Let's face it - piano lessons do get kind of boring with routines of learning pieces and technical work after quite some time. Throwing in an engaging a practice challenge with prizes to be won has always perked up my students' motivation, especially during the dreaded cold winter months we get up in the Northern regions.
A few years ago, I remember scouring the Internet for ideas on all kinds of activities and challenges students would be interested. I have also realized that while I would love to incorporate everything in my private studio, it can be very overwhelming to organize it all. When the pandemic hit, it was even harder with online lessons to run a studio-wide practice challenge over Zoom!
To avoid burnout, and to keep things as simple as possible, I have learnt to only choose up to two challenges each academic year. Some years, I bring back a favourite year-round home practice goals challenge. Others, I do a shorter 6-week running challenge with note naming, sight reading or technical work.
One Minute Club
Last year, our students participated in a studio-wide note-naming challenge called the One-Minute Club. I found this idea from the Piano Pantry. Students are to name notes within the level that they are challenging at under one minute. All students have to start at Level 1 (just like a video game, I say!), no matter their current reading level. They will work their way up to their current reading level and compete with other students at the same level for the fastest time.
Since all my students were still beginners and elementary level, I tweaked the rules such that a prize can be won at each note-reading level. I purchased the Note Rush app as it already has the note-reading levels lined up the same way.
My online students who were studying remotely with me because they do not live in the city were able to participate as well. Instead of using the Note Rush app, I created simple slideshows of randomized note images in Powerpoint for each level that I could use when I screen-share during lessons. The timer is used the same way on my iPhone's stopwatch, but I will account a total lag of about 3 seconds for my online students just to be fair.
I ran this challenge for six weeks towards the end of the term since most students are not quite learning new pieces anymore as they focus on polishing up repertoire for recital performance. This kept our lessons engaging and still learning valuable reading practice. It was also convenient to track each student's progress in just six weeks for a studio of 15 students.
I had printed out a simple excel spreadsheet and recorded times for each student at each level. Prior to the challenge, I always prepare and prime the student with a review using physical flashcards, and limit the student to only try it max two times in a lesson to record the fastest time.
As for prizes? Winners won a $5.00 gift card to a local ice-cream cafe, and everyone received a certificate of participation with their fastest time achieved.
I truly think trophies or medals are overrated, and plastic toys/trinkets won't be appreciated. I'm a big fan of gift cards to ice-cream, bubble tea and juice places! At the very least, I know my students will enjoy a nice food/drink treat to a favourite place in town with their family.
Plus, if you are a business owner as a private piano teacher, you will be pleased to know that you can expense these under meals and entertainment in your accounting books ;)
Have you tried this challenge or a variation of this before with your students? Let us know in the comments!