United Conservatory of Music August 2019




CLIMB TOWARD SUCCESS The Secret Behind UCM’s Musical Ladder

No one is unhappy when they’re holding a trophy. This is a fact of life and something I’ve seen many times since we implemented the Musical Ladder system at our school. In basic terms, the Musical Ladder is a system of awards and incentives designed to encourage kids to pursue music. Every three months, students take a test designed by their teacher to show how much they’ve progressed. If the student passes these tests, they get a wristband at three months, a trophy at six months, and so on, celebrating their growth. These are not tests of skill; they’re tests of accomplishments. We want to show our students how much they have learned, celebrate that growth, and encourage them to keep learning. It is really hard to see our own improvement in any area, particularly music. This is true for kids and adults. When you’re first learning an instrument, it can take years to get to a point where you feel confident playing and recognize that your skills have improved. But just three months can feel like forever to a kid. This is why we want to regularly celebrate our students’ growth. The truth is, even if you haven’t mastered a new piece, three months is enough time to learn middle C. “The Musical Ladder lets us show students that they are improving and gives them the encouragement to stick with it.” This sounds like a small accomplishment, but it’s something a student didn’t know before. The Musical Ladder lets us show students that they are improving and gives them the encouragement to stick with it. Having encouraging teachers is important in any area, not just music. Earlier this year, I started working out with a personal trainer after not working out at all for a long time. Not only does he teach me the right exercises and push me to improve my physical fitness, but he also gives me a lot of encouragement. I’ll be

honest, I would have stopped going to the gym months ago if I didn’t have this guy helping me. Being challenged to improve and encouraged when you succeed makes a big difference.

The Musical Ladder system is not unique to UCM. Many other music schools use this or a similar program to encourage their students’ growth. One of the first things I invested in when we started expanding the school

was how we could help kids keep learning. After visiting many different musical schools in person and looking into the various systems, I determined that the Musical Ladder was the best system for the kind of environment we wanted to cultivate. When students pass their tests, they get their pictures taken with their teacher and posted on a wall at the school. We want to celebrate all of our students’ victories and show them that they’re part of a community and have a place in the school. I’ve had students claim they don’t want their trophy or certificate, but after they pass their test, they always have a big smile on their face in the picture. It feels good to be rewarded for your hard work, which is what our students do each month they stick with their music lessons.

—Christopher Scherer

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