“The best way to get started is to stop talking and start doing.” – Walt Disney

Recently I attended the 2013 Music Teachers National Association annual conference, held at Disneyland Resort. Among the many highlights of the conference were master classes, concerts, young artist competitions, invigorating sessions, exhibitor showcases, and connecting with colleagues from around the nation. There was so much packed into the five-day conference that my head was spinning by day two! However, my big “take-away” was from a session given by Karen Thickstun, a nationally certified teacher of music from Indiana.

Karen presented a session on Lessons Learned from Disney. We can learn so much from Walt Disney’s entrepreneurial skills. He was an innovator in animation and theme park design. He stretched the boundaries of possibility during his lifetime. In addition to being an innovator, he paid impeccable attention to quality. He wanted only the best. For instance, when hiring musicians for the orchestra, he hired the absolute best, never skimping on quality.

As a piano teacher, I have found that one of the most effective motivational tools in encouraging my students to practice is by providing them with performnce opportunities throughout the year so that they have something that they are always working toward. In the next few weeks, I’ll be assigning pieces for our end-of-the-year recital, and I find myself spending a great deal of time selecting pieces that will fit students abilities and interest. Here’s a few tips for teachers as you seek to find appropriate performance numbers for the students at your studio, and please feel free to list any ideas that work for your students in the comments section below.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

In the November issue of Clavier’s Piano Explorer (a wonderful little magazine for piano students), there was an article on creating good practice habits. The challenge was for students to practice 100 days in a row. Students that completed the challenge get to have their names printed in a future issue of the magazine. To motivate my students to develop the habit of practicing every day, I adopted the 100-day challenge in my studio, offering prizes to those who complete the challenge. In addition, I decided to take the challenge as well!

Recently I completed the challenge along with a handful of students. Practicing every day became a habit that I made time for. Part of committing to the challenge meant that practice did indeed have to happen every day, no matter what – like brushing your teeth. For students that went on vacation and had no access to a piano, listening to a recording of their piece was an optional substitute for practice, but only if absolutely necessary.

In a recent music teachers workshop, a professor from our local university’s music department gave an excellent presentation on the topic of motivating your students. I imagine this is something every studio owner struggles with, and since students who aren’t motivated have a tendency not to progress and not to enjoy what they’re doing, this can also affect student turnover.

A few years ago, back when I used to travel to my students’ homes to teach lessons, I tried an experiment. I thought it might be fun to be able to hear themselves playing or singing a piece they had mastered, so I brought alone my laptop computer and a USB microphone.

The results were mixed; while most students LOVED the idea of recording themselves, not all of them enjoyed actually hearing themselves. But what I discovered was that no matter how much they enjoyed or disliked it, having my students listen to their performances was an excellent teaching tool.