How much should my child practice each day?
This is a question I hear many times in a year. It is a tricky question and really can only be answered in this way, “for as long as it takes.” Seems pretty arbitrary I know, but that really is the best answer.
The fact that parents are asking me about length of practice is a good sign, it means they understand the importance of preparation for each lesson. The fact is, playing the piano (or any instrument for that matter) is a physical skill every bit as much as it is a mental skill and let’s face it, physical skills require practice before they become mastered. Even the great NHL players still practice their shots before each game. So too, musicians (even the greatest musicians) must workout, review and prepare.
I recommend that students practice at least five days of the week. Even if some of the practices are short, those regular habit-forming practices go a long way in helping that student to progress at a satisfying rate. Satisfying for them especially. It is best for students to practice at the same time each day. When practice is an expected part of the daily routine there is likely to be less resistance. Students know not to plan other things for that time period and make arrangements around their practice time; just like homework time, brushing teeth or hockey practice.
When sitting down to practice students need their materials. If music books are stored in the music bag in the back of a closet between lessons, it is likely that they won’t bother to dig them out each day to work at their assignments. When the books are open and sitting on the piano, students may stop each time they pass the piano to play…even outside of the scheduled practice time. Likewise, if your child plays on a keyboard, is the keyboard accessible at all times? Is it in a quiet area of the house where other family members won’t be bothered by frequent practicing? Many acoustic pianos sit in the living room right beside the TV. In a large family you can imagine the difficulty here. Many times these are the tricky situations reported to me by students. It is important for parents to arrange a practice-friendly environment for their children whether it be moving the instrument or designating regular “TV off” times so that a developing musician has some quiet time to work.
So this is great…we have a spot to practice, a designated time each day…but how long does my child have to sit there?
This is the tricky bit. The end goal of each practice is to accomplish something. A mindless run through of everything on the assignment list is not a very effective practice…even if it takes an hour to do it. If you want to see results by the end of the week then you must;
- be sure to warm up with scales/chords/exercises
- focus on small sections of each piece, mastering rhythm or working out the fingering or whatever your teacher has asked you to work on for that particular week
- play something fun from your repertoire of learned pieces
Naturally for 3 year olds who have two songs that contain four bars each, practice time may take only 10 minutes. For a student working on grade one pieces, it may take 30 minutes, for an advanced student it may take 2 or 3 hours. The rule of thumb is to ask yourself after each session , “What have I accomplished during this practice”. You should have a list of things. If not, talk to your teacher. Find out how you can practice in a way that helps you progress more quickly.
The bottom line is that the amount of time spent practicing is not nearly as important as what is accomplished in that time. Move your instrument to a quiet spot, plan a regular practice time and work effectively (have a practice plan). Happy music making!!