We are getting into the third month of a new school year & it’s feeling … well, not so new anymore.  Routines are set (or not set depending on your point of view).  The weather may be changing, but unfortunately, it also tends to lead to dropping many of those awesome routines we have set in place back in September. There doesn’t seem to have been enough time to see incremental growth.

Then, I listened to a podcast that got me thinking … how can I help my students (& myself) stay motivated during a time of year that lends itself more to snuggling on the couch with a cup of tea & a good book, rather than sticking with our routines & goals?

Starting off strong

I love to start off a new academic year with a studio theme & challenge. These have varied over the years from technique, rhythm patterns, theory, music appreciation, ear training, whole-body movement, improvisation … you get the idea.

While it’s been incredibly beneficial to focus on a particular aspect of programming, students can feel like their progress is slow in coming when there is always another concept waiting to be learnt.

That’s when I realized, it was time to show my students how their incremental growth was leading to big progress!

5 tips to celebrate incremental growth

Below are 5 ideas you can use in your studio to show how small incremental growth each week leads to big growth over time.  The overall theme of these tips … document, document, document AND share!

Take advantage of tech

We have cameras & camcorders on hand all the time. It can be as simple as a cell phone or webcam. Let’s take advantage of this!

Take video & pictures of students to use both as learning tools AND celebrations of success.

Learning tools:

  • Relaxed vs. tense fingers
  • Arm movement of crossing thumb under
  • Reminder video to watch before practicing
  • Etc.


  • Mastered a song or difficult section of a piece
  • Completed a method book or studio challenge
  • Etc.

These also work as a fantastic way to focus on incremental growth from week to week.

Give a reason to read practice pages

Many teachers get frustrated when students don’t read practice pages. Or, that they don’t even get printed.

Add a positive comment to the practice page each week.  Aim for one area of growth you, as the teacher, have seen in the past week.  Give specific praise on the growth, then add an area of focus for the upcoming week.

By including praise, both parents & students are more likely to read practice pages each week.

Brag often & directly

As a parent, I love hearing how awesome my kids are. I think I can safely say this is true for most parents.

Brag often to parents (& any family members you happen to meet) about their child.  Some bragging ideas are that your student is staying consistent with practice, trying new repertoire, applying previous concepts to a new song, etc.

The caveat here is to be honest if something needs to be changed. For example,  

“I love the practice schedule you & Brady made together & I have seen that it has really helped him make consistent progress!  

However, I have noticed that Brady has not checked the schedule in the past two weeks. This is leading to many of the same practice goals from week to week.  

Could you remind him to check his schedule this week so that Brady can get back to those smiles & self-confidence he was developing we both enjoy so much?”

We want to focus more on positives as much as possible, but always being positive comes across as disingenuous at best or out of touch with your student at worst.

Use a system for tracking growth

Annual growth plans … some teachers love them, some aren’t fans.  For myself, I need a visual to ensure that I am consistently helping my students move forward in their musical growth.  

Each year I update & get more efficient with annual growth plans. When I first started, we had a mad dash the last several weeks of the academic year to ‘master’ concepts. Clearly, this was not an ideal situation & things weren’t truly mastered. But,

Placing annual growth plans in a spreadsheet has several benefits. It’s quick to scan when you plan. And, it shows concepts & skills in a concrete way for parents & students.

To save even more time create a column that automatically counts the concepts as they are marked mastered. While percentages (or 8/10 for example) can get a bad rap, this is an easy metric for clients to understand, even if they are unsure what the specific concepts actually mean.

When sharing info from an annual growth plan, remind both students & parents that this is just a snapshot of what they will need to master in order to play more difficult repertoire. The speed & path to the next ‘level’ is personalized to each student.

Take a trip down memory lane

When we look at photos & videos of our twins, it can come as a shock just how much they have grown. Physically, of course. But, emotionally & developmentally. There was a time when my kids helping with dinner meant taking things off the cutting board to place in a bowl. Now, they make meals (somewhat) on their own. It isn’t until I see those photos & videos that the memories of toddler twins underfoot while making meals helps me realize just how far they’ve come.

Look back at repertoire.  This is by far my favourite end-of-year activity (or when a student needs a pick me up).  Have a student play one of the first songs from the year & then play a song from the end of the year.  Celebrate the progress made each week that led to that growth!

Now, here is the important part … share this information on your studio’s social media streams!

What has worked the best over years are the posts that highlight students in the studio. Yes, people want to know who I am as a teacher. But, what they really want to know is if their child will be celebrated for the unique snowflake they are.

Bonus tip

It can be tough to create incremental growth during lessons. Especially since repertoire takes so many different forms! Learning by ear, lead sheets, chord charts & sheet music is just the tip of the iceberg. What about deciding what levelling each student needs for a particular song? It can be frustrating & take a lot of admin time.

Use annual growth plans to reduce your admin time by streamlining repertoire options.

When choosing repertoire options for students, choose 1 – 2 new concepts with several review concepts to focus on. Regardless of what song your student chooses you know they will be moving forward in their progress!

For repertoire options that focus on specific concepts, visit the store.

Your incremental growth ideas

If you are interested in the podcast I mentioned at the beginning of the post, head over to Freakonomics & listen to “In Praise of Incrementalism“.  It was a fascinating look at how incrementalism has led to the success of several human rights movements, as well as athletes & many other individuals.  I would also highly recommend “In Praise of Maintenance“.

How do you encourage incremental growth with your students?  And, how do you share those ideas with your students & their families?  

Please leave your amazing ideas below.

NOTE: This article was originally published on November 4, 2016. It has since been updated & includes a bonus tip plus more content.

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