Jelly-Bean Practice

Jelly-Bean Practice

Hi 🙂 I’m Courtney, Samantha’s daughter. I’ve been learning piano from mum for an extremely long time now, about *mumbles* years. In my experience, she always has some quirky way to get her students motivated to practice, and this term is no exception. Last week, she introduced to me the concept of Jelly bean practice. Naturally, this piqued my interest. Jelly Beans? Count me in.

She sat me down at the kitchen bench, and began to tell me about her new idea, and what it stemmed from. She’s always had this thing where she helps students visualise how they’re progressing, through stickers or food or something equally as delightful, and recently she’s been looking for a way to show students the benefits of practice in a way they’ll understand. Namely, lollies. Good idea mum. Lollies: the way to a child’s heart. I know first-hand.

The conversation went a bit like this:

Mum: “How would you like to get a jelly bean for every practice that you do during the week?”

Me: “Um, yes PLEASE!”

Mum: “All you have to do is practice”

Me: *slightly suspicious* “All I have to do is… practice? And I get jelly beans?”

Mum: “Yep!”

Me: “Let me get this straight. Practice equals jellybeans.”

Mum: “You heard right.”

What she failed to tell me, which I found out later after pestering for more details, was that for every day that I DIDN’T practice, I had to give a jelly bean back. My hopes of a fortune of jelly beans crashing around my ears, I asked her desperately to explain why she would do such a thing. To have to give back jelly beans is just so cruel. One minute there, in your hands, the next minute, gone before your eyes.

Her philosophy behind this seemed to be the crazy notion that days that you DON’T practice can wipe out the days that you DO practice. Crazy, right? But, thinking on it, it made sense. Many times I had worked on a passage early in the week only to have it not sound good in my lesson; it could well have been because the later part of the week had gone by without any practice.

I was still unwilling to accept the terms and conditions for earning my jelly beans. She continued to explain: “I’m hoping, by the visual representation of the jelly bean jar, that students will realise that practising less than 4 times per week gets them a) no jelly beans and b) very little progress.” I didn’t really register point b), I was too hung up on point a). When it comes to jelly beans, priorities are at their truest.

She kept talking: “You and all my other students will (hopefully) quickly realise that practising 7 days a week is the only way to get 7 jelly beans. One missed day actually costs you 2 jelly beans – one for the day of no practice plus the one that you have to give back.” Two jellybeans, for one missed day?! The maths did not add up in my desire-crazed mind.

The one consolation offered was the promise that we, as students, could earn more than 7 jelly beans per week, just by practicing more than once a day. Naturally, my brain started whirring. I could just see the pile of jelly beans adding up as I proudly announced 10 practices everyday…casually leaving out the minute detail of 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there. What a plan! I was proud of my quick thinking. Unfortunately, that seemed to show from across the bench.

Mum glanced at my face and said “I know what you’re thinking.” My smug smile slid off my face. “You can’t do that.” Why does my mum have to be so psychic? “Extra practices have to a normal length of practice.” Now that’s just mean; she was robbing me of my rightful jelly beans. “And separated by half a day at least, for example before school and after school. Otherwise there’s no time for the brain to digest the progress.” I cast my eyes down. “And it’s just too easy for everyone to buck the system.” Oops. Well, I tried.

In the end, she has prepared little jars for each student, full of jellybeans (about 80 in each jar, easily enough for the term’s practice) and all with personalised labels. She also got a huge “mother jar” for herself, but it’s empty at the moment. She’s really looking forward to giving each student their jar-full of jelly beans in the first lesson, and then taking it back and pouring out the precious cargo into herjar: watching their smiles drop into looks of aghast bewilderment. We get to earn our jelly beans back week by week, and the idea is that if everyone practices well, there should be nothing for her to eat at the end of the term.

A jelly bean for when you practice, a jelly bean stolen for when you don’t. I’m up for the challenge. I’m gonna win back every single one of my colourful beans, and more on top of that. And so are all her other students, I can just tell. I can’t wait for the term to start, and to get the ball bean rolling!

Courtney 🙂 x

Samantha Coates

Samantha Coates is a professional pianist and teacher with over 25 years experience in both private and group tuition. She is the author and publisher of BlitzBooks, the music education series that has captured the imagination of students across Australia and transformed the teaching of music theory, sight reading and general knowledge.

9 thoughts on “Jelly-Bean Practice

  1. carol says:

    I want to know how the jelly bean object lesson turned out? Did the kids understand the value of practicing? And did you have an empty teacher jar at the end of the semester?

    • Samantha Coates says:

      Carol it was really great. Yes my jar was empty at the end and I even had to buy some more! Yes the students definitely understood that more jelly beans = better progress 🙂

  2. Linda says:

    I have a few questions…So you send the jars and jelly beans home with the students and it’s the honor system, or you keep the jars and add jelly beans at lessons based on what they tell you they practiced. When you say “term,” does that mean approximately now through spring recital?

    • Samantha Coates says:

      I keep the jars in my studio and add the jelly beans from my ‘master’ jar. In Australia school terms are 10 weeks each. Hope that helps!

  3. Corinne says:

    So, you give the student the jar full at the lesson and then dump it in the “mother jar” for them to earn back?? Or do you leave their jars full and only remove for days not practiced? Sorry, just would like to clarify. Thinking of doing this for incentive til Christmas!

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