Posts tagged A Fun Week of Teaching Music

7 Keys That Turn On Inward Motivation


I’ve been reading a lot about motivation lately, and have found seven ‘keys’ to motivation.  When we teachers use these keys, we are able to help switch on that wonderful inner motor, intrinsic motivation, which drives the desire to learn.

Meet Morgan.  He’s seven years old and has been learning piano for four months.  He is so positive at lessons and is really motivated to practise piano and do his Easy Notes theory at home.  Two weeks ago he came to his lesson and said, with a little smile on his face, “I’ve done a bit more theory than I was supposed to.”  He couldn’t wait for me to open his theory book and find out that he had done twelve pages!

Then the next week, when I opened his theory book, I found out that he had done another twelve pages!

I talked to his Mum about it recently.  She said she’ll often walk in to the room and find he’s doing his theory, and she’ll pretend to growl at him, saying, “What?  Doing music again when you could be watching T.V.?”  He thinks it’s a great joke.  One time she asked him why he’s doing so much music and he said, “I just really like it.”

Here’s a video of Morgan and I in a piano lesson a few weeks ago:

So why does Morgan like learning piano so much, and what is it that’s motivating him?

1. CHALLENGE – “provide challenge”

  • Suggest challenges to rise to, inspire goal setting.  Show what’s possible when you work hard.
  • If this results in students setting personal goals, this can be an important source of motivation

In his first piano lesson I told Morgan about a boy I was teaching, who is a few years older.  He has always practised consistently at home, and is playing at Grade 4 level.  I played a song to Morgan that this boy was playing at the time, “Clocks” by Coldplay.  I didn’t know it would have such an effect on Morgan, but his Mum told me he thought it was wonderful.  He loves music and often listens to music on the iPod, and is really motivated by the thought that if he works hard at piano, in a few years he could be playing songs like “Clocks”.

2.  RELEVANCE – “show relevance”

  • When students see the relevance of what they are being asked to do, they understand its purpose, and they recognise that it is enabling them to achieve their personal goals.

Morgan’s Mum told me that for the first few weeks he found piano difficult, but she told him that I want him to practise so that it will become easy. So when he got to the end of his first piano book a few months later, she got him to go back and play some of the early pieces and he realised how easy they now were.  She pointed out that it was practice and learning the notes that eventually made those pieces easy for him and enabled him to play much harder music.

Also, at the beginning his mind was going a mile a minute and I could see he was only half-listening when we did Easy Notes, but from the third lesson he started to really focus on it.  Eventually that day he said, “Mum says if I do my theory I’ll learn the notes and that will help me to play the piano.”

His Mum really helped him to realise the relevance of practising and doing theory, that this was the way to fulfill his goal, which is to become good at playing the piano.  This also shows how valuable parents’ input at home is!


  • Fun helps to energise and engage the student, and when they are able to actively participate in learning by physically moving and engaging with content, this greatly increases fun.

Morgan is so keen to learn all the notes and loves the active participation with the character magnets, putting them on the piano and the stave.  It’s fun, and is a lot like fitting pieces of a puzzle together.  And the more notes he learns, the more of the “puzzle” he can do, and the faster he can do it.

4.  CURIOSITY – “arouse curiosity”

  • In our teaching we need to look for ways to arouse our students’ curiosity; this gives them the desire to know more.

Morgan is so curious to know what all the notes are and how the “puzzle” all fits together.  When he puts all the magnets he knows on the stave or the piano and there’s a gap, he wants to know what the note is.  And if he sees some of the magnets that we haven’t done yet he’ll ask what they are and wants to know when he’s going to learn them.

5.  COMPETENCE – “build confidence”

  • Human beings gain a sense of satisfaction when they can do things well, and doing something well makes them want to do more of it.

Morgan really enjoys working through his theory books, doing much more than expected, and becoming very good at reading the notes.  In the video he says “I think it’s fun learning all the notes that I’m supposed to learn quite a while from now, so I just rush on.  I want to get into it and learn all the rest of the notes.”

  • When students work at something and know that they are getting better at it, the feeling of growing competence is really motivating.  Realising that this improvement is a result of their effort motivates them to keep on putting in the effort.

When Morgan’s Mum showed him how far he had come in his piano playing in three months as a result of his practise and doing his theory, he realised himself that he had come a long way, and that this was the result of his own effort.  Now he is looking to the future.  The other day he said to me, “I wonder what piano book I’ll be up to in three years.  Maybe I’ll be up to Level 6 by then?  Or maybe I’ll be way past it?”

6.  RECOGNITION – “praise their effort”

  • Knowing that other people are pleased with their effort motivates students to keep working, as they know that their efforts will be noticed and appreciated by others.

Morgan’s Grandma learned piano when she was young but later wished she’d taken it further, and so she’s always praising and encouraging him, as are his parents.  His ‘external’ home environment reinforces his ‘inner’ motivation and personal goals.

Before we discuss the last key, I’d like you to meet one more of my students, Katy.  Katy started well, but it wasn’t long before she was dragging her feet when it came to practising at home.  Eventually her mother became sick of the struggle over practise, and with a heavy heart decided that Katy’s lessons would stop at the end of the term.

On the day of her last lesson I thought, ‘well, it’s the last lesson so let’s just have some fun’.  So we turned to some songs she knew, and I got her to play them an octave higher while I accompanied her on the lower octaves, and together we turned her pieces into beautiful duets.  Well, guess what?  For the first time in ages (shame on me) she enjoyed playing the piano!  And she just wanted to play those pieces over and over – she loved it!

At lunch time (I teach at a school) she asked if she could bring some friends in so we could play the songs to them, and so we did.  The friends happened to also be learning piano with me, so they also played some pieces, and then they all ended up practising the notes with the magnets and setting time challenges for putting the magnets on the stave, etc.  And “voila”, a group lesson was born.  They all begged me to let them continue it, something I am very keen to do, as I could see it really energising and sparking them all up.  Which brings me to the last key:

7.  SOCIAL INTERACTION – “provide opportunities to learn with others”

  • Learning is simply more fun when students get to learn with others.  This gives a sense of belonging.  When their learning is always done in isolation from their peers, motivation can easily wane.

As soon as her Mum picked her up after school that day, Katy began to talk about how much she loved piano, and the decision was made that she would not give up after all.

Besides the key of social interaction, you would have been able to see other “keys” turning on Katy’s motivation during that ‘last lesson’, such as relevance, in that playing to her friends gave a purpose to her learning, recognition from her friends, as they said how much they enjoyed our duets, and fun and active participation, both in playing the duets and in the note-reading games she did with her friends.  Actually, it was the fun of making beautiful music that was the turning point for Katy, and isn’t that what we music teachers are ultimately all about!  I learned a big lesson that day, and I only happened to turn that key by accident.  But now I have ‘seven keys to motivation’ jangling on my teaching ‘key ring’, and let me tell you, I plan to use them!


The “One Minute Club” – An Update


A few months ago I wrote a post about the One Minute Club, and have been meaning to write a sequel to it ever since.  Well, here it is, and it can be summed up in the statement:  “The One Minute Club is a fantastic idea!!”

A teacher told me about the idea in January – she had read about it in a book by Jane Bastien, and has been practising it herself with her pupils. 

The One Minute Club

So I converted the back of my Wilbecks Magnetic Stave into a One Minute Club, painting gold, silver and bronze sections on it, with Velcro dots for sticking on pupil’s names.  Every couple of weeks I time my pupils on the 18 note flashcards they learn in Easy Notes Level 1.  If they can name them in 30 seconds or less, I put their name in the Gold section, 45 seconds or less gets them in Silver, and 60 seconds or less, Bronze.

Well, it has been a HUGE success, very popular among all of my pupils!   It’s incredibly motivating – sometimes I can’t believe how much they are into it and how much it matters to them! 

I’m using it with about 20 of my pupils.  It’s been interesting to watch the gradual shift of the name tags from Bronze at the beginning of the year, over to Silver, and now Gold is filling up!  And boy, they all want to get into Gold!  The fastest time I’ve had so far has been 21 seconds, by an 8-year old boy.

Now some want me to time them on all 31 flashcards – I had a girl the other day name them all in 42 seconds.  Another variation I want to do is to time them playing the notes.

So, I recommend this idea to teachers with beginner pupils.  It’s very motivating, and the kids love it.  Thanks for the idea, Jody!

Janine Melanie and Julie – A Few Weeks On


Janine  – 8 years old

Lesson 16 – Janine sight-reads incredibly effortlessly, even hands together.  She can name her 18 flashcards 29 seconds, so is in the “Gold” section of the One Minute Club.  She’s up to the Alfreds song,’Happy Birthday’ in Level 1B.

Melanie  – She is only 6 years old!

Lesson 22 – I found out recently that she’s only 6 – she doesn’t turn 7 for 3 months yet!  Because she’s doing so well, I assumed that she was older.  She handles everything so easily, sight-reads new pieces easily, and is very solid in her understanding.  She can name her 18 flashcards in 41 seconds, so is in the “Silver” section of the “One Minute Club”.  She’s up to ‘Horse Sense’, the last song in Alfreds Level 1A.

Julie – 7 years old

Lesson 22 –  She’s got the note knowledge there, which is helping her to progress nicely, and, again, is able to sight-read her new songs hands together.  She can name her flashcards in 41 sec, so is also in “silver”.  Up to ‘Indians’ in Alfreds Level 1A.

This is the last report I will give on these three beginners, showing their progression in the first half a year’s tuition.  I credit Easy Notes with their ability to instantly recognise the notes on the stave (they will learn the ledger-line notes in the second half of the year), which makes sight-reading new pieces easy, and progression easy.  This has resulted in three keen pupils who love music, love music lessons, and whose mothers tell me that they love playing the piano at home. 

Pardon me, but I just have to say – I love using Easy Notes!

A Kid’s Feedback


Age: 7 years
Up to: Half way through Easy Notes Level 2

This boy asked me recently if there is a third Easy Notes book. I told him that there were only two, and he said, “You should write another one. They’re really cool. I love doing theory.”

Did you hear?? A boy loves doing theory! It’s a fact. 

I usually assign him two pages of Easy Notes theory a week, writing a “Do” at the top of each page.  He’ll often ask me for the book, turn the page, and write a “Do” at the top of the next few pages!

Then last week after his lesson, he was just about to go when he spotted my Magnetic Stave, with all the magnetic characters on it, and asked if he could put all the characters in the right place. The bell had just gone for morning-tea, so I told him I didn’t mind, but wouldn’t he rather just go and have his morning-tea break? But no, he wanted at those magnets!

So he sat there for over ten minutes arranging the magnets to his satisfaction. At one point I told him I was worried he was going to miss out on his morning-tea, but he said, “I don’t want morning-tea – I just want to do this.” 

So this must prove another fact: using the Magnetic Stave and Characters is more fun than having your morning snack and playing with your friends! Well … so it would seem!

I’m Like Crying Out for More Theory!


Last week I had a piano lesson with Pam, an 8-year old girl, during the school lunch hour, and Lydia, another 8-year old girl I teach there, decided she’d like to sit in on the lesson.  They’re both working through Easy Notes Level 2.  While I was marking Pam’s theory, Lydia mentioned that she had done four pages of theory this week, instead of the two I had assigned her, and told me she’d learnt about Mountain Goat G, and some other characters.  Then Pam’s eyebrows shot up and she said, “Are we allowed to do extra pages?  I thought you wouldn’t want us to.”  I told her sure, you can do extra if you want.  Then she said, “I’m like crying out for more pages!  I’m like, please, please give me extra theory pages!” 

It was so funny the way she reacted like that!  Needless to say, I assigned her three pages that week, instead of a meagre two, and told her she could do even more if she wanted, with my blessing!

Janine, Melanie, and Julie – An Update


Here is my first update on three beginner piano pupils I introduced last week, Janine, Melanie and Julie (see Meet Some Beginners!).

This week I had lesson 11 with Janine.  She is now practising the last three pieces in Alfreds Level 1A, meaning she has finished the book in 11 lessons!  I’m kind of in shock that 11 lessons ago I was teaching her first-lesson things, like finger numbers, and now she’s practically finished the first book!  I saw her mother as I was leaving school that day, and she told me how much Janine loves piano – as soon as she gets home from school each day the first thing she does is head for the piano to practise.  Guess I’ve got a dream pupil (yippee!!)

And the news on the one minute club is that she made it in this week, naming her 18 flashcard notes from Easy Notes Level 1 in 57 seconds.  I stuck her name-tag in the bronze section, but, naturally, she now has her sights set on silver, for which she would need to be able to name them in 45 seconds or less.

Then there’s Melanie (7 yrs old) – had her 17th lesson this week.  I taught her three more notes, so now she knows all 18 Easy Notes Level 1 notes.  I’ll give her a week for them to sink in, then I’ll time her next week.  Had a good lesson with her – she’s up to Jingle Bells now.

Last of all, Julie (just turned 7) – also her 17th lesson.  She’s the youngest of the three, but works really hard, and I must say, sight reads well.  She knows the 18 notes so I timed her for the first time, and it took her 1 minute and 6 seconds – which I think is great!

So, we’ll keep watching their progress for a while, mainly with respect to their knowledge of the notes and how that’s helping them to progress.

Meet Some Beginners!


Meet Janine.  She’s 8 years old.  So far she has had ten piano lessons, and she’s taking to it like a duck to water – i.e. she’s lovin’ it!  This week she is up to the Alfreds song called ‘Indians’, and is doing Easy Notes Level 1 page 23. 

So, through doing Easy Notes theory, she now knows 18 notes on the stave.  I couldn’t resist timing her on her 18 flashcards this week, even though three of the notes were brand-new to her.  She could name them all in 1 minute and 4 seconds, which I thought was great for the tenth lesson!  I’ll time her again next week – if she can shave those 4 seconds off her time she’ll get into the ‘one-minute club’ (see my blog on the ‘One Minute Club’) – so watch this space!

Knowing these notes so well makes it all a breeze to her.  She sight-reads effortlessly, and at home she often tries out pieces ahead of where we’re at.  It’s ‘self-propulsion’ – and I love it – it makes teaching real fun!

Meet another beginner, Melanie.  She’s 7, and we’ve had sixteen lessons now.  She’s a good girl, and she’s doing well.  She’s up to the Alfreds song called ‘Donkey’, knows 15 notes on the stave, and like Janine, sight-reads effortlessly.  I timed her this week and she could name her 15 flashcards in 42 seconds.  So, three more notes to learn, then I think she’ll make it into the one-minute club too!

One more person to meet, Julie.  She just turned 7 a few weeks ago, and is keeping about the same pace as Melanie – we’ve had sixteen lessons, she’s up to ‘Donkey’, and she knows 18 notes on the stave.  Unfortunately I forgot to time her on her flashcards – but I will next week – another reason to watch this space!

I thought we might follow the progress of Janine, Melanie, and Julie for a few blogs.  Their progress is pleasing, and I feel that through Easy Notes they have a solid foundation being built up lesson by lesson.  I’ve actually changed their names so I don’t get in trouble – you don’t meet many kids with names like Janine, Melanie and Julie these days!  But, nevertheless, they are real kids, a joy to teach, and are progressing nicely, largely thanks to Easy Notes.

So, watch this space!!

“Can I Learn a New Note Today?”


I had that question asked of me three times last Monday afternoon by three 8-year olds who are working through the Easy Notes Level 2 theory book.  One of them has just started Level 2, so knows 18 notes from Easy Notes Level 1, which takes about four months to get through – she’s a flash-card whizz and can name them in 30 seconds.  The other two are half-way through the book and know 24 notes – but still want to learn more!  They were all pleased to learn that new notes are in store for them next week, after doing some revision pages this week.

The Level 2 theory book has a lot of pages of note revision, since by then they know so many notes. These revision pages tend to be easy for them, and it’s not unusual to find that the pupil has done more pages than you assigned.  Then, every few pages, a new note or two is introduced using fun stories and characters, until the pupil can instantly recognise four octaves of notes, and can easily find any of those notes on the piano. 

This enthusiasm that the kids show for learning more and their proficiency with what they have learned so far is summarised by a quote I heard today:  “The brain remembers more when learning is fun”.  When I was a kid learning the piano, learning the notes was a bit of an arduous task – no wonder my brain didn’t remember them too well!  What a treat, now that I’m a piano teacher, that learning the notes is actually fun for my pupils, with the result that remembering the notes is easy!

Learning in Anticipation


I still find it amazing how a little boy, just turned six, can learn the notes so easily!  I’ve had this boy for seven lessons now, and have been taking him through Easy Notes Level 1, slower than usual since he is just little.  But now he’s done 9 pages, and knows all the notes on the piano really well, plus six notes on the treble stave.  This week we got up to the Alfreds song called “A Happy Song”, which is the first song using notes on the treble stave, and he was able to play it perfectly.  I just sat there amazed as this little kid just sight read the whole thing without making one mistake!  I pointed to each note on the first line of the music, and he named them all, calling them Dog D, Elephant E, Frog F, etc. 

That’s what I love about Easy Notes – it teaches what they need to know in advance, in anticipation, so that by the time they get to each new learning stage in their piano book, they have already been prepared for it, and so can do it easily! I find I don’t need to do so much “theoretical” explanation, but instead I get to use attention-grabbing stories, characters, and exercises to get the teaching done.  The kids enjoy it, the facts go in, and they progress, easy as that!

“One Minute Club”


A teacher I was talking to recently told me about a great idea – the “One Minute Club”.  She had read about it in a book for Music Teachers.  You time the kids on their flashcards, and any who can name the 18 notes on the stave in less than a minute gets into the One Minute Club.  

So, I thought I’d try it with all of my pupils who have completed Easy Notes level 1, as by then they know 18 notes.  It has been really fun!  Boy, they all want to get into this club and are highly motivated to do so!  I was happy to find that they all got in, some scraping in at 59 or 57 seconds, some cruising in easily at 42 or even 38 seconds.  Now I’ve decided to have a bronze, silver and gold membership, bronze being under 60 seconds, silver being under 45 seconds, and gold being under 30 seconds.  I have made a chart with three sections (bronze, silver and gold) on the back of the magnetic stave, and have made name-tags with velco dots on the back, so I can stick them on to the chart.  And that’s the One Minute Club!

Actually, this week I was able to make 4 kids very happy!  The first one, Chris, named the notes in 48 seconds, and I was able to tell him that he was my fastest this week.  The next day, Ethan named them in 45 seconds, so I told him that his was my fastest time yet.  Then, later that day, Naomi said them in 42 seconds, so I congratulated her on being the fastest member of the One Minute Club!  But then, right after her, Sarah clocked in at 38 seconds – wow – another record breaker.  I told her she was my fastest so far, and it seems that she’s the only one I’ve actually told the truth!  But it was great I was able to make 4 kids really happy – just as well I didn’t have them in the reverse order!

So, the bar is getting higher all the time.  It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses!

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