What is your child’s motivation to practice? Is he or she motivated by their love of music and learning, or are they practicing so they can get a sticker? If your child's only motivation comes from the prospect of getting a sticker, he/she is extrinsically motivated. If your child practices because he/she loves to practice and enjoys music, he/she is intrinsically motivated.
Extrinsic motivation is defined as motivation that comes from an outside source. Examples include praise from the parent or teacher, stickers, prizes, etc.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within the person. For example, I practice Haydn sonatas because I enjoy practicing the way the music sounds, and I enjoy the particular challenge of this sonata.
There is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivators. In fact, they can be a great teaching tool. I am thrilled when my students want to finish a piece so they can get a sticker. This school year, I have been giving my students the opportunity to see their progress by keeping a studio practice chart and letting my students color one image when they’ve practiced three times a week, and a different image when they are willing to do the extra work of memorizing (the photo at the top is the March practicing challenge). I change out the images each month to keep it interesting.
Coloring challenges and stickers are fun, but my ultimate goal is for students to love music for music’s sake, not for stickers or coloring incentives. Learning to practice consistently teaches the skills of time management, setting a goal, and perseverance, among other things. These are important skills that translate into all areas of life, not just to learning an instrument. As the child gets older, they will encounter many, many times where they have to put in a great amount of time and effort into a task, and they may not receive any external reward or praise for it.
Younger children are constantly learning and developing new habits (both good and bad), and those of us who are older and more mature should be quick to praise them for accomplishing tasks and following instructions. As the children grow older and more mature, they will hopefully develop some internal motivation, and not rely only on external motivation to keep going. Learning to enjoy something for its own sake is a process, and that process takes time. Doing something well is its own reward.
The satisfaction that you get from working diligently and achieving a goal is worth the effort, regardless of whether anyone else notices what you did and applauds your effort.
But until that maturity is developed, I will happily hand out stickers and have coloring challenges available.
I am a piano teacher who loves teaching music and discussing personality styles. I also enjoy playing music with others, whether that is chamber music, piano duets, or singing in a choir. My favorite composers are Bach and Haydn.