Mindful Focusing Challenge

Ultimate Music Theory

Encouraging and inspiring our Students to complete their practicing and to finish their music theory (writing) work at home can be a LOT of fun!  In my studio, we do a different "Studio Challenge" every few months.  My latest Studio Challenge is called The Mindful Focusing Challenge.  I hope that it encourages and inspires you.

First of all, let's analyse the title of this Challenge.  "Mindful Focusing" occurs when we put all of our thoughts and energy into the task at hand.  The brain (the mind) is not distracted by anything outside of the work area.  That means no cell phones (either MUTE or turn it off), no TV, no siblings, etc.  In other words, the "work area" ONLY contains those items necessary to complete the Practicing and Music Theory.  The focus is ONLY on completing the Practicing and Music Theory.

In this Blog, I am going to share what the Mindful Focusing Challenge looks like in my studio.

In my many years as a Parent, Foster Parent, Grandparent and Teacher, I have discovered that children often struggle with the concept of time.  Anyone who has ever traveled with a child and heard "are we there yet" a dozen times will understand what I mean.  To a child, a 10 minute car ride can feel like 10 hours.

To start the Mindful Focusing Challenge, I asked each child to simply "Mindfully Focus" on their Piano and on their Theory for a specific length of time based on their age.  So, a 7 year old would be challenged to focus for 7 minutes.  A 10 year old would be challenged to focus for 10 minutes.

For Students preparing for Examinations, and for my Intermediate and Senior Students, their challenge was to Mindfully Focus for their age times 2.  (15 year old has to focus for 15 x 2 = 30 minutes in a row.)

Remember, these are suggestions that work for my Studio with this challenge.  Please feel free to adjust or change any of these so that they work in YOUR Studio!

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Mindful Focusing Challenge - Step #1 - Age = Minutes

So-La and Ti-Do are an integral part of my studio.  They listen, encourage and reward Students.  This is how I introduced the Mindful Focusing Challenge to my Students:

Ti-Do is the "boss".  He is going to hire each Student to complete a specific number of Mindful Practicing Minutes each practice session.  These minutes are based upon the age of the Student.

In order for Students to be "paid", they have to write down in their Dictation Book the date and the number of minutes in a row that they focused.  If they do not write it in their Dictation Book, they do not get "paid".  (This is encouraging accountability.)

If a Student Mindfully Focused for LONGER than their minutes, then they earn a bonus reward from So-La for working "overtime".  I also provide each Student with a "bonus challenge" - either an extra song or an extra page in their UMT Theory Workbook that they can complete "if they have time".

YES, I would like each student to practice 2, 3, 4 or even 5 times their age.  However, Step #1 (for the first week of this Challenge) is to have them "Practice Their Age".  Remember that this is the minimum that they can practice in order to earn their "Ti-Do Pay".

You can set up your reward system any way that works for you.  In my Studio, since Ti-Do is a Stuffy, he does not deal with money - he deals with Ti-Do Beads!  So-La likes to give So-La Stickers.

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Mindful Focusing Challenge - Step 2 - Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

Week #2 of Practicing arrived and my first student walked into the Studio giggling with delight! "Mme. Shelagh", she explained (my students call me Madame Shelagh as I teach in both French and English locations), "It was Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy! So I practiced more than 7 minutes.  I practiced 15 minutes and I practiced 4 times this week!".

Now, this was a child who, last year, loved their lesson but did not enjoy practicing.  I even got a "thank you" text from mom.

In Step #2, we discuss whether the Student wants to increase their Mindful Focusing Challenge Minutes or whether they want to stay at the same number of minutes for the next week.

What did the first week of the Challenge teach ALL my students?  Here are some of their comments:

  • Practicing was Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy when mom set my timer for 8 minutes.  I just practiced until it went "ding".
  • I sat down and practiced, then I stopped the Stop Watch on my iPad.  10 minutes went by SO FAST!  I ended up practicing 18 minutes and it went so fast.
  • Wow, it is so much easier to play my songs at the lesson when I practiced at home.
  • Practicing was so much fun, I practiced 5 times this week!  (This from a little guy who averaged practicing 5 times a month.)

Mindful Focusing Challenge Step #3 - The "At Home Reminder" Certificate

At our lesson #2, I asked each student what would help them to be able to complete their Mindful Focusing Challenge at home by discussing what stopped them from Mindfully Focusing.

We then added it to my "Mindful Focusing Challenge At Home Reminder Certificate" and I printed off the page for each Student.  Here are some statements that Students wanted on their "Reminder" Certificate (to remind their family that their Mindful Focusing Challenge was part of their practicing and that their family had to respect this):

  • Brothers cannot watch TV while you are practicing.
  • Dad has to watch the baby sister so she doesn't try to practice with you.
  • Mom will set the timer and help you write your Practice Time in your Dictation Book.
  • You get to use the iPad Stop Watch when it is Practicing Time.

I then had each student pick their own piece of coloured construction paper to glue their Mindful Practice Reminder Certificate on to.

I sent an email to each parent along with a picture of their child with their Mindful Practice Reminder Certificate.  In the email, I reminded the parents of the importance of encouraging and supporting their child to complete their Mindful Practicing.

Again, you do not have to do this step.  I just like letting Parents know that they are a PART of the Piano Lesson Triangle (Student, Parent, Teacher).  My part of this "Triangle" is the smallest part as I only see the Student for a very short time each week.

Parents were asked to place the Mindful Practice Reminder Certificate on or near their piano so that there was a visual reminder of what each Student needed to do to complete their Mindful Practicing.

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Statements that I like to put on the Mindful Practice Challenge At-Home Reminder are:

  • Check your Dictation Book/Practice Record Book for the pages that you are to practice.
  • Open all books to the pages that are to be practiced.
  • Do your Mindful Practice for a minimum of ____ minutes.  Can you practice for longer?
  • Write down your Mindful Practice Minutes in your Dictation Book/Practice Record

In my Student's Dictation Books, I simply wrote a small chart with "Mindful Practice Goal = ____ Minutes in a Row" at the top.  Then I made 2 headings:  Date and Number of Minutes.  Below that, I listed the days for practicing.  You can write a list with the actual days of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) or you can just write 1, 2, etc.

I like to make Day #5 a "Bonus" day.  If the Student practices on 5 different days, then they earn an extra Bonus Sticker from So-La.  (The So-La Ti-Do Sticker Pack is super fun for this!)

Joanne Barker UMTC (Ultimate Music Theory Certified Teacher) and UMT Games Designer, created a special UMT Mindful Practice Guide Program which includes the UMT Mindful Challenge Poster, UMT Mindful Practice Record and UMT Mindful Practice Certificate.  Download below, and let us know how the Mindful Practice Program is working for your students.

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In the very first week of the Mindful Practice Challenge, I received several pictures (some are shown above) and many texts/emails from Parents who really appreciated the concepts of this Challenge.  Along with music and theory, my students are learning life skills that will support them in every aspect of their futures!

Mindful Focusing Challenge - Step #4 - Celebrating the Mindful Focusing of each Student

At the beginning of each lesson for the duration of this Challenge, we look at each Student's Dictation Book (Practice Record) and count the number of days of Mindful Practicing.  Students then got to pick a Bead from Ti-Do for each day, placing it in the "Pay Day Basket" (a little basket on the side of the piano).

If the Student completed any challenges that were written in the Dictation Book (for example, practicing an extra day or practicing an extra challenge), they added a Sticker from So-La to their "Pay Day Basket".

In my Studio, guess who takes the longest to pick out the perfect bead or the sticker that is "just right"?  It is my Teenage Boys and my Adults.  In my Studio, my students ages range from 4 to 70+.  This Challenge is for every single Student, from those who are just learning for "fun" to those who are preparing for Examinations.

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I usually write on each page of music how I want the Student to practice the song.  This often will include:

  • Count aloud and clap.
  • Play and say the letter names.
  • Play and count 3 times.
  • Play and sing.
  • Play until able to play without looking at the music.

So-La likes to add special Bonus Challenges for the students to discover.  She will often include:

  • Play in G Major Pentascale (or c minor Pentascale, or another Pentascale Position that the student can transpose into).
  • Play one octave higher/lower.
  • Play again with different dynamics.
  • Play again with different articulation.

Ti-Do likes to add Ti-Do Metronome Challenges.  He will suggest that they "Play again with MM = ______".  I like to start using the Metronome early with my students so that they learn how easy it is to play with a Metronome.

We also count the number of completed Theory Pages, adding the correct "Pay".  (I have another Challenge that I do called the "Theory Clipped Corner Challenge" that I am going to blog about!  Stay tuned.)

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Mindful Focusing Challenge - The Practice Pal

As we complete any of these Challenges, the Student gets to put a Bead or Sticker into the basket.  At the end of the lesson, while I am organizing the Student's books,  they put their Beads and Stickers on their "Practice Pal".

You could use any form of practice incentive here.  You could use plastic containers from the dollar store, have each student decorate their "Mindful Practicing Jar" and reward them with little beads or decorative rocks/marbles/macaroni pieces - anything that a child can "count" and display with pride.

I would absolutely love to know YOUR ideas for displaying your student's "Mindful Practicing Challenge" Rewards.  Do you have a Sticker Chart for each Student?  Do you display them on a wall in your studio?  Do you have a Bulletin Board?

However you display these rewards, celebrating the Mindful Focusing of each Student is super important.  Use the back of your UMT Whiteboard to record the results for each Student, take a picture and send it to Mom and Dad.  If you have a Facebook Studio Page (and you have a signed Media Release form from the parents), you can also post your pictures there.

If you have a Studio End of Year Recital, you can use these pictures as part of a "Student Montage" or a "Studio Montage" (or as pictures in your Recital Program).

Parents love to know that their child is enjoying their Music Lesson.  It only takes a moment to snap a picture and attach it to an email that simply states "Awesome Job".

I do hope that this Mindful Focusing Challenge has given YOU ideas to motivate, encourage and support your Students.  Please feel free to share your Ideas with us.  Another great place to share ideas (or ask questions) is the Ultimate Music Theory Facebook Group.  (From your Facebook page, search for Ultimate Music Theory Group.)

We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Keep on Learning... With a Smile and a Song!

Shelagh McKibbon-U'Ren


2 thoughts on “Mindful Focusing Challenge”

  • Joanne Barker says:

    Shelagh, thanks for being such an inspiration. Since starting the challenge, several parents have sent an email, to thanks me for introducing this to their children. I am proud to tell them that the idea came from you!!

    I am thrilled that I could help by creating the poster, certificate and practice record to go along with it! In my studio, I printed the practice certificate on card stock and then cut them into 3. (follow the little grey dashes to cut)

    I try to be mindful when using paper- not too much waste – and it is a nice way to keep costs down!

  • Peggy Seitzinger says:

    This is good stuff. It gets me thinking creatively and will be wonderful to implement for the kids and parents so they stay connected. And, JoAnne, I was thinking about how to do the practice sheet. Thanks so much for sharing that. It’s perfect!

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