The enormous time and effort it takes to learn a musical instrument can be daunting for students – and especially discouraging when contrasted with our digital world, where contact is instantaneous and learning can happen so quickly.

We’re delighted that Professor Rena Upitis has written a 3-part blog series for us on the topic of ‘Motivating Students to Practise’. A Professor of Education at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), Rena is also the Principal Investigator for the research and development of a project called Transforming Music Education with Digital Tools.

Rena writes . . .

Our research team set out to discover whether digital tools could be harnessed to help motivate students to practise.

In a previous set of blogs [click here to read more] I told you about a tool we developed called Cadenza – an online notebook that allows teachers to provide instructions during lessons and commentary between lessons, and allows students to record their practising goals and achievements between lessons with checklists and videos.

In this set of three blog posts, I’ll tell you how teachers have used Cadenza to help motivate their students to practise. I’ll also tell you how transformative a tool like this can be for even your weakest, least motivated students!


What are the key features of Cadenza that support practising? First, students can set goals within their portfolios, and the teacher can see these goals online at any time. In addition, there are ‘emojis’ that students can use to rate their own practice sessions, prompts that encourage them to assess their practice sessions, and features that allow them to interact online with their teacher.

Teachers can use Cadenza to set targets for practice sessions and to negotiate strategies for students to employ during the week. As well, a media annotation feature allows teachers to interact with students mid-week, when students may need the most help to stay motivated and make progress. The media annotation feature also provides students with an archive of the teacher’s comments and an opportunity to assess their own learning in light of these comments.

Over a ten-month period, we looked at how three music teachers used Cadenza in their studios, using interviews, email exchanges, and screen captures of their teacher and student Cadenza files. All three teachers had students with a range of abilities and Cadenza use.


Students who used Cadenza diligently appeared to find it highly motivating. In particular, the built-in reward system (points and badges), as well as the practice log and timer (with progress visible to both teachers and students), served to be very motivating.

The mid-week teacher-student communications helped students address specific problems, helped motivate students to practise, and to practise efficiently, and led to more self-reflection on the part of the students, which further enhanced the effectiveness of practice sessions.

Students told their teachers that using Cadenza made it more “fun” for them to practise, and that they enjoyed being able to use digital tools and devices to advance their musical development.

The use of the media annotator improved student motivation and helped teachers give effective and timely feedback. As a result of increased student motivation, teachers reported that they set increasingly higher expectations for students.

Those students who were motivated and supported by Cadenza to practise more effectively and joyfully were also more successful in their examinations compared to prior years and compared to their peers who did not use Cadenza effectively.

In Part 2, I will describe what we learned about the effectiveness of Cadenza for several different types of students. In Part 3, I will share how Cadenza can be a transformative tool for even some of your weakest, least motivated students.


Rena is pictured (centre) in the photo above with members of The Community at the Irish Meetup near Dublin (Apr 2017)

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