SmartMusic Blog: The Practice-A-Thon

Joe and Clara, both Kenyon-Wanamingo 5th graders, practice with SmartMusic.
Clara won the top prize, having practiced more than 1000 minutes in the two week event.

What if you could simultaneously provide your students with extra incentive to practice AND raise money for your music program?

That’s what Claire Larson set out to do with the Practice-A-Thon.

Claire is the director of bands at Kenyon-Wanamingo middle- and high school in Kenyon, Minnesota. She created the Practice-A-Thon to inspire her 5th and 6th grade band students to practice longer. Here’s how it worked:

  • Students approached family and friends asking for pledges of support. These could take the form of a flat donation, or on a cents-per-minute basis.
  • All funds raised would be used to purchase new music for the school’s 5th-6th grade band program.
  • Claire contacted local businesses to donate prizes to award the students based on who practiced the most. Everyone who practiced more than 200 minutes became eligible for drawings of the three grand prizes, including an iPod.
  • Parents indicated the time their student practiced by signing a practice record form Claire provided.

The Practice-A-Thon took place over two weeks, from Sunday, Feb 27, to Saturday, March 12. That weekend students collected from their sponsors and turned in the donations on Monday the 14th. The band’s spring concert occurred on Tuesday the 15th where the prizes were awarded.

How did it turn out? Claire provides the details:

The Practice-A-Thon was very successful. This is the first year I’ve been at this school and also the first Practice-A-Thon that I’ve held. One of the great things about this event is that it is 100% profit while at the same time it improves the level of playing in the ensemble AND invests young students in their band program, empowering them to make a difference.

It was rewarding to see kids invested in practicing and making such incredible progress. We raised $550, the majority of the students participated, and an audible improvement was noticed. For a small, rural school with 80 members in the 5th/6th grade band, it was a good effort in fundraising. Now I will work on tweaking the practice a thon for next year.

While SmartMusic wasn’t a required component of the fundraiser, it’s a big part of Claire’s program:

I used SmartMusic at my previous positions at Brooklyn Center Jr./Sr. high school and New Prague area schools and have found that the results are remarkable. Kids enjoy practicing with SmartMusic and the accompaniment helps to solidify the rhythms and pitches, which are challenging for young instrumentalists.

I introduced SmartMusic here this year and have been using it in various capacities in each band. I use it in my lessons to accompany students as they play. I use it to assess students on scales, and I use it as a component in Band Karate, an idea I got from a master teacher, Julie Spindler, in New Prague, MN.

Band Karate is my system to incent students to practice ‘forward’ and achieve various milestones throughout the Essential Elements book. It has inspired students to work ahead in their book and go for 100% mastery.

I choose different numbers in our Essential Elements books, which progressively test students for understanding and mastery of technical skills as they advance through the book. They receive strands of colored ribbon to tie on their instruments once they achieve at least 80% accuracy in playing with SmartMusic. They work through the different belt colors until they arrive at black, the most difficult exercise towards the back of the methods book.

All in all, Smart Music has come in handy in so many different ways!

I’d like to thank Claire for sharing her ideas and enthusiasm. The Practice-A-Thon and Band Karate are great examples of creative ways to encourage students to excel. What creative means have you developed to challenge your students? Please share your ideas or questions by clicking on “Comments” below.

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