The piano teaching marketplace is bombarded with resources, designed with the aim of motivating students to practise more between lessons. However, far – far – fewer resources undergo any type of formal research to identify just how effective they are.

Cadenza, a digital music tool, is one resource that HAS been subjected to formal research. In today’s blog post, Professor Rena Upitis tells us more about the findings.

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

In Part 1 of this blog [click here to read Part 1] I shared some things our research team has learned about how Cadenza, a digital music tool, can help motivate music students to practise.

However, you may be wondering if the effectiveness of such a tool depends on the type of student using it – the level of the student’s prior achievement, the student’s prior motivation to practise, the age of the student, and so on.


We found that Cadenza was not appropriate for the very youngest students under 6 or 7 years of age, but we did take a look at this question by assessing the effectiveness of Cadenza use among older students who fell into one of these five categories:

  1. strong students who enjoyed using the tool and most of its features
  2. strong students who tried the tool, but found it to be unnecessary or distracting
  3. average students who used the tool irregularly or only accessed a few of its features
  4. weak students, who started enthusiastically but stopped soon thereafter, and for whom the tool did not help make practising more effective
  5. weak/average students for whom the tool was transformative

In this blog post, I’ll share what we learned about the effectiveness of Cadenza for the first four student profiles. In Part 3 of this blog, I’ll share what we learned about the fifth type of student – those for whom Cadenza was a complete game changer.


There was a large group of Cadenza users who were strong students to begin with, and Cadenza only made them stronger. These students especially enjoyed the ability to structure their practice times in clearer ways than with pen-and-paper notes alone. They used Cadenza to help jog their memories about what took place in the lesson. This group, more than any other, also made regular use of the reflection tools embedded in Cadenza. One teacher reported:

“Even the strong practisers have benefitted greatly from the structure and specificity. Whereas before they might have put in the time and repetition but not the detail (“repeat correctly” is my favourite feature!), now they see the benefit of practising in smaller chunks with more specific tasks. They have voiced that they feel they are getting in more quality practice time and it’s making a difference in their playing and focus during lessons.”


There was another group of students who practised effectively, but who did not use Cadenza, for one of several reasons. Some strong students claimed that Cadenza was a distraction or that the movement between their instrument and the mobile device or computer weakened their concentration. This was especially true for instruments that are held with two hands (such as a clarinet), and where the music stand was not strong enough or large enough to hold the digital device. Typically, the students who found Cadenza a distraction had already developed self-regulatory skills to support weekly practice.

Other students used Cadenza for a while (several months, in most cases), and through Cadenza developed self-regulatory skills. Therefore, they felt that they no longer needed the support that Cadenza offered. An example:

“I have one student who started on Cadenza last year who was a very poor practiser, and now is fabulous. She no longer uses Cadenza, but organizes her practice time much more efficiently (we now just use a notebook). I find she is able to focus better in the lessons as she understands now that what we do in the lesson needs to be practised at home. Prior to Cadenza, this was not really a concept she grasped well. She started with Grade 4 and is now sailing through the Grade 5 repertoire.”


Some students, who were characterized as making moderate gains throughout the year, used Cadenza, but not to its full extent. These students typically would sign into their Cadenza accounts to see what had been assigned by their teacher, but did not consistently log their practice sessions using the practice log timer and checklists provided by their teachers. However, the teachers all indicated that even partial use of Cadenza was helpful for these students, because checking the assignments encouraged them to think about how to approach their practice session.

Teachers also reported that students who used Cadenza irregularly showed less improvement, week to week, than the students who used more of Cadenza’s features, regardless of the level of musicianship. These irregular users also reported practising less frequently than strong Cadenza users, and were less motivated to practise. Finally, this middle group rarely used the media annotator, and therefore, did not receive the mid-week feedback from their teachers. As the teacher named Emma stated:

“I’m not sure why they don’t always log the practices, and I definitely see less improvement from week to week by comparison with the other three strong students who use Cadenza regularly. They always arrive at lessons and promptly tell me that they looked at Cadenza but didn’t push the ‘start practice’ button every time. They still seem to know exactly what their assignments were though, so I feel they’re still benefitting somewhat by using the program. I still find their motivation levels a bit lacking with practice, and they aren’t using the recording feature.”


Not surprisingly, there were some students who did not benefit from Cadenza, representing roughly 15% of all students who tried the tool. These students were sometimes attracted to the digital interface of Cadenza at the outset, but their interest quickly dwindled. Teachers reported that unless students develop strong practising strategies and habits, with or without Cadenza or other tools designed to motivate students such as stickers, fancy notebooks, or complex reward systems, progress is predictably limited.


We will take a look at this interesting group in Part 3.

The Curious Piano Teachers write: Rena will be back next Friday (16 February) with the final part of this 3-part blog series on the topic of ‘Motivating Students to Practise’. To receive our blog posts automatically CLICK HERE to join our mailing list.

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