The power of the sticker: Gold Star motivation for young pianists!


When I taught in a primary school, I received regular advertising from companies selling ‘motivational’ stickers in many shapes and sizes, together with personal progress cards and wall charts.  When I became a private music teacher I continued to use them with younger pupils.  These self-adhesive little bits of nothing contain a magic of their own…

Shiny stars, “Well Done” medals, “Good Effort” awards, “I’m a Star” badges – they all work wonders!  These days as a humble piano teacher I’ve reduced the wealth of my stock down to the bare minimum of coloured and gold stars.  Do well in your lesson – you’ll get a coloured star.  If you’ve tried really hard I might even let you choose which colour.

Do particularly well (maybe learn two new pieces or show me how much you must have practised this week) and I’ll upgrade you to a gold star!  Yes, I know, they’re just little pieces of sticky paper.  But offer them to most children under ten and they’ll be delighted.

But where?

Of course, there’s the almost impossible question of where to stick them (polite answers only please).  Should it go in my Practice Diary where it will stay forever as a testament to my effort and achievement?  Or should it be displayed proudly on my chest where my mum (and everyone else she tells) can see it and praise me repeatedly?  Personally I don’t like the possibility of getting a complaint about sticky marks on clothes so they always end up in their book, but I have observed little eyes watching me carefully to see if I stick it to their chest (and in these days of safeguarding concerns there could be problems there, too…)

It’s magic!

These little peel-off beauties work almost as well as incentives as they do as rewards.  If they’re a bit low on practice, I offer them the reward of a shiny paper star if they do one or two more practice sessions before next week.  If they’re struggling for a couple of weeks on a piece and just need to work hard to get over the ‘hump’, I promise another little gluey morsel for completing it.  These little stars have magical properties, I can tell you.

Sadly, at a certain age the adhesive sticker goes the way of the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas.  If they get into double figures it will take more than a peel-off polygon to get them to try harder.  Ah, the innocence of youth is lost!

Too old?

And the grown-ups?  I wouldn’t dare offer them a gold star, apart from a few notable exceptions (you know who you are).  I wonder what I would need to bribe adult pupils as effectively as young ones.  Chocolate?  Wine?  Cash?  Fortunately, most of them are already highly motivated!

Are you a music teacher who uses stickers or other rewards to bribe encourage pupils?  Or are you a parent of a sticker-loving child?  Let me know about your experiences in the comments below, would you?  I’d love to hear from you!