March Madness means Mad about Practice Incentives!


How do you get students excited about practicing? You get MAD about practice! Amy Allen is a dynamic and innovative teacher from Kentucky and did just that. Last year she was inspired by the March Madness craziness of college basketball and the incentive plans that other teachers have used and created one to suit her multi-teacher studio.What's unique about Amy's plan is that she does not just focus on the quantity of  her students' practice but also, the quality of practice. Specifically, she encourages students to use three scientifically proven practice strategies described in a past blog. In addition, she came up with remarkable methods for team building AND creativity, too.

Amy is an avid group piano teacher who follows many bloggers and teachers to help her create the ideal programs for her booming studio. Read up on her brilliant ideas that she generously shares in her post below. At the end, there's a free download featuring even more specifics of her plan.

Thanks for taking the time to explain your wonderful ideas, Amy!


Planning the practice challenge

I incorporated the learning strategies in a practice challenge at my studio for the month of March.  It was a March Music Madness theme, along the idea of the basketball tournaments that consume that month. I teach group piano, so each class was a team in the tournament.

Scoring options

Students scored points for their team each week of the month in three different ways.

1. By accumulating practice minutes (on or off the bench). Every 30 minutes of practice


equaled 1 free throw (1 pt per free throw.)

2. By performing a piece in class for a "check-off" or bringing in an original composition, or improvising a song in class (we did team fight songs), they scored a 2-pt. field goal.

3. By incorporating the first three [of 6] learning strategies in their practice time (Spaced Practice, Interleaving, and Retrieval) at least once during the week, they scored a 3-pt. field goal.

[Find out more about what science says about practice in A Piano Teacher's Planning Kit.]

I gave them lots of examples of how to use the 3 strategies and we practiced some of them in the lesson, so they were equipped to do this at home fairly easily.

Many of the parents who attend the lesson with the younger students said they loved the way the practice sessions went with focusing on the 3 strategies each week, and that they were already doing some of this. Now they knew what to call it.

I have been pushing the idea of spaced practice for a while now, and started talking about interleaving last fall when I read about it in a blog post here.

4. New this year: Students score 3-pt shots by playing musical app games on their phones or tablets. Or by playing games from a new music games lending library that I have developed using game ideas from

5. New this year: We are not logging number of minutes in practice this year but, we have been working all year on ways to set weekly and monthly goals.

There are ways to earn points by achieving goals (we are calling it "scoring a goal") from their weekly practice assignments.

Photo gallery of the six scientifically proven practice strategies.


Team building

Each team member scored points each week and we tabulated them on a "scoreboard" chart in the room.  Then, we took the total number of points scored by the class and divided it by the number of students in the class to get an average, and this was the team score.  We did this so that larger classes and smaller classes would be on a level playing field.

The classes were encouraged to

  • Give themselves a name

  • Come up with a mascot

  • Illustrate their mascot.

Score keeping

We had a large bulletin board with a tournament bracket in the lobby for posting the team scores each week so the kids could see how the other classes were doing.

Each week, the team score was added together with the previous weeks' scores, and the tournament bracket in the lobby reflected the increasing scores.

An example of a team fight song.

I laminated the poster with the tournament bracket and used a vis-a-vis marker so that the score could change from week to week.

There were a few classes with some really competitive children who ended up practicing over 3 hours a day to put their team over the top!  I was blown away by the amount of increased practice time and the gains that were made because the practicing was more focused and purposeful.

Suffice it to say that I will be doing this challenge every March!!

Photo gallery of how scores were tallied


Targeting goals

I set up some target scores for each class, based on the students' ages and the levels of the classes.  This didn't put undue pressure on beginning classes with young children who didn't need to be pressed to practice more than 30 minutes a day.

Each class who met their target score for the month received a prize.

Preparing prizes

For prizes,

  • I made 53 basketball chocolate suckers over my spring break!!

  • I also awarded some students an MVP award if they scored more than 50 points over the 4 week time period.

  • The winning class received an ice cream party.

  • I borrowed ideas from Leila's practice pouch to create the MVP prizes (pencil, notepad, clothes pin, die, etc.)

Logging practice

The log charts (shown above) includes space to record

  • Number of minutes practiced

  • Which practice strategies were used and on what day of the week they were used

  • The tournament bracket

  • Scoreboard charts

Giving credit

The March Madness challenge is a combination of creative ideas from other teachers. I created some visuals with Canva, and meshed it all together to make this challenge happen.

Another team fight song

Sharing details with student families

I copied Leila's Six Scientifically Prove Practice Strategy infographic onto card stock and gave one to each student at the beginning of the month.

They also received the rules and procedures for scoring/explanation of the challenge in an email that I created with pictures and graphics (like Marie Lee's) to send to parents before beginning the challenge. I

These letters are saved in MailChimp so I can tweak them each year.

Amy offers more details and up-close photos of her practice logs and charts in a FREE DOWNLOAD.

Get it here: March Music Madness Practice Challenge by Amy Allen


About Amy Allen

I have a studio with about 175 students, preschool through adults, and just about all of them are in groups.

I use the Harmony Road curriculum developed by Jan Keyser, and also have developed lessons plans from Lynn Kleiner's materials for preschoolers.

There are 3 teachers who work for me in the studio, so we had to coordinate a good bit to do this and stay consistent from class to class.  My teachers are GREAT and I love doing what I do.

I have been teaching in groups for about 25 years, and this challenge has been the most fun and most engaging for my students in a long time.  I appreciate so much your inspiration, and that of Bradley Sowash, Forrest Kinney, and Tim Topham.

I really started down this creative journey in a big way after attending the Intensive in Dallas where you and Bradley and Forrest were the presenters in 2014 and have been following your blog, and those of the others since then. Probably wouldn't have had the tools to create and borrow ideas from others and spin them in my own way) this practice challenge if not for your blog and the webinars, etc. that you and the others provide.

Thanks so much, Amy


Here's a collection of tips and apps recommended from experts about practice and learning an instrument.

I'm pleased to be included in the article. Scroll down and you'll find my quote on practice and progress.

Check it out



Happy teaching and practicing!