the deal, so if one practiced one half of the total time during the summer he would get one half of the total clothes allowance for school, and the others would get their proportionate share.
Since it is important in case of accidents to have clean underwear, I exempted underwear from the competition and promised that each would have a complimentary pair of Care Bear boxers or briefs to start school that would not count as part of the incentive program. The two kids that take PE in school balked a bit, but they all agreed in the end to the underwear exemption if I would also agree that shoes didn't have to come out of the incentive program. Smart kids. They have noticed that the old canvas Converse AllStars that were "bad for my feet" anyway now were now pumped up with air and money and required a co-signer to purchase. Besides, it only seems right for a parent to at least assure kids that they can wear Nikes and Care Bear underwear to school.
I only had to explain once how to calculate percentages. Now there seems to be at least one kid doing some calculating every evening after a long practice session. All three can figure out what percent of the total practicing they have done and calculate what percent of the money that I had planned to spend anyway that they will get to spend for school clothes.
The best moments have been the times when they have seemed to practice without regard to the incentive program. There have been a few times when kids have forgotten to mark the chart or when they haven't put time down because they were just having fun playing some old stuff. Take away the cassette system and radio. The most delightful music in the world has to be the sound of my kids having fun at the piano and the best sight not having to see them head off for school with only Care Bear briefs and high top shoes that must be worn untied.