This year’s fall practice/performance incentive.

This year, we’re going to be making fall trees together in my studio. I’ll have 12 grade school-age students participating. Each gets to make a tree that will hang in the studio, and I’m going to give out 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes at the Fall recital to those with the most leaves. Keep reading to see exactly how to make this pretty little tree in your studio, and to get a PDF pattern for the tree cutout.

This year's fall piano incentive!
This year’s fall piano incentive!

I have a confession to make: I don’t track my student’s practice time. They don’t have assignment sheets. But, I’m a different kind of teacher.

For me, the sheet always detracted from the practice time. If I practiced an hour a day every day for a week and had a crappy lesson, then I felt terrible about myself. But some weeks I’d only practice a couple days and have a great lesson with lots of positive feedback. I’m a firm believer in quality of practice time over quantity.

So, rather than reward for minutes or hours practiced, I reward my students for playing their lesson for me (scales, etudes, pieces, exercises, whatever) without any help from me. Now this is the important part, because I have a lot of small kids in my studio that are 4-6 years old. So what I mean by “no help” is they need to play their piece without me pointing at the notes, or telling them where their hands go, or looking at me for encouragement.

Although I don’t believe in an assignment sheet, I do believe in giving my students a visual representation of what they’ve learned, and it’s even more motivational if the student can see how other students in my studio are progressing as well. This year, we’re making the tree pictured above; one for each student.

Challenges are relatively short in my studio. I’ve found that interest decreases significantly after about a month, so I start my challenge in September, and announce a winner or do a raffle based on participation at our Halloween recital in October. I also want to keep these challenges special. If I have one challenge after another back to back all year long, then it will become routine and less interesting.

Fall Challenge: Fill up the tree!

Here’s a picture of everything I used to make this tree. You can find all this stuff at Hobby Lobby, but if you don’t have one near you try Michaels or another craft store.

fall tree incentive supplies

I chose 8.5×11″ construction paper in fall colors: red, yellow, and orange. This will be the background for the tree, and will give the students some independence because I’ll let them choose their own background. The brown construction paper is for the tree itself.

I was hoping to find leaves that were stickers but couldn’t find them small enough. These little leaves are actually confetti! I got 300 leaves for $5, so I’m sure I won’t run out, and can use the extra for other things this year or next. And finally, sticky tack! This way there’s a minimal amount of mess, and we can hang the tree back up as soon as they add their leaves.

OK, so here is a picture of the tree I drew myself (I’m definitely not an artist…), and you can download a pdf of the outline of this tree here. Just print it, cut it out, and use it to trace a tree on whatever you like.

fall incentive tree at work Tree

So I drew a tree, cut it out, and glued it on the construction paper with Elmer’s glue. You can see above that I put a few leaves here or there as an example. The sticky tack worked really well, and I like it better than using a glue stick or Elmer’s.

It occurred to me after looking at this tree for a few days that the leaves don’t necessarily have to be on the branches. They can be on the ground or high in the sky, or somewhere in between. That’s the nice thing about trees, they’re disorganized and spontaneous.

I hope my students will enjoy creating their trees and seeing who has the most leaves this fall! What’s your practice or performance incentive this year? Share in the comments below.

Be sure to sign up for my email list. I’ll let you know when I post about more ideas just like this (or better!) on my blog.

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And if you’re interested in taking lessons, check out my lesson info page here.

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