Reach for the Stars Darlene Irwin     January 05, 2015

The holidays are over and life is slowly returning to normal. 

I’m sure that everyone is anticipating the return to teaching this week. I think that one of the biggest challenges teachers face is trying to keep students motivated and excited about practicing, especially after they have had a break from their normal routine. 

I have several incentives in my studio to help motivate my students. Some of these have already been outlined in a previous blog post entitled “Stickers, Charts & Rice Krispie Squares—Strategies for Practice Motivation”.

My students record their weekly practicing on their assignment page in their Student Music Organizer. If they have met their practice goals, then they receive a special Sticker of the Week. They can also put a special sticker on the wall chart in the studio. And I have treat week every 5 weeks.

All of this helps to keep them on track with their goals. However, I was concerned that they weren’t always focusing on and completing their weekly assignments. And so I came up with a fun program that I called 'Reach for the Stars'.

This program works especially well with junior students. It’s important to note that it is not mandatory. I give each participating student a 'Reach for the Stars' Information Sheet explaining exactly what I require for each star.  Some of the requirements may not apply to all students. For example, some students may not be yet working on technique. I take all of this into account when assigning stars.

Here’s how it works: 

Each week, a student receives a coloured star at the end of their lesson. The colour they receive will depend on how well they have prepared for their lesson (SUPER GOLD, Gold, Silver, Blue or Red). I assign points to each coloured star and keep track of their scores throughout the year using a special 'Reach for the Stars' Tracking Chart. (Click here to download my original Excel file).  I do not share their actual accumulated scores with each other.....this information is kept confidential. However, my students do know exactly what I expect from them each week because I write detailed notes in their Organizers. 

I usually start this program in October after we’ve had a few lessons together. However, it works just as well starting in January and running until June. The important thing is that they are not competing with each other, but with themselves and how well they have prepared for their lesson each week at their particular level. That way a beginner has equal opportunity to receive a Super Gold Star if they complete their weekly assignments.

Here are the criteria for each star:

SUPER GOLD (20 points)

  • A Super Gold star is saved for something amazing.
  • There has been an extra special effort.
  • Something has really impressed me.
  • (Extra theory, pieces memorized, musical playing that gives me goose bumps) 
  • A very organized, musical and well-prepared lesson. 

Gold (15 points)

  • There has been a Special effort. 
  • ALL assigned pieces are played VERY WELL. Some may be memorized.
  • Playing is excellent and musical
  • Theory is completed and well done.
  • Assigned scales are played well with correct fingering.
  • All required practice time is completed and noted on their chart (see Organizer).

Silver (12 points)
  • There has been a very good effort, but not quite GOLD.
  • Most assigned pieces are played well.
  • Theory is completed. 
  • Assigned scales are good but still need some work.
  • All required practice time is completed and noted on their chart.

Blue (10 points)

  • There has been a moderate effort.  
  • Assigned pieces are better but some still need work.
  • Theory is completed or almost completed.
  • Assigned scales have improved but some still need work.
  • Required practice time is completed or is almost completed.
  • 1 point deducted if theory is not completed.

Red (7 Points)

  • There has been some effort, but there is room for improvement.
  • Most assigned pieces need more work.
  • Theory may not have been completed. 
  • Assigned scales need more work.
  • Required practice may not have been completed.

I have a very cool Musical Treasure Box in the studio filled with goodies. The Dollar Store is a great place to buy things for the Treasure Box. My Treasure Box was a gift from a looks like a musical book! This gives students an added incentive to try their best each week. Students can pick something from the Musical Treasure box each time they accumulate three gold or super gold stars (they don’t have to be in consecutive weeks).


At the end of the year I total all of their earned points. I then give Star Awards at the recital in June. First place receives a small trophy. I give ribbons for 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th place. I will give ties if the scores are close. Every student receives a participation ribbon.

'Reach for the Stars' is a fun way to start the New Year with a fresh and interesting approach. This program helps my students stay motivated. It also helps them gain confidence for upcoming performances and exams. They really try to accomplish what is expected each week. They think about what they are practicing instead of just playing something to fill in time and they strive for perfection in their work. In short, they start to find the music hiding in the notes!

Have fun trying something new in the New Year…..have fun Reaching for the Stars. 

♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎

Photo credit: "Star Walkers" by Paul Kline