The Practice Project – Motivating Young Beginners with The Jigsaw

I teach many young children, and the vast majority of them would have problems practising if they were simply expected to repeat bars over and over until they have got the hang of them. So how do we, as teachers, motivate young beginners?

We know that young children learn best through the medium of play, and we know that the best way to motivate a child in lessons is to engage them with games and puzzles (the best theory books for youngsters are often full of sticker games, and puzzles, and the students barely know they are doing any actual work when they do the exercises).

But what games work for practising? And which ones work well enough to be continued independently at home?

As part of The Practice Project, I will be exploring different practice games for younger children.  The first in this series is The Jigsaw.

If we think for a moment about how we manage to do jigsaw puzzles, we can see a close analogy with learning music;

  • We look for the outline, or the corners
  • We put small chunks together first
  • We attach the smaller chunks to other smaller chunks, making bigger sized chunks
  • We attach the big chunks together by finding smaller connectors, or bridges

How would this work with music?

  • We can first make sure we know the outline of the piece (understand structure, identify any repetition, work through hands separately)
  • We then look at polishing small chunks of music (single bars, for example)
  • Attach those smaller chunks together (making 2 bar chunks)
  • We work on building up into larger and larger pieces, by practising the ‘connectors’ (getting from the end of one section to the beginning of the next)

But this doesn’t sound like much fun, it’s not a game!

Or is it?

Just doing the process doesn’t make it fun… What turns this practice method around is making a physical representation out of the piece, and then sticking it all together with tape, turning it into a massive jigsaw.

1)      Cut a piece of paper into small segments – as many as there are bars (or half bars etc)

2)      Number the bars (or half bars) on the score.  You can get engaged in discussions here about which bits are already easy enough to warrant them starting out as larger sections.

3)      Number the corresponding segments (1 segment for each bar, or half a bar etc)

4)      Put the segments in a pile, and gradually work through each one; when one is complete, put it in a separate pile (learning the small chunks)

5)      Pick 2 consecutive segments, practise them together, making sure the transition between the segments is smooth and solid (making a bigger chunk)

6)      Tape the 2 corresponding segments together

7)      Keep going like this, picking two segments, practising them as a single larger one, and taping the pieces of paper together as you go.


Eventually, your student will be left with 2 or 3 long segments, rather than the many individual ones they started with.  The challenge to get these last few segments into one becomes achievable and within the student’s grasp.  The final stage of taping the last segments together can often give the young beginner a massive boost of confidence, and a huge sense of achievement.  Get the student to show you their string of paper the following week, comment on the length of the paper, and how much they have done.  If they have not managed the whole thing, keep going with it until it is achieved.

I personally love this method. Unlike any other practice method or game, it gives a clear display of progress that is not only visual, but also tactile.  The child can literally see what they have achieved, and they can feel the length of their achievement, it is tangible to them.  “Look! It’s massive!” or “WOW! I’ve only got 4 BIG pieces to tape together now!”

Try it, I’d love to know how you get on.


For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to



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