In this episode I share a marketing lessons I learned from beer and candy commercials that you can use for motivating your students to practice more.
Build Your Students’ Desire to Practice
Currently, I’m running a group piano program here in Cleveland called Piano Jam. This program teaches kids how to play the piano in an all-performing keyboard ensemble.
I’ve never been a fan of pressuring children to practice, so I did a lot of experiments in these classes in terms of how to get kids to practice. Not only practice is essential for a child to want to get better at their instrument, but it’s also important to want them to get better at anything in life. The challenge here is simply not getting kids to practice but building that desire within them—the desire to get better at their instrument.
The Power of Association
I tried applying in my classes some lessons I learned from Guinness beer, Budweiser, and Kit Kat advertisements. I tried using some of these strategies on my students, and it really worked well.
Guinness beer, Budweiser, and Kit Kat the candy bar all used association as a marketing tactic.
They noticed that people really enjoyed playing trivia games in bars and in pubs, so Guinness came up with the idea of coming up with a trivia book, The Guinness Book of World Records. The hope for Guinness was that when people were referencing this book at a bar as a source of trivia, they would have the thought of Guinness on their mind, and they would be that much more inclined to order a Guinness beer.
They were using an association that when people would play trivia, and when people would look up unusual world records in the Guinness Book of World Records, they would be inclined to order again.
I’m sure you all remember the Budweiser commercial, where one guy would call another guy and say, “Wassup?” It was a huge, successful campaign for Budweiser. Budweiser had picked up on the fact that a lot of young men in their 20s would greet each other this way. Instead of saying “What’s up?”, they would say “Wassup man?”. That was such an annoying greeting, wasn’t it? It was an annoying commercial, but it was wildly successful.
The hope for Budweiser is that when so many young men were using this expression, they would think of Budweiser and people would begin to associate the expression “Wassup!” with Budweiser beer, and the campaign was a huge success. It forced people to think of Budweiser when they use the expression.
Kit Kat the candy bar wanted to increase their sales. Through research, they realized that a lot of people would drink or would have a Kit Kat bar with their afternoon coffee. Well, chocolate and coffee have gone hand in hand for many years. Take for example a mocha drink with chocolate.
Kit Kat decided to make an association between drinking coffee and having a Kit Kat. So, they made that association between coffee and Kit Kat and launched an advertising campaign.
It was a huge success that when people drink their coffee, they would think about a Kit Kat candy bar. Perhaps they weren’t even aware of where that connection or association was coming from, and that’s the power of persuasive advertising. One way to move or motivate people to buy a product is through emotions, but another way is through association. When I drink coffee, I have the desire to have a Kit Kat.
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How to Use the Power of Association to Get Your Students to Practice
So when I started teaching my Piano Jam program, I wanted to see if I could use some of these ideas of association with getting my students to practice. See if I could enter the mind of my students when they’re at home or when they’re near their instrument.
When it comes to marketing, that’s what association really is all about. It’s entering the mind of your ideal customer and getting them to think about you at a particular moment.
1. Talk about Unique Topics with Your Students
What’s unique about my Piano Jam program is that kids play as an ensemble. There’s a lot of conversation about what kids are doing at home and their practice. That’s a topic that I would bring up.
Early on, I asked the students where they practice in their house, and what room are they in, and even asked them to explain to me what the room looks like. Someone has said, “Oh, my keyboard’s in the basement.” I was like, “Oh, is it? Is your basement pretty big? Is it a carpeted basement? Do you have a standalone music stand that you use? Or do you sit on a keyboard bench? Perhaps you sit on a chair?”
I’m asking the kids questions that no one’s probably ever asked them. I get them to think about it, and they’re talking about it out loud. My hope was that when they go home and they look at their keyboard, my voice is in their head and they begin to make an association with the questions that I would ask them in class.
2. Make Stuff that Prompts Your Students to Practice
I made a poster for each of my Piano Jam groups. One thing I do in the program is to let the kids come up with a name for their group. They also come up with stage names that they’re totally into. I gave them a poster with a picture of the group with its name on it. I’d say to the kids, “Guys, hang this poster up so that you can see it when you’re practicing.” I don’t know if they all did or not, but I’m trying to make that association. I’m not trying to get them to think about their practice environment. Think about it as prompts from me.
3. Play a Game with Your Students
Each week at the beginning of the class, I play a game with them and I’d say, “Raise your hand if you played the piano at least one time this week.” Most of the hands would go up. “Raise your hand if you played the piano two times this week”, and then I go from there. I notice I use the word “play”. I never use the word “practice”. Playing something sounds a lot more enjoyable than practicing something.
If a child sits down at the piano to play their favorite musical motif, there’s a good chance that they might segue into actually practicing. Usually, it’s the kid that practices the most that week.
4. See How Your Students Manage their Time to Practice
I start asking them questions about when they practice. I’d say, “Wow, you practice four times this week. That’s amazing! I’m just curious. When you practice, do you do it right when you come home from school, or do you do it later?”
I also ask, “So what do you typically do before you practice?”, “How long do you typically play the piano for this?” The kid says “Five or ten minutes?” I’d say, “Great. And when you’re done playing, what do you typically do after that? Do you go read a book or play video games?” I know they’re not gonna say book, and the kid says, “I play some video games or hang out downstairs with my family.”
I get the kids to think about how to manage their time better when they come home from school and how to set aside some time each day for buying their instruments. I’m trying to get into the head of the student so that when they’re going to play the piano that day, perhaps they’re also thinking about “Oh, yeah. I talked about this with Dave”. The practice space at home for the child is quite often unknown to the teacher.
5. Let Your Students Describe Their Practice Environment
I’m sure you can relate to this if you taught at all. During the height of COVID, over Zoom, all of a sudden you can see the practice environment that these kids are in. I’m thinking “Oh my God. Like, look at how your setup is.” Of course, you don’t practice. It’s not that convenient. It’s not that welcoming of a space. You don’t have a stand that you put your music on your keyboard down in the basement. “You just told me that you don’t really play in the basement that often. Let’s bring that keyboard upstairs.”
Zoom allowed me to see the environment that my kids are practicing in, but I’m finding it very effective talking to the kids about their practice environment, trying to enter their minds, and trying to get them to think about our conversation when they see the piano at home. The kid might say, “Oh, yeah. Dave told me that it would be a good idea for me to hang my poster up by the keyboard. Let me grab some tape and do that before Thanksgiving.”
6. Start a Quick Conversation about Playing the Piano on Holidays
I’d say to my students, “Guys, Thanksgiving is coming up. Who’s here gonna get together with their family on Thanksgiving?” All hands go up and I’d say, “Look, if you’re at a house for Thanksgiving, and there’s a piano there, you’d be really great. I think they’d really enjoy it if you played something for them.” Then some of the kids were like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.”
I even asked the kids, “What do you think you might play for your family on Thanksgiving?” And they just kind of thought out loud. It was just a quick conversation, but then after Thanksgiving, I asked them, “Hey, who here played the piano for their family over Thanksgiving?” Pretty much all the hands went up. Then I asked, “What did you play?” I would’ve been thrilled if they all said “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, but I was thrilled most when they said they were playing the music from the Piano Jam program. This makes sense because the program focuses on memorization, so the kids don’t have to bring their sheet music with them anywhere.
Now, I don’t know for sure. Did these kids play the piano for their family on Thanksgiving because they would have anyway or did I plant a seed in their mind?
7. Give Your Students Little but Impactful Reminders
Giving your students little reminders about you and their weekly time with you or your teachers at your music school can be really impactful. I think a lot of kids don’t practice, for one because quite often, they don’t know how it’s overwhelming for them or they just forget about it.
8. Make Associations within Your Students’ Environment
How can you help them remember it? It’s by building associations within their environment. Walking past the keyboard with the group poster sitting right above it reminds them of their class and piano lessons. This hopefully motivates them to think “Oh, I should sit down and play the piano. I haven’t played the piano today. I want to be able to be the last one raising my hand and class next week when Dave says raise your hand if you’ve played the piano four times this week.”
9. Identify Your Students’ Challenges to Practice
The nice thing about piano students that guitar students don’t have is that the piano is always set up and ready to go. One of the biggest challenges for guitar students, violin students, and brass and woodwind students is that their instruments are inside cases. They got to open that case and put their instruments somewhere. They have to close in, pull out the book from the case, close the case, and finally set up. That’s a barrier to practice.
I get to give students an assignment saying, “Okay, here’s your assignment for the week. The first thing you do when you get home today is open your guitar case and take your guitar out of the case. Do you have a guitar stand that you can put your guitar on?” The kid says “No.” I’d be like, “Okay, let’s just let it sit on the case.” Maybe the kid doesn’t take it out of the case because he doesn’t really know where to put it.
10. Make Your Students Stick with Practice for Longer
Buy the kid a guitar stand as a gift. Paint a picture for the child as to what the setup can look like. The more your students hear your voice when they’re at home during the week, the more likely they’re to do what you ask them to play their instrument and practice. As we all know, students who practice are students who tend to stick with it for longer.