Motivating children to learn a musical instrument can be tough; but that doesn't mean it has to be boring! Do you feel like you are constantly battling your student to practice? Well, sometimes motivating children to learn a musical instrument takes a little bit of creative brain power. Here are lots of ideas to get you started. Read these simple yet super fun ways to make your student jump for joy next time you say, "It's time to practice!"

When looking for new ideas check out Family Fun. This company comes out with a back-to-school magazine edition every September. That is where I got this first helpful idea, "Counting Time". Family Fun always includes wonderful homework helps and making homework fun ideas. Most of the homework ideas can apply to practicing as well. The same could be said about our practice strategies, they can apply to homework as well. 

Counting Time - Every time your student practices, you light a tea-light candle. When they are done practicing they blow it out. When the candle wax is completely burned away, they get to pick a fun activity like going to the park, movie, or concert. Students love seeing the visual of the candle and how much they have practiced. As students become more advanced and begin practicing longer, try getting bigger candles to make it more challenging. Materials Needed: candle, adult supervision. 

Build Confidence - When your student passes off a particularly difficult song or solo let them choose a bead to remind them of that song. Have a 'song' necklace with all of their beads. It will be fun for them to remember what bead goes with what song. The beads will be motivating short-term as they work to pass off a song. The necklace will be motivating long-term. It will give them a sense of confidence as they see the the necklace grow with all of the songs that they know. Materials Needed: Different craft beads of any size (cute buttons also work well), & strong cord or beading string.

Sticker Accountability - Every once in a while I will send students home with a sheet or section of stickers (*note; if you overuse this idea it will loose it's appeal). I assign them a 'sticker song' and every time they practice that song that week they get to put one of the stickers from the sheet on their music (not covering their music).  

Note to Teacher: If the student is to practice a song a particular number of times that week, send them home with that exact number of stickers. The goal is to bring the sticker sheet back empty and have all of the stickers placed around the song that they are learning. For younger students this makes keeping track of their own practice easier and teaches them responsibility and ownership in their work. Materials Needed: Assortment sheets of stickers - cut them into smaller pieces and sections as needed.

Photo by unalozmen/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by unalozmen/iStock / Getty Images

 Chocolate Chip Song - This idea can be used at home or at their music lesson. Pick one short song or line of music to be the "Chocolate Chip Song". However old the student is, that is how many times through they will play that line of music this specific sitting. Each time the student plays the "chocolate chip song", you place a chocolate chip on the music stand to help keep track and motivate them. Before they even realize it they have practiced the same song or music line several times.  For example...If the student is 3 years old, they will play through it three times and earn three chocolate chips. When they have earned all of the chocolate chips, they get to take a short break and enjoy their treat.   This fun idea works well because it is age specific. Older students will have to play through their song more times. Younger students will play through less times which is more suited to their developmental stage and attention span. We personally use this way of motivating children to learn at my house a lot! And yes we use chocolate chips, and yes I sneak into them.  Materials: Bag of chocolate chips or replace chocolate chips with whatever small treat you have on hand.

Motivating Children to Learn with a Muffin Tin - Yes it's true these, awkward to store kitchen pans make awesome practice accessories. Muffin tins are great tools for creative practicing ideas. They can be used as a music game piece or as fun practice charts. Here are some ideas to get you started. Can you think of your own variations?

 Hands On Practice Chart - Muffin Tin Idea #1 - Filling to Finish. This is a simple way for students to visualize their practice time, and 'chart' their accomplishments on a day to day basis. Pick any small object; pennies, marbles, m&m's, fruit loops, raisins. It can be a reward item, but doesn't necessarily have to be. Crafting pompoms work great because they are colorful and soft. Be careful to place muffin tin up high when other small children are around as the small items can be a choking hazard.

Every time your student plays a song, an assigned scale, a difficult measure, etc, they get to place one small object in each one of the muffin tin cups. When the muffin tin is full, they are done practicing for the day. If you are using the small item as a reward, they get to keep the item when their tin is full and they are finished. Bet your student will have so much fun, they will want to fill the muffin tin twice! Materials Needed: Muffin Tin Small Treat or Object

Playing a Game - Muffin Tin Idea #2- Penny Toss. Cut out 12 circles of paper that will fit inside the bottom of the muffin tin. On each circle write a different song or musical assignment from their lesson that week that they need to practice. You may also write funny ways of practicing. Here some generic examples of things that may be written on the circles. These ideas are geared towards the violin, but can easily be adapted to fit any musical instrument.

  • Practice Your Scale Slow.
  • Name the Parts of the Violin.
  • Play a song for Dad.
  • Play a whole song without using your violin bow.
  • Practice your Work Song 2 times.
  • Put down your instrument and sing instead of play. 
  • Pick the hardest measure and play 5 times.
  • Pick an old song and name all of the notes.

The student stands a couple feet from the muffin tin and tosses a penny into the muffin tin. Read the circle and have him/her do what it says. Student can repeat as many times as you wish, until they've finished all the circles, or for a predesignated amount of time. Materials Needed: Muffin Tin, Penny, Small paper circles, Write music assignments on circles. 

Very few children will start out with intrinsic motivation when it comes to learning. Obviously that is the end goal, but motivating children to learn will most likely need to happen first by association. When your kid has fun, feels excited, and is engaged during practice time (which all the strategies listed above should accomplish), they equate practicing with feeling joy and happiness inside.