Bonus Beans, or How to Boost Motivation

Until I ate them…I mean… stored away the leftovers, the top of my piano was covered in little heart-shaped tins and bags of jelly beans, jelly hearts, and small chocolate hearts. Yup, it was another BoB blitz (Bum on Bench) to entice my students to get … well … their bums on the piano bench. If only for a moment. Daily.

Now that Valentine’s is long past, I’m exercising my self control with the remaining jellybeans.  Why keep them around? BB words! What are “BB” words, you ask? Let me tell you, with a bit of a preface.

What’s Working, What’s Not …

My students are a very mixed bunch, ranging in age and level from tiny 5-year-olds and mature beginners to early advanced, gifted teens and special-needs young adults. About 17 of my 30 or so students use Cadenza with me. Perhaps five of them go on Cadenza semi-daily. Another five might log in once a week just to get their lesson notes. The few remaining students have many reasons (excuses?) but, bottom line, they don’t use Cadenza at all, even when it’s the only way they’ll see their practice instructions! *sigh*

I asked a colleague near Kingston, Ontario about her students’ use of Cadenza, and her experience is about the same:

  • many students love Cadenza and say it’s easier to stay organized while practising, and they actually remember to look at the weekly assignments;
  • some students use it to check their assignments but never log practices;
  • some find it’s actually a distraction from practising and avoid using it – in my experience, these can be both weak or strong students;
  • some weaker practisers start strong and then stop using it;
  • other weaker practisers start using it and excel, not because they hadn’t previously been willing to work, but because they need the structure and specific guidelines provided by Cadenza.

Another challenge is getting busy parents to make or decide on a Gmail account and use it to set up their Cadenza account.  Though it does use up a bit of precious lesson time, I’ve found it easiest to have students bring in their preferred device (iPad, tablet, laptop) and simply set things up with me during the lesson and move on.  Though Cadenza isn’t optimized for smartphones, most students or parents have one with them and, in a pinch, we’ve used them just to get things set up.

Bean Me!

My colleague sometimes finds it challenging to get parents to help their kids use Cadenza regularly.  Her current strategy is to verbally encourage them and/or send reminder emails partway through the week.  Sometimes it works, she says, sometimes not.

That brings us back to the beans. My current effort to draw students onto Cadenza is called “bonus bean secret words.” With only 17 Cadenza users and the use of good ol’ copy-paste, it might take me an extra 5 to 10 minutes a day, tops, to execute. Though I’m not a fan of Pavlov-style behavioural training, I have to say, this idea looks like a possible winner! Here it is, in a nutshell:

  • remind student at lesson that you’ll be entering a “bonus-bean word” into their Reflections box every day or two (or three if life happens)
  • repeat to student that all they need to do to get those beans at the next lesson is to retype the word of the day in their own reflection that day.  If a new “bb” word appears, it’s too late and yesterday’s bean word is forfeited
  • student sees prominently-displayed bag of jellybeans on the piano and begins to drool … figuratively, usually … earnestly vowing to log in daily!
  • during prep time or during the lesson, I peek into the previous week’s Reflections section and count up each “call and response” pair of bean words

Clear as mud?  How about an example….

Sarah, below, is a level-5 RCM teen and a reasonably good practiser.  That said, she’s tended to log into Cadenza only once a week to get her bean me!lesson instructions and disappear again – not quite the check-in frequency I want. Enter the bonus beans.  Sarah  happens to be a fan of jelly beans.  In our exchange, below, Sarah missed echoing Thursday’s and Friday’s words – “goombah” and “crockie”.  By Sunday, though, she’d gotten the hang of the game and echoed “Snow forte”.   I congratulated her and added the same bad joke word combination as before (snow forte) because I was amused at my own semi pun  – sorry! I also added a new word, sostenuto.

Kudos to Sarah! She echoed them in her own reflection message the next day and earned a total of four beans that week for: snow, forte, snow forte, and sostenuto. Via daily check-ins, Sarah earned herself a beaning! Even more exciting, she clarified a technical question with me while she was there, rather than wasting several potential practice days before the next lesson.  I consider THAT the biggest win.


Behind Every Good Plan:  Communication

Here’s another real-life example.  By day 4 of the bonus-beans game, my keen teacher sense noticed a not-so-subtle break in communication with 7-year old Aaron and his mum.

Teaching is all about effective communication and, evidently, I didn’t manage to communicate what was self-evident…in my own head. It was not so self-evident to non-psychic parents.

During my conversation with this piano mum, it became clear that I needed to systematically list every mini step she needed to perform:

  1. Log into Cadenza and click “reflections”
  2. Let her know I’ll usually post new words daily or every second day
  3. See my message?  Repeat the bean word in your own new message box, the one immediately below my message box
  4. Clarify, you need to repeat the word I typed after “bb word”
  5. Confirm, yes,  that they should type my exact bean words

At yesterday’s lesson we tried again, after those more specific instructions, and it worked! Yay!

This week, however, it didn’t work.  It had been a busy week for mum.

Perhaps young Aaron could do it himself?  “Oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that,” exclaimed mum.  “We’ll try that!” 


Camera, Action!  Another practical reason for students to use Cadenza

I’m making Cadenza a more useful tool to students and parents of younger students by finally using another feature I’m embarrassed to admit I only discovered recently:  the “Teacher Attachments” box at the bottom of each student’s new lesson page.  For quite some time, I’d been lamenting, “why oh why can’t teachers attach Notemaker videos to student notes??” After roughly two years on the Cadenza teacher advisory team, I finally clicked on that little “plus” sign and voila! I could upload or spontaneously record a video!  Well, duh (*face palm*).  Now it’s my new best friend!

teacher attachmentsuy

Here’s the video I recorded using my newly-discovered Cadenza video capture feature. This student, Victoria, is a super precocious five-year-old whose mum, Tori,  works with her daily but has no musical training. Tori is one of my small handful of parents who are a bit Cadenza-resistant.  Up until now, we’d been struggling to find an easier way than email to exchange videos. Yesterday she emailed me an audio clip and I heard again the same rhythmic issue we’ve been fixing and losing again for several weeks.  Here’s what mum saw when she clicked on the first and second capturedvideo.MOV attachments (click on the titles below to view them)

oranges and lemons prep

Oranges and Lemons rhythm

When young Victoria came to yesterday’s lesson yesterday, her piece was perfect!   What had changed?  Apparently she and Tori had reviewed the videos before each practice to make sure they were getting things right.   Another good lesson and another convert to at least occasional Cadenza use.

Good luck with your own students, and be sure to share your own stories, challenges and solutions here!